Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The road from Wellington to Rotorua was long and windy, but offered a whole range of stuff to gawk at. The Lord of the Rings -esque countryside rolled along seemingly endlessly, a slightly lusher version of what I saw on the way to Queenstown on the South Island earlier -- only there weren't nearly as many roadkills, I think I only saw a couple of flattened rabbits on the way. There are also a lot more Maori on the North Island. Coincidence? One might think so.
At times the road also snaked its way through forests and steep ravines, or wandered endlessly through barren fields with towering, snow-topped volcanoes in the middle. All in all, very nice views. It took 7 hours to reach Rotorua, but I think I actually played with my camera more than I did with my DS.
Traveled by Naked Bus. Unfortunately everyone wore their clothes; Australia might be the new US, but nature isn't the only thing in NZ still offering good things to stare at.
Passing Mount Ruapehu, the largest active volcano in New Zealand (2797 m) and one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
Lake Taupo right after Mount Ruapehu. It is actually an enormous crater of one of the few known super volcanoes in the world. (Remember all the fuzz earlier this year over the seismic activity in Yellowstone in US?)
After arriving to Rotorua I walked briefly around the town (it's a tiny place), had dinner and decided to settle in early into my dog house sized hotel room to compensate for all those early mornings of sightseeing and traveling so far. Fat chance. The walls were made of paper and in the next door, another pair of idiots with their 2-year old, who finally stopped screaming his lungs out around 11pm. Good parents, nice parents. George Carlin really said it the best.
Here's a little panorama of one of the intersections in Rotorua central. Tiny tiny place.
Subtle little hint at my hotel for the visitors to use the toilets instead of pissing in front of the reception?
Rotorua – 2nd day
At the check-in the day before I had also booked a trip to two volcanic spots near the town: Wai-o-tapu and Waimangu. They both involved a good deal of walking, but it was definitely worth it: both places featured a lot of never-seen-that-befores to me. Just check the photos below. Rotorua and central New Zealand in general aren't exactly the kind of places that can be well described in words alone.
Boiling lake of mud. I bet I could sell that stuff for 50 euros a bottle for the women and metrosexuals of the world. The air in that place smelled very heavily of pea soup.
Lady Knox geyser. It erupted soon after I took this picture, but it wasn't all that cool. Just turn your shower head to point upwards and imagine what it would look like, if there was enough pressure to send the water up 10 meters.
There were several craters like this in Wai-o-Tapu, apparently the ground caved in into an underground river. There was a constant churning, bubbling sound audible from below, as well as frequent eruptions of steam.
Path over a hot lake. There are no railings, because the water at that point is very shallow and quite cool to touch. The steamy place in the corner of the picture on the other hand...
Hot waterfall, never popped into my head before that there might be such a thing in this world. :)
Champagne pool and me. Very pictoresque, but unfortunatelly the steam kept covering it all.
The pool is nice, too, of course.
Devil's Bath, they call this one...
Onward to the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley. The mountain in the background is Mount Tarawera (1111 m). It erupted in 1886, destroying everything visible in the picture below, making the Waimangu valley probably the youngest ecosystem like this in the world.
Me, Frying Pan Lake and the Cathedral Rock. Frying Pan Lake is the largest hot spring in the world, created by the 1886 Tarawera eruption, and very active, having erupted itself many times, reshaping the neighborhood, hurling around water, mud and rocks, occasionally killing people. Next to this place the largest geyser in the world was active for some years in early 20th century.
Inferno Crater. Seems peaceful, but is hot and highly acidic. The surface level of the lake varies by several meters over a period of some weeks.
Lake Tarawera and mount Tarawera.
The lake is a paradise for many strange birds.
Next up, Japan desu.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wellington – 1st day
The 5-hour train trip from Christchurch to Picton went through some very pretty places, to say the least. Just too bad that after less than 3 hours of sleep the night before my brain had the consistency and cognitive capabilities of a bucket-full of mashed potatoes. In fact I think I probably would have lost to the said bucket in a game of tic-tac-toe. Repeatedly. Without seeing anything strange about it.
