Well Summer is starting to roll around in the bottom of the South Pacific and people's thoughts are fixating on the 3 B's: Barbecues, Boxing day sales, and beer.
It is back to work for me on the world's slowest renovation project: my bathroom. If you were to look at the pie chart of my progress it would be-
70% looking at bathroom under the pretense of "envisioning the completed project".
10% looking for the right tool under the pretense of "looking for the right tool".
10 % measuring under the pretense of "inventing my own system of measurement which has no basis in reality whatsoever".
10% cutting and inhaling potentially toxic dust.
I know that it is 110%. That is just how good I am.
And on the theme of inhaling toxic stuff I entered the BodyArt Rocks competition again this year. (see Oct 2007 "rule# 1 never user permanent marker on someone you love")
This year I figured that I should do something really cool, but that was curtailed by the theme of this years show which was "hot rods". I have never been a car guy. I mean I like some cars but mostly they are a system of transfer from point a to b (and a place to hold some of the tools that I'm looking for). After some thought I decided to do a spin on the coolest car when I was a kid. dun dun ta da the Pontiac Firebird. What I actually wound up with was a sticky, smelly, torturing device for my wife.
Jessica set me up a nice workspace in the spare room which I don't have to worry about messing up since we are going to renovate that room too (see above to get the joke). The idea that I was trying for was a native american phoenix (get it. pontiacfirebird). After some research I began to play around with the idea that it was more dinosaur than bird so I was off and running...or crouched and painting as was actually the case.
I used J as my model again this year because she works cheap and I am way too shy to paint intimate places on a total stranger. Since she was at my disposal I wanted to make a plaster cast of her torso. I was designing a pair of wings that could unfold without being to heavy for her to carry. The plaster cast was so I could tell where the joints would work the best and make the costume more form fitting. To anyone who is interested you can make a plaster cast by using many plaster bandages (if detail is not an issue) but you have to be sure to grease your subject up. Plaster bandages will grab a hold of every little hair that you have on your body and voila! kissably smooth the hard way. Lug everything into the bathroom. Oil her up. Cut the plaster strips. Cover any exposed areas not being covered by plaster. The mold has to be made in two sections so that one can get it apart and fit it back together which you can then fill with plaster. The whole process would take about two and a half hours....standing still with her arms propped up on sticks. but.. attempt #1: twenty minutes in her back starts to cramp so I take off the plaster so far and we call it a night. attempt #2: to be on the safe side she takes a Nurofen with codeine. An hour and 10 minutes in she throws up. I take everything back off. Now most people would take the hint but nooooooo. attempt #3: two and a half hours back to front. She's been an absolute trooper. I carefully take the front half off and it falls apart. Not to be outdone the back half does it too. okay so no plaster torso cast. Nevertheless, I push on building the wings and the beating heart because every native american dinosaur raptor has to have a beating heart on the outside of the chest. (Don't even attempt to understand me) Unfortunately, I spent way too long on the wings and ran out of time to prepaint most of the costume and work on the head prosthetic. So the last three days before the event I was burning the midnight oil and inhaling toxic fumes. It was practically a party. I did have a mild panic attack when I used two part foam on the head piece and watched it expand to the size of a basketball. After much pushing I did manage to get it back down to a reasonable size. The show this year was in collaboration with a tattoo convention in an effort to bolster numbers. There were a lot more in the audience but participation was down. Most people jumped ship to participate in the Aukland show which is quite a bit larger. So this year it was just me and another guy in our category, but I did win... This year had some great prizes. Another cool trophy, 250 cash, tickets to the Aukland 2009 awards, and a signed Weta statue of the Skull Island Natives. Again I think that the best part was getting to talk about stuff with people who understand it when I say, "the two part foam blew it up like a basketball!" My work room is still a mess. I have a thin layer of latex covering the floor so that it feels like you're walking on skin. creeepy I am mulling over doing the 2009 Aukland awards in May. I just have to wait long enough so that J begins to forget just how unpleasant a process it all is. (like childbirth. women are good at forgetting unpleasant processes) J is interested in entering World of Wearable arts in 2009 so it may be a busy arts year. Now in all fairness I would volunteer to be her model for the WOW show, but I am too old and too short. ouch. I am overdue for my staring at the bathroom time. So over and out for now. Happy New Year everyone.
(the one picture is what J looked like when I took the makeup off. It was just so creepy cool we had to take a picture.)
