Tuesday, September 14, 2010



Questions to add to the standard first date repertoire: How do you feel about prostitution?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Taupo the morning to ya

If there was a guiness world record for the most times the phrase "oh my god" was heard in a 24 hour period; I would hold that record. I reached this milestone by taking three irish women on a road trip to Lake Taupo to embark on a 15,000 ft tandem skydive. When I have a one to one conversation with any of my three irish friends, I can understand them perfectly. When the three of them are speaking with each other, the rate at which they produce words triples and it is completely incoherent. This is hysterically funny to listen to as it basically consists of a series of outbursts, laughter, oh my god's, and cuss words. There was so much cussing I felt like I was in a Martin Scorsese movie. I find it ironic that the phrase "oh my god" has become so commonplace in english conversation that it has absolutely no relationship to religion anymore. I hear the words uttered all the time by Christians and atheists alike. It's also blindingly obvious that this phrase is used exponentially more by girls than guys. If I was an ambitious linguistics scholar I would be publishing a paper titled OMG.

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I have never spoken to someone who has been skydiving before and was not absolutely through the roof for it. Conjure up about 100 synonyms for the word amazing and that's how people describe skydiving. And all those people are undeniably correct. A friend told me once, that jump guides are trained to make the entire experience as process oriented as possible. The idea is to keep the tandem diver involved in everything other thinking about what they are about to do. So as soon as I met the guy I was to jump with he had me completely preoccupied with small tasks all the way up until the point that we fell out of the plane. Stand here. Put this on. Look at the camera. Walk over here. Sit there. There was no down time. No time to get scared. And surprisingly, I didn't get scared or nervous....until the first two jumpers took off at 12,000 feet. (We had paid an extra $100 for the maximum 15,000 ft.) Skydiving was nothing like I had imagined it in my head. I always pictured a huge plane, with plenty of room. I imagined myself getting up and walking to a giant door and actually jumping out of into the sky. Turns out, I was not even close. We piled onto a tiny plane, which had been cleverly painted pink. We sat on a bench Indian style, each guide behind there prospective jumper. I was to be the third jumper out of our group of four. When it was my turn my guide just shoved me forward to the end of the bench and onto the floor. There was no decision making on my point. I was going where this guy was pushing me whether I wanted to or not. As soon as I got near the small opening in the plane the most powerful wind I've ever experienced smashed me in the face and I became immediately paralyzed with fear. I could not hear, speak, move or think. If I could have processed a thought, I probably would have worried about my heart beating a whole in my chest before bursting wide open. When my guide pushed me to the edge of the plane and my feet fell out into the air the impossible happened - I got even more scared. At this point I was certain that I was just going to die right there. There was no way that a person could experience that kind of tension on every muscle in their body and every fiber in there brain and not instantly expire. Before I could shove this guy back in the plane and demand that we land immediately, we fell out of the plane. We didn't jump. We didn't scoot off the edge. We just toppled off the side. At this point I felt the most incredible speed I have ever felt in my life. I am certain I have never moved that fast in my life. It was spellbinding. I continued to remain absolutely paralyzed in fear. For the first few seconds of the fall I didn't scream or smile or frown or do anything but remain completely astonished at what was happening. I was able to follow the instructor's commands; moving my arms when told to. Eventually, a little smidgen of the fear subsided and I looked out over Lake Taupo and tried to scream. Nothing really came out. The wind was blowing so hard that the skin on my face was being stretched all over the place. As soon as opened my mouth I inhaled this wind and uttered a barely audible screech. After a few seconds I realized that I was being filmed and tried to make some memorable faces for the camera. The free fall seemed to last forever. I've watched skydiving videos before and always thought that skydivers looked like they are just casually floating around in the air. But it doesn't feel like floating at all. It actually feels completely unnatural. The human body was not made to travel that fast.

Eventually, the guide instructed me to pull my arms in and all the sudden I felt a hard thrust upwards as the parachute filled with air and drastically decreased our speed. My harness actually left a bruise on my legs from the back lash. The landing was almost as scary as the free fall. It was eerily quiet and still hanging from the parachute and I was certain that at any moment I would hear a snap and we'd be falling again. It was during the free fall that my guide informed me that the camera strapped to his hand that he had been filming me with had crapped out. I was not evenly remotely upset about this. The adrenalin was still flowing like a river through my body and nothing could have phased me at that point. We spun around in the air a little bit before landing in a field where the Irish ladies were screaming.....Oh my god.

Of all the extreme sports New Zealand has to offer, I can understand why skydiving is so popular. Unlike the bungee jump, the decision to execute is taken out of the participants hand. And unlike canyoning, river surfing, and white water rafting the participant does not need to be even remotely physically fit. Basically, just show up and get on the plane and rest is done by someone else. It's definitely the quickest way to spend hundreds of dollars, but well worth it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The wino and I know

I arrived in Wellington on August 10th to thrust myself into a full blown job searching effort. By Saturday August 14th I was taking off for a road trip. Hawkes Bay is one of the most popular north island destinations in New Zealand and luckily within driving distance from Wellington. I'm not sure exactly what constitutes Hawkes Bay, but I knew that Napier is one of the main towns. I also knew that the region is popular for its vineyards and wineries. The lonely planet provides more insightful information:

"You don’t have to be particularly cultured to enjoy Napier but you might find its passion for architecture and fine wine surprisingly contagious. Before long you’ll be blathering on about the Chicago School, Mayan decorative devices and ‘hints of passionfruit on the palate’ with the best of them.