I also had the pleasure of sitting opposite and next to a double-family-whammy of Indian tourists, whose two constantly screaming kids didn't really help my mood. I will probably never know, what kind of mental sickness makes some people think that taking kids under school age to a holiday with you is a good idea. Or to a restaurant. Or to do shopping. Nor will I understand, what's so wrong about punching a kid that stares at you for hours on end in the face – the parents don't seem to appreciate me doing it, not that I'm going to let that stop me.
One of the definite highlights in the train was one of the staff members, who was constantly explaining the history and other interesting tidbits about the places we passed along the way. He would for example cheerfully ramble on about how a certain large boulder of an island was named after a whaler's wife, who would always escape her husband's drunken beatings there by swimming, whenever she saw his boat appearing in the horizon. When we were just arriving to Picton (a pesky village of 4k-people at the end of a very pretty fjord), he would also suggest us not to forget anything onboard, because he wasn't in a habit of returning lost things, as proven by the filthy ragtag of kids living on garbage in the freight car of the train. He also wished us good time in Wellington (why the hell would we come to Picton, if not to continue on the ferry?), and in general “on the largest off-shore island of New Zealand that the locals call 'North Island'.” Guess he was from south himself.
The 3-hour ferry ride over the Cook Strait from Picton to Wellington was interesting. I've read that it is one of the most unpredictable and even dangerous waterways in the world, but as we were making our way over it, it seemed anything but. Beautiful columns of light pierced the clouds above and reflected of the ocean surface, and dolphins were bouncing around on both sides of the 100-meter long ferry.
And then the captain told us to hold on to something, as the going was about to get rough.
What's this, then, I asked myself and turned to look out through the window of the bar I was in.
And was greeted by a wave smashing against it.
Window that was on the 8th deck.
It was a roller coaster ride after that, and I enjoyed it heaps. :)
It's very windy in Wellington tonight. I'm hoping that it will calm down for tomorrow, as I would love to get on top of some of the hills surrounding this rather pretty city for photographs. The wind is making a huge ruckus outside, and the weird wall contraption outside my room's window is not only blocking all of my view, but also funneling the winds down to my window so that there is a near-constant whistling and rustling sound in my room. There are also some paper cups stuck behind the slab of concrete, rolling loudly here and there in the current, like flies looking for a way through a window.
On the north-bound train along the stormy coastline.
Arrived to Picton, population 4000-ish.
Picton's exciting past-time hits include such extreme sports as growing very large pumpkins.
So this is what happens to pineapples, when you don't eat them quickly enough.
Leaving Picton and South Island behind.
It's sunny, kinda...
A room with a view...
Wellington – 2nd day
I'm a lucky dog. :) Waking up in the morning around 8am, there was none of the wind orchestra to be heard, and peeking through my window at the narrow slip of visible sky, I was greeted by bright blue. Up up and away!
The best place to take in the whole city at once is apparently from top of Mt. Victoria, a 200m hill close to my hostel. Finding the correct way to the top, with all the roads crisscrossing, doubling back on themselves, sometimes even running over houses chipped into the rocks below, wasn't that easy, but made for a very interesting walk, the sun all the while creeping higher and starting to warm up my sore throat (damn the leaky windows here). This city, in many ways, reminds me of Busan in South Korea, with all the bays making it seem like the ocean surrounds it on all sides, with all the hills making it seem like a hidden valley in the middle of a mountain range, with many of the roads seeming to run in 30 degree angles and with the swarms of small apartment buildings piled on top of each other. Even the English they speak here is sometimes only marginally more comprehensible than Korean, and I don't think you would have to go far before you found yourself a hot spring – another Busan speciality.
The view from the top of the hill was fantastic, like promised. It was also very windy, though, so I didn't stay for too long. (I've seen many places already that insist on being the sunniest location in New Zealand, but it's easy to believe Wellington's claim for the windiest locale. Thank you Cook Strait, you mouth-breathing behemoth.
Back down from the hill, I walked directly to the Te Papa national museum a couple of blocks from my hostel. This place is for New Zealand something like Louvre is for France, only with free entry for all and not quite so many tourists swarming the place, there only so that they could later brag to others how civilized they are. It's really a cocktail of and art museum and a historical museum, a science fair and even an amusement park. If you ever come to Wellington, reserve Te Papa the half a day it deserves, you won't be disappointed. Come on, it's free you bastards!
