The City & the Random

After my return from the South Island, I thought it would be suitable to have another post of random bits and bobs I’ve accumulated which don’t fit anywhere else. Although I gather these from all over, I want to focus specifically on Auckland City. Like China Miéville’s The City & The City, Auckland takes on almost the role of another character in the story of my life. And though I left down South, the city waits patiently like a faithful lover for the eventual return. And Auckland in many ways is my muse; even tonight before writing this post I took a short 20-minute walk around the Viaduct Harbour. The energy, the lights, the passions and stories; all the trappings of city life fill me with a desire to create, to write, to be. When I started writing in this space, I wondered if I would have the dedication to keep it up. Here, now, working on my 90th post, I feel it’s because of the energy I draw from the city that I can tell my story.

Paulo Coelho wrote in The Alchemist “You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love…the love that speaks the Language of the World.” But he also wrote “Men dream more about coming home than about leaving”. We go away not because we don’t love but because we must; we return because we love.

I took this photo tonight on my walk. Paris may be the City of Light, but I hereby name Auckland the City of Colors. Cynics will say that we’re depleting the Earth’s resources to produce light pollution. I say we’ve created beauty.

The Many Colors of the Sky Tower

Our iconic landmark continues to delight by changing colors on a nigh-monthly basis. It’s currently a boring white, but here’s a look at what it’s been up to recently.

Looking quite smart in red and gold. I don’t know if this signifies anything or if it’s just a random choice, but I quite like it. I managed to get some red traffic lights and yellow-tinged streetlights in the shot for a mise-en-scene that probably only I think is cool.

Green for St. Patty’s Day.

The red spire looks ominous, especially on a misty night.

City Summer

Silo Park in Wynyard Quarter hosted what we Americans would call a food truck rodeo nearly every weekend over the summer. I recommend Dixie Barbecue, run by some very passionate kiwis who really understand barbecue.

Summer in Auckland means cruise ships! In Spares by Michael Marshall Smith, one of the cool locations (and Michael Smith novels always include some pretty interesting locations) is a flying cruise ship that got beached and became a city. These ships aren’t quite that big, but they’re basically floating hotels. In January and February, multiple times per day you’ll hear the resonant honk of a departing cruise ship’s horn.

The American Football season works out well for Southerly countries, because Super Bowl in the Summer is just better. Yeah, we watched it. I of course had to cheer for the Carolina Panthers, who unfortunately biffed it. Which is just as well; I and some friends left at halftime to go to the beach. As I said, Super Bowl in the Summer is just better.

The footbridge over the Viaduct is a drawbridge, and I happened to be taking a walk and found it open. I like cool machinery and decided to film it coming down. I especially love the applause at the end.

Random Things to Amuse & Delight

Frida Spotting on K’Road. I asked the storekeeper why the obsession with Frida Kahlo, and she said “because she created beauty”. I note that there are no pictures Mary Cassatt or Henri Matisse hanging in the shop, though, so either she has a very specific standard for beauty or there’s something else going on. A friend suggested that it’s because Kahlo cultivated a specific “look” that was a part of her persona, but if that was the case I’d expect to see a picture of Salvador Dali as well. Whatever; at least I get to use my Frida Kahlo tag again.

She also has a Latin restaurant on the waterfront named after her. The logo is, and there is no delicate way to put this, a unibrow. Shine on you crazy diamond.

I can think of no more appropriate name for a bar at a bungee jumping venue than this.

Go home, light pole. You’re drunk. (I wonder if the light pole is mocking the red Sky Tower spire in the background).

Getting a custom license plate in New Zealand is not cheap, and you only get six characters to work with. It still seems to be popular, and many people will also get custom license plate holders. I wonder how Ayn Rand would feel about this reference to Atlas Shrugged. Since it’s Ayn Rand, she’d probably just be offended that this plate appears on a Holden Viva and not say a Rolls Royce Phantom.

People who know me also probably know that I love weird and gourmet sodas. This random convenience store (or dairy, for kiwis) sells Shaq-branded sodas which combine the two unfortunate characteristics of being unnecessarily large and not particularly good. Comparisons with the subject matter are left as an exercise to the reader.

I use a tempered glass screen protector for my Nexus 5. I recently ordered another one, because the one I had been using had…seen some things. After replacing it, I had to photograph the old one. I will say, this guy took it like a champ and the screen on my phone is pristine.

Here’s Your Sign

Warning! You should be reading a book right now!

(For Americans: abseiling = rappelling). Yeah, let’s not do that right now.

Ironically, you cannot observe the creek because of all the foliage.

