Saturday, February 21, 2009

Up the Irons

Woke up this morning around 10am to a fire alarm going off right above my bed, having slept maybe 4 hours.

Escaping the infernal beeping into my living room I could hear the same alarm making life uncomfortable at my neighbors' apartments as well. Seems we have a central alarm system here, one that we can't turn off ourselves.

It puts on its clothes and goes outside.
A fireman (in full smoke diving gear): "G'day, mate." *passes me by and walks upstairs*
It joins its neighbors and answers their good mornings grumpily.
A cute girl (with her nipples bleeding through her tank top -- oh, the excitement!): "Good thing we had time to wake up before all this!"
Me: *Urge to kill, rising*
It decides it needs coffee, goes back inside to get its wallet.

The alarm stops sounding. False alarm.

A quick shower and a shave later I go outside. It takes me 5 coffee shops before I find one that sells cheesecake:

Afterwards, properly woken up and feeling somewhat cheerful, I find a large group of college students in Victoria Park, all dressed up in kilts, playing bagpipes and drums. I don't know if it is proper for women to wear kilts, but I do wonder if they go all the way and skip the underwear.
Three hours now, until the doors open at Westpac. It's about 4 kilometers away from my apartment, but I think I will walk. The weather is just perfect, (I'm not even going to check the UV-readings for today, to hell with cancer) so stop for a beer or two on the way, and the evening should go down rather smoothly. :)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Future of Gaming

My host company has a neat Cave system installed in one of their labs. A bunch of projectors behind a large concave screen, hooked up to a PC with a stack of powerful graphics cards and a 2kW PSU to produce two high-resolution images from slightly different point of views. Wear a pair of polarizing glasses and voilĂ ! Instant 3D tuo drop your jaw on the sight of. The pictures below don't really look like much (blurry, dark cell phone pics with both of the PoVs messing each other up), *but* playing Unreal Tournament 2004 on this rig was an Experience.

Holy shit I'm going to have to buy an apartment with an extra room just for something like this...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chinese Valentine's Day

You know how it is, going to England and noticing that you are the only sod on the island to actually know how to speak the English language?

It's pretty much the same with the Kiwis: some of them do speak nice and clear, but more often n's-en-kweer. Visiting a cafeteria the other day I actually had to ask the waiter to repeat himself twice, before I realized he was trying to say "Is everything alright, sir?", just failing to get any further than "Sivrthnreetsr?".

I went out on Valentine's day to hunt for some lunch and noticed this lovely advertisement in front of a whiskey shop near my apartment. A perfect present or The perfect present?

Right after the whiskey shop I was greeted by this:

The local Chinese community had moved its Lantern Festival event to the weekend, creating a weird mix of pink hearts and bug-eyed dragons around the park they were celebrating in. This next picture has an interesting mix of Chinese and Maori stuff:

Masks up in the trees. (The whole park was full of these and other kinds of lanterns, but by the time the sun set, I was unfortunately already a bit too drunk to care about returning for more pics ;) )

The center of the city is full of Asian eateries, and mostly at very nice price, too. For example, I ate in a Korean restaurant a while ago, had a plate of sushi(kimbab), a bowl of miso soup, a sizzling pot of bibimbab (A stone pot filled with rice, veggies, meat and egg - you pour too much chili sauce on top and mix it all up before eating.) and a nice cold bottle of beer from the local Canterbury Brewery, all for about 10 euros.

In the end of the Corridor of Homphen above there is a tiny Japanese bar of maybe 10 seats, frequented by random tourists and the local beer-loving Japanese. If you can entertain Aki the bartender by playing the piano in the back, you get a free drink. :)

Riccarton House, the oldest(?) building in Christchurch. Well, at least it's surrounded by the oldest trees, some of them over 600 years old. Kiwis lovingly call their forests "bush". I suppose it is because the lack of indigenous veggie-eating mammals in the islands has in many places enabled the forests to grow into utterly impenetrable jungles. Nowadays the building serves as a cafe&restaurant that seems to go for the "fancy" look. The problem with achieving this goal is the staff. Though dressed impeccably, they don't seem very comfortable speaking "butler English", and as I was sitting close to the kitchen door, I got to listen them fighting over who was supposed to do what and what the hell did that old cunt in table 8 order again? Silly buggers managed to spill third of my cappuccino on the way to my table after they finally got around making me one after 10 minutes of arguing. Nice bush around the house, but meh.

Speaking of no indigenous land mammals (there were bats), why are the walls of the house lined with deer and elk heads?

One more pic. One of the buildings at University of Canterbury. Some call these concrete colossi ugly, but I really like them. Love walking around the campus. :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Let's talk about the People

Christchurch has a population of 350k-400k, but it has a very compact center, bringing in mind a city only half the size it actually is.