Returned to the hostel around 3pm, had a quick bite to eat and rested my legs, then headed on to the hills on the opposite side of the city. On them: botanical gardens, astronomical observatory (was closed now, unfortunately), a cute little cable car running up and down the hillside, and kilometers of paths and roads zigzagging around and up and down the hillsides under a thick canopy of trees. Spent hours walking around there, taking it all in.
It's a very beautiful city indeed. The population of the city itself isn't much larger than that of Tampere in Finland, but it has the feel of a city twice the size of Helsinki, the busy downtown riddled with stuff and buildings that are actually pretty – as opposed to the horrible Soviet relics in Finland... To loosely quote my Lonely Planet guidebook: there are more cafes in Wellington per capita, than there are in New York. I'm liking it here a lot based on these two days, and if I had, say, half a million euros, I would definitely consider quitting my day job and retiring to a place like this..
Also, I got a couple of second-hand games for my DS. The upcoming flight to Japan shouldn't be too bad now. :)
Climbing up towards the top of Mount Victoria.
A nearly vertical bicycle path for crazy people.
Top of the world, baby!
The building regulations in NZ leave some room for improvement.
On the hill at the opposite side of Wellington from Mount Victoria. There seem to be cannons on every second hilltop here.
You can take a cable car to this hill.
Though the station can be a bit hard to locate.
Next up, a 7-hour bus trip to Rotorua tomorrow morning.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Monday, 20th of April:
The northbound Tranz-Coastal train leaves Christchurch at 7am towards Picton, where I will arrive right after noon. There I'll board a ferry that will take me over the Cook Strait to Wellington. Both the train and the ferry apparently pass through some pretty awesome locations.
2 nights of mucking about in Wellington.
Wednesday, 22nd of April:
"Naked Bus" from Wellington to Rotorua in the northern parts of the North Island, about 7 hours on the road.
2 nights of random volcanic expeditions in Rotorua.
Friday, 24th of April:
Again with the Naked Bus, this time from Rotorua to Auckland, where I'll stay one night, waiting for my flight the next day. Hopefully I will have time to hunt for some extra games for the Nintendo DS that I bought yesterday.
Saturday, 25th of April:
Spend my birthday flying, as I head over to Japan, making a 5-hour pit stop in Kuala Lumpur.
Sunday, 26th of April:
Arrive to Osaka, Japan, early morning, meet up with my friends there, offload some of my luggage to their place and jump on Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto.
Stay in Kyoto for 3 nights. Temples, parks, temples.
Wednesday, 29th of April:
Quick switch to the next temple-ridden city, Nara, where I will stay for 2-3 nights.
Temples, parks, hopefully some cherry blossoms, feed cookies to the deer roaming the parks.
Friday, 30th of April:
Make a day-trip to Iga-Ueno, visit the ninja museum and laugh at the silliness.
Head back to Nara in the evening, stay there for 1 or 2 more nights.
Saturday, 2nd of May:
Beginning of Golden Week and a stampede of Japanese tourists desperately trying to enjoy their big holiday.
Return to Osaka and spend a few days visiting my friends.
Thursday, 7th of May:
Shinkansen to Hiroshima. 2 days of visiting different memorial parks and museums, and perhaps half a day at Miyashima.
Saturday, 9th of May:
Take the morning train back to Osaka airport and return to New Zealand, again via Malaysia.
Sunday, 10th of May:
Auckland. Spend here maybe 1 night before flying back to Christchurch? Not sure, haven't booked any tickets yet. I guess I should be back to work on Monday, but I'm sure they can wait for me one day longer. :)
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I was about to have lunch in this nice little cafe with my friend yesterday. The place was a bit off from the busiest parts of the city, peaceful, seemingly mostly occupied by people so ancient that I can only assume it is indeed possible to simply get demended enough to forget to die.
Got myself a panini and sat down at a table.
Two seconds later there was a kind of sharp clickety-clickety-click and something zipped into existence right next to us.
Old lady: "You know, you two look just like my parents."