Just a quick post to promote International Medical Corps. It was nominated to be one of the Top 25 in American Express' Members Projects, "Saving the Lives of Malnourished Children." The project was chosen out of 1,190 projects and is now eligible to receive up to $1.5 million to help feed hungry children, but the voting ends next Tuesday and they need your help to spread the word. They've put together this blogger friendly web release explaining everything. http://internationalmedicalcorps.smnr.us/
My addition to Darryl's description of our trip to Japan. He covered Harajuku, Kyomizudera and Nara Koen, so here's some of the rest of the trip...
While in Tokyo - the cleanest large city I've ever encountered - I learned a little bit about fashion. In Shibuya near Tower 109 you can see kogals - they dye their hair as blond as they can get it and tan in tanning salons, trying to achieve a moneyed California girl style. In Shimokitazawa, it's faded jeans and lots of cotton tops and hemp bags for hippyish laid back look. Shops there sell t-shirts with Janglish expressions or US College names. I got one that says "Lure of the Tropics Enjoy Freedom of Seafaring Adventure" and sports a Route 66 patch, because 66 is so... tropical?
Regardless of their style, most people look like they take a good bit of time getting their outfit (including matching parasol) right. Downtown, you have some of the best dressed people I've ever seen. And I noticed there's less of a need for men's things to be super masculine - men often have cell phone charms, and I see them using fans in the street.
Kyoto has some of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. When we arrived at Kyoto station it was hard to believe, because everything looked pretty grey, but being based in Gion right by Yasaka shrine was great, and we started with a 1 day tour through JapanICan that gave us literally only 30 - 45 minutes at each place. Darryl didn't like being rushed, but it was nice to get to see 6 places in a day, mostly because there were about a million sites in and around Kyoto I wanted to visit, and 4 1/2 days there barely got us started.
We started at Nijo Castle, with terrific painted screens throughout, which we weren't allowed to photograph. (Speaking of that, in lots of less expected places - stores, train stations - there would be signs about not photographing anything. Kind of weird given the stereotype of the Japanese tourist with camera.)
We got whisked along to the Golden Pavilion, which really has gold on it, and which is a replacement, since a monk with some serious sharing issues burned the last one down. I think it's pretty much impossible for people to take a bad photo there. The place just oozes photogenic charm; it's breathtaking, like slipping into a postcard.
There was a lot of lining up in specific numbers of columns for the inside of the Imperial Palace, but the real highlight there are the gardens with pond. We got to spend about 10 minutes in the garden after the inside tour, so I started to feel very much like the hapless tourist.
Then we got a full two hours at our next location, which would make you think it was pretty important, but like many tourism companies, they know the value of marooning you at a shop and getting kickbacks. We took half an hour to eat and then wandered around the several floors of the Handicraft center until the bus came back for the second half of the tour.
On to the first of many bright orange shrines. The color is an import from China and thought to ward off bad spirits. The shrines - part of the Shinto religion - all have lots of little spots with fortunes and bells (to get the spirit's attention) on ropes. Some people would clap twice instead of ringing to call on the spirits. (No one shouted "Hey".)
Sanjusangendo was my favorite place of the day. There are 1001 kannon statues, and it's seriously impressive. I wasn't allowed to take photos in there, but I'm sort of glad, because I was just gaping at them all. I kept remembering it's not polite to point in Japan - but they have so many things that make you want to point. Not fair.
We ditched our tour after the last stop - Kyomizudera - instead of getting a ride back to a drop off point. Maybe the gorgeous view, cooler evening temperatures (well, people stopped spontaneously combusting) and having plenty of time helped make it a favorite of Darryl's. He covered this one in the previous post.
We walked up narrow Ponto-Cho in the evening and came back south by the Kamo river. Lots of couples were sitting on blankets that were so evenly spaced along the bank that it looked like someone had come with a ruler between them.
Maybe to feel like adventurers instead of tourists, on our second day in Kyoto we visited a less crowded temple and we set out on foot to find things, and especially liked the places we found while lost. But I'll add that soon...
Power walking is an Olympic sport? Where's crab soccer?
The general lack of blogging lately has been due to the usual doldrums of day to day living. The boss is expanding his business and I'm trying to find my directional bearings. You know the "follow the charted course or take the road less traveled." question. Sometimes the best surprises are the little surprises you find when you just wander and just because you wander doesn't mean you are lost.
Jessica and I just got back from Japan. This was the best holiday we've had in years. Japan is Jessica's dream location. The place that she has always wanted to see. Mine was Ireland (which we did in '98 and did not disappoint).
I had a ton (I actually just spelled it tonne. It kinda seeps in through osmosis. weird huh!) of vacation time left. If you work on a holiday here not only do they give you time and a half but you also get a day off in lieu of working it. That and four weeks of vacation. Four weeks, people!! I had to fight badgers at Borders to get two weeks off after working 10 years.