I wanted to steal this sign and put it on the bridge over Observation Creek. But, y’know, video surveillance. Exercise vague caution.

(For Americans: star jumps = jumping jacks). I love whomever wrote this sign. Especially that third bullet point.

‘Til Next Time

Thanks for indulging my occasional desire for rambling and randomness (OK, so my desire for rambling is less occasional and more constant. Guilty.). Next post will return you to our regularly scheduled adventures :)

City life and other randoms

This is going to be a more random post of things I’ve collected that don’t really fit anywhere else. Sorry about that.

The many colors of the Sky Tower

The Sky Tower, as previously mentioned, gets a new color approximately every month or so.

Right now, it’s a Christmas Tree. (OK, right now it’s not a Christmas Tree, but it was when I wrote this post).

After the tragic incidents in Paris a couple of months ago, the spire was the French Tricolore in solidarity.

The many strange things seen on the streets

Joel Spolsky once said that “New York is the kind of place where ten things happen to you every day on the way to the subway that would have qualified as interesting dinner conversation in Bloomington, Indiana, and you don’t pay them any notice”. I’m not cool enough to not pay these things any notice (and Auckland is also not New York City), but I have noticed that living in the city you just see some weird stuff.

This guy was dressed like a devil, for no discernible reason.

Buskers are fairly common. A Christmas-themed brass trio is slightly less common.

(I think the unstated rule is that if you take a photo of a busker, you also make a donation. Just FYI. This seems reasonable to me.)

Cars

I’m a big car guy. I see a really cool car at least once a week in Auckland. Usually I don’t take a picture because who’s got time for that. Sometimes I do.

Lamborghini Aventador waiting for a traffic signal (my phone utterly refused to take a properly-exposed picture of this car).

This Tesla owner thinks he’s the coolest thing ever.

Other stuff

At this train station, you are allowed to:

  • Be a train
  • Spy on people
  • Walk a tightrope
  • Become The Flash

Meanwhile, you are not allowed to:

  • Dance
  • Smoke
  • Ride a bicycle
  • Drink wine
  • Be a dog
  • Pretend to be an airplane
  • Be Jon Bon Jovi

There’s this kind of cool area near my apartment. You cross Fanshawe St. and go down some random stairs (yusssssss). This puts you under the Hobson St. Bridge (which is called Lower Hobson even though it’s to the North; I guess because it’s lower in elevation?).

There’s a place there called the Tepid Baths, which sounds kind of gross actually but is apparently fairly iconic.

There’s also this really cool street art there.

While hiking in Muriwai I found this weird baggie containing a piece of paper reading “2 O Offering = Worship”. I don’t know if this was some sort of spiritual lesson or what, but it’s tied to this tree very intentionally. I really have no idea what’s going on here.

On Mangere Mountain, which unless I change the posting order I haven’t posted about yet, I found what appears to be a sculpture of poop. I also have no idea what’s going on here.

Well there’s a warning sign I can obey.

Also in the category of warning signs, this one made me laugh a lot. People bringing their dogs into areas with ground-nesting birds is actually a problem.

When I drove out to the Okura Bush Walkway (post coming one billion years from now), I arrived at about the same time as a couple and their dog. The woman said “oh, there’s a no dog sign here. Drat.” and then they drove away. It was very clearly posted on the website that dogs are not allowed, so I felt bad that they hadn’t checked beforehand. But I respected them for obeying the sign.

This whole massive crowd are here to see the new Star Wars move (The Force Awakens). This is midnight opening night (which was fully two days before America got to see it).

This escalator was, of course, not on (if it were the carnage would have been immense). As I got to the top of the escalator, I realized three things. One: the photo doesn’t show it, but you’re actually three stories up at that point. Two: There are a lot of people on the escalator. Three: As people move around, the escalator rocks back and forth quite a bit.

I am not in the best of times a fan of heights, and I could just see the headlines: 20 dead in Auckland escalator collapse. Fortunately that did not happen, and also fortunately the line moved uncharacteristically quickly while I was on the escalator. I probably only spent 5-7 minutes in that part of the line, which I was grateful for.

Have you ever seen something where you simultaneously do and don’t want to know the story behind it? That’s sort of how I felt about this.

And, finally, here’s a shot of Santa being put up over one of the larger intersections downtown (Victoria St. and Queen St.).

Thanks for tolerating the randomness; back to our regularly scheduled hiking next post!

Miscellaneous New Zealand thoughts and photos, pt 1

I enjoyed writing the miscellaneous Australia posts so much, I thought I’d do some for New Zealand as well. These will appear sporadically as I accumulate material.