Me(outraged): "Well, I never!"
OL: "Where you from, young man?"
OL: "Oh, that be in northern Europe, innit? You all Russian there, aren't ya?"
OL: "And where you from, little lady?"
My friend: "I come from Japan!^^"
OL: "Aa, you know Pearl Harbor, then?"
Then she started her monologue.
Fifteen minutes later she was still going strong, endlessly swinging back and forth on her two crutches, like some kind of post-polio orangutan.
OL: "--Now, back in the 60s I met this man in Auckland, who really got me started with my writing career. Let's see now. Ahmed. Ahmed he was called. A fierce, fierce man, he was! You see, back in those days we were quite poor, and of course I had already a long history of different ailments that had really put my body down the bad way, let me tell you! And for a girl like me, who got her education in German, it wasn't too easy to find proper employment as a teacher, but luckily there was the time, when I was learning to use them early word pro-cess-ing machines and ended up writing this poem about mice that people back then really liked... where was I now? Ah right, counterfeit passports. You see--"
I think we could still be sitting there, listening to her, had we not finished our food and excused ourselves (repeatedly, maybe up to 15 times, and even then she tried giving us her address so that we could visit her for more delightful conversationing).
In a way it was a pity to end the "conversation", because towards the end she really started gaining momentum. I especially remember this snippet paraphrased below.
OL: "Do you reckon that Obama in the you-night-ed States will live very long? I really don't think so. It's such a shame, after Bush. Both the senior and the junior. Horrible people... You know, he is half from Kenya, black father, was it now.. He also did drugs when he was younger. I'm really into politics, see? People are always saying that I has a very keen eye, can see what it's all about, see? Did you know that there are some presidents in States who were jews? Like Roosevelt! Imagine that! With their huge noses and moneygrubbing! Of course they always change their name so that people will accept them, but it doesn't really change it, does it? Always be on guard for'em!"
Me: "Sorry, but... did you say before, that you are working for Amnesty International?"
OL: "Oh, yes! Such an interesting work! I also do gardening, since after retiring I always have so much time--"
Monday, April 6, 2009
Saw this right after coming to New Zealand, and incidentally, it was the first movie I've seen through a pair of polarizing glasses, which might explain perhaps ½ a star in the rating. I was surprised by it. It is actually a very nice movie, even if the storyline doesn't step away from the well-tread path set by a million stories told before it. It's really not that simple to make humor that is funny for both kids and the adults, but I think Bolt succeeded in it. I even liked the hamster-in-a-ball that some have complained about. (Yay for being in an English-speaking country and the chronic lack of the ever-so-high-quality Finnish dubbing.)
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans **
I give it two stars instead of one, because the guy playing the vampire elder really did a fantastic job in portraying his role. The werewolf dude (it's been a few weeks, forgot all names already) wasn't bad either, but the overall blandness of the movie makes his role quite forgettable. The vampire girl, on the other hand, holy fuck! Talk about a mess.. She was like Gollum, her moods swinging wildly between super-angsty and a princess-shaped paperweight every time the camera cut angles. And there were a lot of cuts. (And weird camera angles. Half the time you don't know if you are looking at the ceiling or the floor of the particular cave the scene is taking place in.) Was it the first Jason Bourne movie, the Bourne Identity, that started it all? That was a good movie, but the assholes who made it, should be skinned alive for killing off the whole fucking action genre and replacing it with the strobo shows that we are being fed these days. Fuck me, even the latest Bond movie would have been tolerable, had the action scenes been properly made! (I'm also heretic enough to call the reboot of the Batman series only a partial success because of this very thing.) Shaky camera and MTV-editing are to the action movies, what all the flicks ending with the word "Movie" are for comedies.
Well, there is some gore in it, and vampires can never be a total waste of time.
(admit it, you clicked that hoping for something big and blue to pop out. Instead, I give you something even better!)