It was a last minute kind of trip after finding a great deal so we had about two weeks prep time. Jessica tapped into some kind of Virgo recessive gene from her Mom and churned out this detailed itinerary involving maps, subway and bus routes, timetables, weather calculations, etc. etc... ( thanks to Harvey for helping her with that!). It was like we were breaking into Japan and we had to disable the security system. I was waiting for the laser pointer, powerpoint presentation, and.......... catsuit.
Japan was always kind of a scary prospect not only because of the size and expensiveness, but also because of the extreme language barrier. I encountered that before in Egypt. When you can't even read the alphabet it can be a little difficult. We prepared ourselves by checking out a slew of Japanese language books and cramming for useful phrases. Also we rented Shogun the '70's miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain. (not only was it entertaining, we learned some key Japanese phrases pronounced like a seductive British John Wayne, "Ko-nichi-Wa, baby.") . Jessica wrote down every possible variation on the theme of, "I don't eat ANY animal products!" Which is a very hard thing to communicate to a culture that considers pork a vegetable. Whereas I wrote down things like ,"That was delicious.", "I really do have a reservation." and "Could you please tell which train goes to Monster Island?"
We both mastered the phrases, "sumimasen, arigato gozaimasu, and gomen nasai." (Excuse me, thank you very much, and I'm sorry.) and the most used "wakarimasen" which is "I don't understand."
The flights were rather nice because they were not very full so we got to stretch out. (well as much as you can stretch out in something designed by the same people who I think design those gynecology stirrups and roller coaster safety bars.) After a 12 and 1/2 hour flight, 42 movies, and having every bit of moisture sucked from our bodies (Seriously, airlines would it kill you to invest in a simple humidifier...and maybe a couple of house plants to give it that homey feel.) we landed in Tokyo, the largest metropolitan city in the world.
Tokyo is a psychedelic mix of neon and noise, noir and newness. We got around the city thanks to J's maps and my compass. The thing that amazed me most was the friendliness and helpful people in a city of that size. I love Tokyo, and much to her surprise Jessica did as well. It has been awhile since I have been in a large city. Kapiti, while gorgeous, is like living in Mayberry, so it was good to breath a little smog again. The Japanese are light years ahead of us in toilet technology (and yet they still have many Asian squat toilets. It's a conundrum.) Any toilet that comes with instructions is okay in my book. I love a city where a large number young people dress up in the coolest outfits and hang out in the Harajuku district. They read manga, and have little cartoon characters representing everything. I also love a city where I am of average height for the first time in my life! And best of all.......They had a Krispy Kreme.
Could I have a moment please....?
So what did we do in Tokyo? We shopped. I bought ice cube trays that make ice in the shape of false teeth. It's soo cool. ahem
Kyoto (the anagram lovers Tokyo) was a little disappointing at first glance, but when you start to look you find all these wonderful secrets the city hides. We visited temples and shrines. Kyoto is arguably the cultural center of Japan. You see geisha walking small alleys virtually unchanged for 500 years. Hawkers stand outside the shops welcoming passers by. One of my favorite places we visited in Kyoto was Kiyomizudera. The temple dates back to 798, but the present buildings were constructed in 1633. The temple takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. Kiyomizu means pure water, clear water or limpid water. It is notable for its vast veranda, supported by hundreds of pillars, that juts out over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city. The popular expression "to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu" is the equivalent of the expression "to take the plunge". This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive jumping from the stage, one's wish would be granted.
The fall is 13 meters, but the lush vegetation below the platform might cushion the fall of a lucky pilgrim. However, the practice is now prohibited. Two hundred and thirty-four jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived. (I wouldn't want to see the .4% guy)
Beneath the main hall is the waterfall Otowa no taki, where three channels of water drop into a pond. Visitors to the temple collect the water, which is believed to have therapeutic properties, from the waterfall in metal cups on poles (which, though shared, are sanitized in UV trays) or commemorative plastic cups. (we opted for the cup) It is said that drinking the water of the three streams confers wisdom, health, and longevity. However, some Japanese believe that you must choose only one -- if you are greedy and drink from all three, you invite misfortune upon yourself. I think we drank from the wisdom stream, but I can't verify that.
We decided just to walk from our hotel in Gion to find Nanzenji. We found ourselves up in the wooded hills and came across this little shrine built into a small cave. It was incredible to feel so far away in this serene untouristed spot and yet know the rest of the city was just five minutes away. On way back down we stumbled (okay maybe not stumbled) across a very large bell. (How large was it?) It was soo large that it takes 17 monks to ring it!