Christchurch center, close to my apartment:

Even though more than 85% of the total population of about 4.3 million in New Zealand live in its few major cities, they still prefer to have their own separated houses and small yards, rather than stacking their apartments in large high-rises like most urbanized places do. This has resulted in a suburban sprawl that simply doesn't have an end to it, as well as to people being more and more dependant on their cars. I've seen plenty of houses for sale here, and the biggest selling point often seems to be the size of the garage, rather than the place itself. I actually met some city urban planners and saw the cool 3D-models they had created of the city, projecting its growth in different near future scenarios, their goal being to stop the spread of the small housing and focus on developing the central city further. Their biggest headache seemed to be that the people running the city way back in the day had divided most of the land into plots 10 meters wide and 50 meters deep, which doesn't really leave a lot of room for the imagination (or requires a hell of a lot of it, when trying to build something big). But still, unless the economy collapses completely, the downtown real estate prices in this city are unlikely to stop growing on a longer time scale. :)

Many of the houses on the 6km hike between my apartment and my office look very nice, they don't call this the city of gardens for nothing:

Though there are also houses that do away with silly greenery and just look cool by themselves:

Of course you also need something from the other end of the spectrum as a reference point:

(That last one is actually just a less fancy house in otherwise quite fancy neighborhood, I haven't even gone to the "poorer" section of the city yet.)

The Kiwis don't mind having to own a car or two, though, as they seem to like the damn things almost as much as they like rugby, which in turn they like more than they like sex. A good third of the cars I see on the roads here are either SUVs or pick-up trucks. As it is a country full of mountains, it might be understandable, but it still annoys me.

The people themselves are usually friendly and rather laid back sort, not to mention curious as hell, which might bother some Scandinavian types. In many ways they remind me of Americans, just without the constant need to go "Hey! Hey! Look at me! Just look at how cool I am!" They also seem to like working for themselves rather than for some large faceless corporation, as tiny restaurants, shops and hotels are everywhere, whereas things like super markets are few and far in between.

I often pass this lawnmower shoppe and the sign always makes me smile. Lawnmower fight!

On several streets there are stretches kilometers long of only hotels, motels, hostels, motor lodges, B&Bs and whatnot, all trying to outsmart the competition with promises of spa rooms, free internet access, cable TV and even some cheesy themes. Late in the evening most of the "No vacancy" signs outside are lit, which says something about the amount of tourists that swarm the country around the year. It is very popular among travelers to rent a car here (it's quite cheap) and drive around the islands on their own leisurely pace, as the public transportation to the more distant locations is often lacking at best. As a non-driver I have no idea how easy it is to get used to the left-sided traffic.

Then a couple of more touristy shots:

People playing chess in the Cathedral Square.

Yet another picture of the cathedral:

The useless tram line I mentioned before actually goes through buildings at some points. (Check out the size of the egg that kiwi has :)

Tomorrow I'll try and post some photos I took yesterday at a park close to my apartment, where the local Chinese community was celebrating the Lantern Festival. (Same party that got the people in Beijing to burn down their brand-new skyscraper earlier this week.)

Oh yes, and on next week's Sunday, 22nd of Feb, it's time to go up the irons, as Iron Maiden comes to Christchurch for the first time in more than a decade! My ticket is in my bed-side drawer, where is yours? ;)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Arthur's Pass

Double post, eh.

Yesterday me and about ten others from and visiting the lab went for a little hik...sorry, tramp to Arthur's Pass, a pathway through the mountain range that covers much of the South Island.

Very nice views, though at points the road leading there felt a bit dangerous, what with the happy-go-lucky driving style of the locals and the constant 180-degree turns sandwiched between a rockface and a very long drop indeed.

The weather up in the mountains seemed to change every 5 minutes, but the scenery was nothing short of fantastic:

These Kea parrots are addicted to the rubber parts of cars, and steal your food the moment you look to the other direction. And even if you don't.

What New Zealand outing would be complete without sheep? None!

Kiwis, eh

First weekend in New Zealand and what am I doing? Sitting here in my office, of course! It's not like I could be out there sampling the sights, sounds and flavors, is it?

Well, it is rather hot today, so I decided to seek shelter for a while, empty my camera and write this little post. Also, they have a very nice coffee machine in the lobby. :)

Recap of the week: arrived on Monday afternoon, horribly tired after over 50 hours of not sleeping, popped into my office, checked into my apartment and slept for 14 hours straight. Rest of the week I have been adjusting my day rhythm little by little, thinking a bit about what exactly it is that I should be doing here (workwise), and hanging out with a bunch of visitors from Europe as well as getting to know the city.

There are several Thai, Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English restaurants as well as two liquor stores, one around-the-clock convinience store and several coffee shops and bars within 200 meters of my apartment. And I can't hear any outside noise in my bedroom even on Friday evening! So far I like Christchurch very much. :)

Same in pictures:

After 50 hours of uptime this was the loveliest sight I could have imagined.

The cathedral in the core of the city. My apartment is only a couple of blocks away from it.

Avon river. It snakes its way through the city so that no matter where you walk, you always bump into it every couple of blocks.

Punting on the Avon. There's a lot of tourist stuff around.

Tourist stuff such as a tram line that costs 5 euros to get on, but that doesn't really go anywhere.

In the city's botanical gardens I actually managed to find modern art that I like!

First dinner after my arrival: banana pizza.

HITLabNZ - this is where I spend my days, mom!

Captain Cook. You can find statues of this guy all over the planet because he went all over the planet.