Yea, it's a good movie, a very good movie. Of course it's not exactly like the comic with all the philosophical nyances and whatnot jammed in there, but anyone who thinks that it fails because of that, can cry themselves to sleep until old age and dementia wash away the scars for all I care. Few things that bothered me -- that I can think of off the top of my head -- were that Nite Owl and Silk Spectre (II) were displayed as such brutal little sonuvabitches in a fight that it really took a lot of the impact off of Rorschach's and Comedian's roles. And Nite Owl was supposed to be a middle-aged everyday normal guy, not the kind of semi-beefcake the actor was (the whole manhood-in-costume angle was very well displayed, though, I thought). Oh yes, and the ending... I actually liked this new one over the comic's squid one. It has a different weight to it, but the wrath of an angry god works just the same as an unknown alien thread for me -- it's just that after all the violence in the movie the whole destruction of the city scene was a huge cop-out. It really would have added some much-needed effect to it to show the bloody corpses piled up on top of each other everywhere instead of yet another CGI explosion. :(
Anyway, this movie has been talked to death, and most people have probably seen it already, and for those who haven't, you can come over to my house later and we can watch it together after I buy the bluray, if you bring the beer.
I was in a cafeteria today, sipping on a vanilla cappuccino the size of an olympic swimming pool, and writing some stuff on my laptop, when all of sudden two girls sit to the table next to me.
And proceed to speak in Finnish.
I got a rare opportunity right there to find out, what it is that women speak, when they think that there is no one listening/understanding them.
It's like guys usually assume it is, they speak of dicks.
And apparently not necessarily of dicks that are attached to a member of the human species.
Oh, weaker sex, you never cease to amaze and mildy disgust me. :)
--And now for the latter part of our reviews--
Transporter 3 *½
For the sake of everything that is still good in this world:
Start paying more attention to the movies you are making than you do to level-upping your chest muscles. You are already quite large enough. Every time you take your shirt off on screen, I can hear the women in the theater going cuu-ee and slipping off their seats on their own juices.
Statham has been the leading mug of many a fine picture already, including one of the last year's shiniest cinematic gems: Death Race. The previous two Transporter movies were also pretty good, or at least damn fine entertainment, but this time around I felt like leaving half-way through. Transporter 3 is just a lazy movie. The shoddy camera and editing work is there, like can be expected, but the story, as trivial as it can be in movies like these, just felt too poor even for an excuse to drive cars around really fast.
Luc Besson is credited as having written the script... I really don't want to diss the creative mind behind Léon and The Fifth Element, but this guy is sinking rapidly towards the bottom of the George Lucas Trench in the Ocean of Shit, like some perverse cosplay of Le Grand bleu. Has he really done anything worthwhile since Danny the Dog/Unleashed? I'd rather see him retire, while I can still muster some warm feelings towards his long career...
As for Statham, I really hope this won't become a norm for him. He has the right stuff to become Bruce Willis of the 21st century.
(Incidentally, the NZ guys in the theater needed a change of underwear after every time a shiny German car came rrrrroaring to the screen with its hard-as-steel engine trembling and pulsating with barely-contained power that...oh hell, you get the picture...)
Monsters vs. Aliens ***
I just saw this one tonight, again in 3D, and again, just like with Bolt, I have to say I was really surprised at how much I liked it, since the trailers I had seen before were more cringe-inducing than anything else. Again, the main parts of the storyline aren't going anywhere unheard of, it's just another try on the friends-with-special-powers-take-on-a-super-villain-and-win-because-they-are-not-the-bad-guys. It is acceptable as a one-shot, but if Dreamworks will start churning out sequels like they did with Shrek, I'm going to hire a hobo to urinate into the gas tank of their CEO's SUV.
The humor in the movie is reminiscent of the said Shrek flicks, which is entirely a good thing. It's nice to have two large animation studios with slightly different ideas on what makes a funny. I saw Pixar's Wall-E before leaving Finland, and it was a great movie as well, but in a thoroughly nice way, whereas Dreamworks executives seem to think that it is okay to blow a million or two on a fart joke every now and then. I agree with them wholeheartedly.