The Napier of today is the silver lining of the dark cloud that was NZ’s worst natural disaster. Rebuilt after the deadly 1931 earthquake in the popular styles of the time, the city retains a unique concentration of Art-Deco buildings. Architecture obsessives flock here from all over the world and the town milks it for all it’s worth. Don’t expect the Chrysler Building – Napier’s Art Deco is resolutely low-rise – but you will find intact 1930s streetscapes which can provoke a Great Gatsby swagger in the least romantic soul.

For the layperson it’s a charismatic, sunny, composed city with the air of an affluent English seaside resort about it."

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A buddy of mine spent the summer in Napier and enjoyed working on a winery but advised that the town was completely dead at night. He was not lying. Napier is definitely more a summer destination and after soaking up sunny skies driving out of Wellington, I endure a steady dark rain for pretty much the rest of the weekend.

A little cold rain would not stop me from having an enjoyable trip. I arrived in Napier to be immediately reminded of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi; a regular get-away destination of my youth. Napier is a small coastal town with lots of beach side motel and restaurants. And like Bay St. Louis it has some unique characteristics that give it a colorful identity. This was showcased at the Criterion Art Deco Backpackers, where I met Collin, an American friend who was doing a quick backpacking tour of New Zealand. The hostel was spacious and like the rest of Napier, empty.

On Sunday morning we asked the lone hostel employee about doing a winery tour and provided the phone number to Grape Escape. I called and we agreed to be picked up outside the hostel at 1:00. This was my first wine tour and it turned out to be a delightful experience. Our tour guide picked us up as promised in a minivan and after gathering two more backpackers from another hostel we were off to our first vineyard. Throughout the day I repeatedly confirmed something that I was already pretty sure about - I don't care for white wines, I like red wines, and I love desert wines. And this was the general serving sequence at each winery. We would taste two to three whites (usually pinot gris and chardonnay), two to three reds (pinot noirs and the regional favorite syrah) and a desert wine. Most of the wineries featured newly constructed modern style buildings that were pleasing to the eye. I felt uncharacteristically stylish sipping wine in these establishments. Upon each arrival we were met with a cheery host who shared lots of interesting facts about their organizations' history and products. I learned more about wine in one day than I had in my entire life. The most interesting bit of information I picked up was that Paul Giamatti's little outburst in Sideways actually had a devastating effect on the sale of Merlot. To my amusement I also learned that the wine that he drinks in the burger joint in the movie is actually......a Merlot. Go figure.

At one of the last wineries we visited, I decided to buy some of the delicious chocolates that we had sampled there. Wanting to have enough to share with my friends back in Wellington, I was contemplating how much to buy when the wine tour guide instructed me not to worry about bringing the Napier chocolate home, but to stop in Greytown at Shoc and get the good stuff there. I took him up on his tip and ended up finding my own little slice of heaven. Shoc produces homemade chocolates in the widest range of flavors I have ever seen; 60 different flavors for their bar chocolates! These include the likes of Lemon and Cracked Pepper, Smoke Paprika, Limechili, and Dark Chocolate with sea salt. I'm not exaggerating when I say these were the most full flavored chocolates I had ever tasted. They blew Godiva out of the water. I ended up spending more money in 10 minutes at the chocolate store than I did in 5 hours visiting 8 wineries. I also realized I had missed my life's calling when I learned that their is such a thing as a Chocologist.

While the two days in Napier certainly don't rank high on my most memorable NZ road trips, I really did enjoy all the fine wine and chocolates and I surely will return to Hawkes Bay in the summer.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


An earthquake occurred in Christchurch this morning around 4:30 a.m. I was not affected by it and was unaware of it until I received a text from my parents this morning. The media has not reported any deaths or serious injuries, but they have reported incidents of looting. The anchorman's statement went something like this "there have been reports of looting and the police have issued a statement advising people not to loot." I can imagine how that conversation went down:

Officer 1: "We just got a call, people are looting."
Chief: "What! They shouldn't be doing that, that's just wrong."
Officer 1: "What should we do?"
Chief: "I saw this once when I was rookie, we should tell them to stop looting."
Officer 1: "Brilliant!! I'll call a press conference!!"

This morning's earthquake registered a 7.4 on the richter scale. I was dissappointed to learn that wikipedia does not report the richter scale measurement for the famous earthquake game. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthquake_Game

This is a rare instance of wikipedia letting me down. I've never been involved in an earthquake and am embarrassed to say I'm not even sure what I would do if one occurred. In February, I was sitting at a U shaped bar in Winnie's having a drink with some friends when the bar starting violently shaking. I looked down to see someone at the other end of the table telling an animate story and I thought he just been shaking supports of the bar. I learned a couple of days later that it had actually been a tremor.

I kind of wish I had paid more attention to that Saved by the Bell episode when Zach and Tory go over exactly how one is supposed to respond in an earthquake. I should probably find that on youtube so I can be prepared. In the meantime, I think I'll head down to Christchurch and pick up a new flatscreen....wait, no they said not to do that. Good thing I watched the news this morning.