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One way that you know you’ve really moved to a new country: you replace the power adapter for your laptop :)

I finally got around to poking my head in St. Patrick’s, the church near my flat I’ve mentioned before. It’s pretty neat!

New Zealand does, sadly, have a bit of a graffiti problem. Some of it is artistic, or funny, or clever, and some of it is just annoying. Here some wag has written “Big Trees” on the sign. He’s not wrong, I suppose.

In New Zealand, you pay for power in a weird way (or maybe we’re weird in the US and New Zealand is normal, I don’t know). You pay a base daily rate and then an additional rate per kilowatt-hour used. What’s interesting about this is some companies offer a high base rate and a low rate per kWh (which is good for those who use a lot of electricity), while others offer a low base rate but a higher rate per kWh (which is good for vacation homes or folks who don’t use a lot of juice). I wasn’t sure what my average usage would be, but in order to help me choose I used Wolfram Alpha and wrote an equation to figure out which one I should choose. The equation suggested that for the lower unit rate to make sense I would have to use more than 24 kWh a day during peak hours. I knew I wouldn’t even come close to that, so I went with the low daily rate and high unit rate.

(Auckland is so temperate that central heat / air is not common. My apartment has no climate control systems whatsoever apart from opening a window or turning on a fan or vent. It’s amazing how much less power one uses when not constantly running a compressor motor or heat exchanger.)

Found this at the zoo. I’m just picturing zoo employees going “who ordered the La-Z-Boys?” and being confused, then when their backs are turned these disappear and show up in the monkey cages :D

I randomly saw Kim Dotcom’s car parked across from my apartment building. Turns out his extradition hearings were in the Chorus building right across the street.

The wall of one of my favorite Mexican places (yes, Auckland has decent Mexican places) has a lot of paraphernalia.

Amongst the sundry paintings and photographs are at least two of New Zealand’s favorite crazy Mexican painter.

Spotted in the stairwell of my apartment complex. I have no idea what problem this is solving or even what’s going on here, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t up to code.

I don’t know why the Vero Centre has that strange and unnecessary semicircle at the top. I refer to it as the halo building, but most of the locals seem to call it the toilet seat. Probably not what they were going for when they built it.

If you ever find yourself needing an old-timey lantern, I know a guy.

I talked about the coolness of the Devonport Library, but the Auckland Central Library is also wiggity wack. In the best way possible, of course.

Auckland has fibre optic broadband Internet all over the city, which is pretty nice. The RTP area of North Carolina where I came from is served by Google Fiber, so Auckland’s is still somewhat of a downgrade. But compared to most places in the US, what I get here is loads better. This is the lowest tier of fibre broadband; if I wanted to pay more, I could get up to 200 Mbps download!

(“Nathan, why did you take a photo of your screen instead of just taking a screen shot?” Because I wanted to text it to someone and I’m extraordinarily lazy. Shut up.)

I accidentally took the best photo of the Sky Tower ever taken by a human being:

About every month they change the color of the lights illuminating the Sky Tower at night. I thought it looked quite nice in purple, and snapped a casual photo as I was walking back to my apartment with my dinner. Because of the abject inferiority of my camera phone, it decided to take this sort of blurry soft-focus shot that looks like a painting. I don’t think I could replicate this effect even if I tried! Super cool.

Alright, I guess that’s enough random for this post.

Miscellaneous Australia thoughts and photos, pt 2

As I was taking photos off my point-n-shoot, I discovered that I had (uncharacteristically) used my proper camera to take a couple of photos from the resort balcony. It’s too late to use them in the post, so I’m sticking them here:

Both of these incorporate nigh-microscopic birds, which will become relevant in a moment.

I do quite like the above one.

At one point during my childhood I decided I was going to be a bird photographer. Armed with a positively ancient 35mm camera I found at my grandma’s house and absolutely no subtlety whatsoever, I went around the wooded areas of our neighborhood taking photos that, when examined with a magnifying glass (or possibly an electron microscope) contained a small blur which could conceivably be a bird.

Eventually, paying for the archaic type of film the camera required got to be too much for my fragile adolescent budget and my brother’s (entirely justifiable) mockery of the terrible photos got to be too much for my fragile adolescent ego, so I stopped. But inside my soul, lurking like the lamest Call of the Wild to ever touch the heart of man or beast, is still the desire to photograph me some birds.

This is, as near as I can tell, a rather large Bush Stone-Curlew. They make a rather weird warble, and when annoyed will also make a strange, raspy half-hiss half-growl. I typed “hissing Queensland bird” into Google and that’s what I got, which is about as much ornithological research as I am willing to do.