Next was Nara. We stayed in a ryokan which is a traditional Japanese Inn. They typically feature tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata (house robe of sorts) and talk with the owner. Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784. Nara is dominated by a large park where about 1200 deer roam free. The deer are considered sacred and are believed to be protector spirits. Let me tell you those spirits are hungry!! You can buy these "shika sembei - Deer Biscuits" and suddenly you have a lot of new friends. Friends who will pull on your clothes with their teeth. Nara is home to Todaiji temple, the largest wooden building in the world that is home to the largest Buddha in Japan. Around the back is a wooden pillar with a hole in it. It is said that anyone who passes through the hole (which is the size of the Great Buddha's nostril) will achieve enlightenment. I would have to achieve Jenny Craig long before enlightenment. There were several future enlightened children who made it through.
We took the bullet train back to Tokyo for our flight home. Again we were lucky in that the flight wasn't that full. The flight back was even longer because we had to fly from Tokyo to Christchurch to Auckland to Wellington. I got questioned a little by security while in Christchurch. Okay guys anyone who has been on a plane for 14 hours looks like a terrorist!
It was a great trip. And surprisingly, we didn't spend all that much. It was one of those rare vacations where you feel invigorated when you come back. We find ourselves looking at the teach English in Japan jobs online. hmmm. I'm pretty sure given half a chance we would go back.
We're back from our 10 day trip to Japan, which was amazing. Darryl is working on a blog post about it - seriously, I have seen part of a draft in the post list waiting to be finished, so I am not making it up. In the meantime, I wanted to add a link to our photos from the trip for those who have asked.
Passed a milestone this week. Darryl and I got our IRRVs put in our US passports.
When we first were accepted into NZ, we got PR (permanent resident) visas, which meant we could stay in the country as long as we wanted. We also got a 2 year RRV (returning resident's visa). That's the bit you use when you leave New Zealand for any reason. Even if you have a PR visa, you can't get back into NZ once you leave without the RRV. The initial one we got was good for 2 years, but because we've been living in NZ with only one trip abroad, when it expired recently we qualified for the coveted IRRV - indefinite returning resident's visa - which has no expiration date. Meaning should we choose at some point to live outside NZ, we can still always come back again.
Wow, never has something that exciting for me been this mind-numbingly dull to explain.
Anyway, after we got our number from Welly immigration we had a 45 minute wait, and they said we could leave and come back, so we walked around the corner and Darryl went into a games store and I hit The Body Shop. We came back, got called, were processed within minutes, and went to the movies (got to get it all in while we're in the 'big city'). Our only visit to immigration so far was a breeze.
I've enjoyed watching "So you Think You Can Dance, Australia" even though I've never seen its American counterpart. It surprised me that I looked forward to it, but dancers don't get anything close to the exposure that singers do, and when I do see dance it's usually part of a music video, a theatrical performance, or a b-list star vehicle, not something devoted entirely to good dancing. In any event, they had a 15 (now just turned 16) year old named Caleb who could not compete because of his age, but who can dance like you would not believe. Video proof:
His original audition:
And at the finale when they had him back on (he comes on stage 1 min. in):
They gave him a scholarship worth $10k to continue studying in Sydney.
This has always been sort of an NZ move and update blog, and now that we are coming up on two years here, NZ has ceased to feel so foreign. Granted we still find new and amazing parks, perplexing news stories -- like the occasional theft of a body right before the funeral, when a carload of family members show up and take it to a marae -- new interesting language things -- like the word debut being pronounced "dayboo" and then in a magazine I read a comment that NZers learned this mispronunciation from Americans (I have never met an American that said dayboo) -- and other little things. But really day to day, it's become sort of comfortingly familiar. It's no longer an oddity to drive on the left, read about polls between National and Labour or to see the uncensored movie Closer on network TV in prime time.
I don't think I will ever get over the breathtaking view from the house, but after about 300 photos from one angle, I think I'm finally letting the camera cool down.
That's not to say that it's boring. In fact, it's really nice as far as I'm concerned to feel at home again. Although the move itself has been a great adventure for us and tested our ability to go with the flow, the excitement of feeling everything is new and unusual can also be a hassle when you just want to buy groceries or go to the doctor.
Anyway, all is well for those of you we know who are checking in. :)
If you found us on a search and are looking for moving to NZ info, please use the archives to read about our arrival - buying a car, finding a place to live, culture shock, starting work, setting up internet, etc...
my friend synge of littlefunkymonkey fame had her first baby on the 23rd just one day after her mother's funeral. synge's mom wanted to see her grandson, but after an amazing 19 months of fighting cancer, she couldn't hold out any longer. synge's letter to her mom over on lfm is straight to the heart.