The thing that I found most impressive in Monsters vs. Aliens was the quality of the animation itself at parts. Most backgrounds and many of the (even main) characters were overly cartoony and simple, but when something was well done, it was like the pixels were fellating my eyeballs. The destruction and mayhem of the action scenes, water, cloth simulation, particle effects, all very much top notch. It's almost depressing, really, as I like toying with 3D-modelling myself, and these days the professional-level CGI is more than just a bit ahead of what a twerp like me can accomplish with a copy of Blender. In short: effects and overall animation - a slight improvement on what they've done before; characters - a loo-ong step backwards from the vivid personas we saw in the Shrek movies; story - it will be the first thing I'll forget about the movie, maybe as soon as tomorrow; humor - I laughed several times.
Alright, let's leave it at that for now. Later this week I will witness the live action horror that is Dragonball Evolution. Really looking forward to it, I have a gut feeling it will be like the unholy union of Karate Kid and Mortal Kombat 2(the movie). :)
Coming up later on:
The new Star Trek movie with Sylar as Spock.
The new Fast and Furious movie, because I hate cars, pointless drama in action movies and I really hate cars.
The new X-Men movie, because Wolverine is like the only interesting character so far in the motion picture versions of the comics, though I have hopes for Gambit in this one.
Terminator Salvation, because I can't come up with a reason to not see it.
Transformers 2, because you can only go up from the atrocious first one.
Heh, maybe even Night at the Museum 2, because ... well, I might be bored enough to see it someday.
Did you notice that all of those movies are sequels? Fuck you Hollywood.
Did you also notice that I'm not seeing movies like Slumdog Millionare, Che, The Wrestler or Gran Torino? Fuck you art fags, I'm seeing movies for entertainment, not to become depressed.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Whatever. It's a pretty day outside.
I've been quite busy these past weeks, mostly working on my next programming task, which has required me to re-teach myself most of the mathematics that I already learned once in university back in the day. In fact, I've been working on it pretty much day and night, office and home, come hell or high water. My beard has already grown past the point where it would tickle my own face and girls have stopped complaining about it scratching their thighs, whenever they manage to pull me away from my computer.
It's good to be a geek. :)
Over the weeks, I've also attended to a lovely set of lectures on virtual reality back at the lab, given by Tom Furness, one of the Great Old Ones in this field of research. According to him, he is the only one of the three guys left alive, who studied the field already in 1960s.
It really shows: this guy is literally a gold mine of information. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to tap into his head like this.
Interesting thing he told us a couple of days ago:
He was working on a data glass tech that, instead of having miniature see-through displays on the lenses, utilize lasers to directly draw the images on the user's retina. The technology is maturing up quickly, and they can already produce very vivid, high-contrast VGA-resolution images that just seem to hover there, in front of your eyes.
The funny part: they were testing their prototype on some guy who just happened to be visiting their lab. The dude put on the glasses and looked at the images shot into his eyes, nodding his head in appreciation. Then he told them: “Impressive, especially considering that I'm blind in my left eye, and I can still see the images perfectly clear with it.”
It's a feature, not a bug!
Apparently the retina in the guy's left eye was still alive and kicking, it was just the rest of the eye that was messed up with large amounts of scar tissue, a result from some accident years back. Prosthetic eyes based on this are already being researched. :)
An observation that I have made here.
Skateboards. Holy shit, half the people in the campus seem to use them as their primary means of transportation. They are actually considered cool. Every time I see someone skating, I start hearing the song, The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News (Back to the Future movies, come on...), play in my head.
It's driving me crazy. I swear, I can go to a toilet, and then, in the booth, start hearing the damn song approaching from the distance. The bathroom door opens and as the guy rolls past me, I'm exposed to the full blare of the music so that I automatically try to wipe aside the long curly locks of 80s hair from my face that I know never even were there.
The campus security zooming around on their Segways are cool, though.
And now for something completely different.
Towards the end of April and in the beginning of May, expect a change of scenery, as I travel north towards Auckland, and from there fly to Japan for a couple of weeks of historical sightseeing, beer gardens and hopefully not too many geishas (I really don't see the point in them). I haven't thought about it too much yet, but on the menu so far are Osaka (where my friends live), Kyoto and Nara (which are pretty), and perhaps Iga-Ueno (which is the home town of the legendary ninja, Hattori Hanzo, and the birth place of the entire culture of wearing your pyjamas around your head and totally flipping out for no reason, killing everybody in town.)