This is an Australian Bush Turkey, and sadly the quality of this photo is reminiscent of my previous efforts. I note that the Australian Turkey is just as ugly as the common variety.

Perhaps related to my rubbish nature photography, I am also terrible at spotting speed cameras. I would occasionally see signs warning of a speed camera ahead, but I never actually saw the cameras themselves! I’m half convinced there weren’t any and just like a homeowner who puts the sticker of a security system in the window without installing the system itself, the Queensland government is hoping the signs alone will be effective deterrents.

(What would be a more effective deterrent is mandated cruise control. I’ve had four different cars in Australia and New Zealand, three of them rentals and one that I bought, and none of them have had cruise control. The motorways in both countries are clogged by drivers accelerating and then quickly braking once they realized they’re going too fast. But that’s none of my business…)

This would probably be a bad idea even if it wasn’t right outside the shower…

Pretty much every EFTPOS system in Australia (the card-processing point of sale system) supports Paywave, which is super convenient. Very, very few of them in New Zealand do. I believe it’s because Australia only started using EFTPOS a few years ago, while New Zealand has much more legacy hardware from before Paywave was a thing.

Flying domestically is a much more pleasant experience in nearly every non-USA country. Flying internationally tends to be a bit stricter, and unfortunately I think a lot of that is our fault. But I will say that even though the policies are strict, the people are still a lot nicer. Not that I haven’t met a few nice TSA folks, but everywhere other than the US it seems like they don’t actually expect everyone traveling overseas to be a terrorist.

And with that bit of wisdom (?), we’re almost done with Australia. Just one more post to go!

Miscellaneous Australia thoughts and photos, pt 1

This is the post for random miscellany I didn’t want to stick in any of the other posts. It’s going to be a lot more words and a lot less focused than the stuff I usually post. You have been warned :)

Australia and New Zealand enjoy a fairly promiscuous political relationship. Traveling between the two countries is easy for citizens of either. Some Aussies told me that Australians can even come to New Zealand and vote in national elections here, though I’m not entirely sure I believe that. If you see something wonky in New Zealand, the explanation is frequently “oh, Australia does it that way and we copied them”. But despite how it seems like the two countries should just go ahead and get a room, if you ever want to see a Kiwi angry just call him an Aussie. Basically, New Zealand is Australia’s Canada.

It’s also quite easy for an American to get a tourist visa for Australia, but it does require advance work. Australia do not seem to offer visa on arrival. Be aware of this in case you intend to travel there and are an American citizen.

It’s difficult to find root beer, especially good root beer, in New Zealand. It is equally difficult in Australia, but they seem to have a national love of Sarsaparilla. Until this trip, I had erroneously assumed that it was spelled Sasparilla, as it’s pronounced, but I have learned the error of my ways! Sarsaparilla is not exactly root beer, but it’s similarly tasty.

I believe this is the only time I’ve ever exited from the rear of an airplane. I guess it’s because the Gold Coast airport is too small to have a jetway. Or maybe it’s because I’m usually a smarmy jerk whose airline status lets him sit up front so I don’t get to see the rear passengers deplaning. I thought it was cool enough that I took a photo of it even though you’re not supposed to take your phone out on the tarmac.

The international terminal of the Auckland airport is effectively a shopping mall. I know this is fairly common amongst airports, but while I normally find shopping malls (and airports, for that matter) stressful to the point of being angst-inducing, for some reason I find myself much more favorably disposed toward the Auckland airport.

Burger King is called Hungry Jack’s in Australia, sort of like a Hardee’s / Carl’s Jr. situation. There was already a burger takeaway place called Burger King in place when the big BK tried to move in to Australia.

King is a quite common surname in Australia, and there’s an urban legend that there was a curmudgeonly old man living out in the bush named Burger King who came in to the city and saw a restaurant bearing his name. He sued the company saying that they can’t use his name to sell rubbish food and won. Even though he is now dead, his legacy lives on in the Hungry Jack name all Burger King franchises have to take in Oz. Delightful as this story is, it is also sadly untrue.

Nobody tell Queensland that Florida is also called the Sunshine State, or else they might change their name to the Hungry Jack’s State.

This is my fellow Kiwi, Jordan, in Broadbeach in Gold Coast. He struck what is quite possibly the best pose ever struck by a human being. I hear that Queensland is going to create a statue of the pose in this precise location to commemorate the event. I have a few other photos of Broadbeach, but as it was dark they are pretty boring so I didn’t post them in any of the Gold Coast posts.

I had so many miscellaneous thoughts and photos I made it into two posts! Pt 2 coming soon!