Tuesday 30 August 2011

Goodbye Irene

Hurricane Irene has gone to Canada - well, not a hurricane any more - but she's left a lot of damage in her wake. Not in Manhattan as was feared, but elsewhere, including Vermont, and on the news tonight there was sad footage of a covered bridge being swept away. It looked a lot like this one, and it may actually have been the very one - whatever, it's a shame. Those bridges are so pretty, and such a significant part of the scenery there, I can understand why on the soundtrack people were wailing.

We only had a day in Vermont, sneaking over the border from a trip sponsored by Tourism Massachusetts, because we wanted to see the bridges, and buy some maple syrup. I've still got the leaf-shaped bottle, refilled many times over; and remember clearly how neat and lovely the countryside was that autumn, all the leaves so colourful and pumpkins everywhere.

On the news it looks dreadful, brown water rampaging over roads and through towns, breaking bridges, houses, fences and barns; it's going to leave an awful mess. Oh, nature is giving people such a run-around this year, all over the world.

Friday 26 August 2011

Anyone here read Chinese?

I'd love to know what it says on this billboard, seen on the approach to Macau's A-Ma Temple, which is an attraction both for tourists and for local people, who go to make wishes, pray and light joss-sticks. Why are all the children in love with the sparkling pink toilet? Are they being encouraged to keep it clean? Get one? Pray to it instead of the temple? It's a mystery. They're an inscrutable lot, those Orientals - particularly if you've never bothered to learn their language.

Bathrooms featured remarkably prominently during our five days in Macau. Drawing a discreet veil over the evening I spent unhappily defiling the marble in my own hotel bathroom, let's consider instead the astonishing rooms we trailed through as a group on our otherwise fairly tedious programme of site inspections. Because they were wanting to impress us, they showed us their fanciest suites, and all the bathrooms featured acres of shiny marble, dinky bottles of expensive toiletries, twin basins, televisions, gold taps, and space, vast expanses of space. They had shower rooms, not just showers - some with a glass wall into the bedroom, which seemed odd, some set up almost like a stage. One was big enough for an entire rugby team to wash in at the same time with no unmanly touching. Another had a raised infinity spa bath with a projector and screen overhead. Several had killer views over the city about 40 floors below. They all had adjoining his-and-hers dressing rooms.

But mostly they had mirrors. Mirrors everywhere: floor to ceiling, on every wall, in the shower, even on the ceiling. And that's where they made their mistake, I reckon - because if I'm going to fork out a thousand dollars or so a night for all that luxury, I want to spend my time in there feeling good. And catching sight of my naked self bent over scrubbing my feet in the shower just ain't going to do that.

Thursday 25 August 2011

All shook up

So they had an earthquake in Virginia yesterday, a 5.8 which caused alarm and despondency in New York and Washington, broke the tips off some spires on the National Cathedral and sent the mergansers at the Zoo flocking into the water in the clear expectation that there would be no tsunami. Pft. Well, 5.8 is a decent size, I suppose, and it's certainly a rare event on the US east coast - so rare that it seems no-one knew the drill about desks and doorways - but still, pft.

Canterbury's up to 8457 aftershocks now since 4 September - almost a whole year ago, amazingly - 28 of them over magnitude 5, two of them bigger than 6. And many of them have been very shallow, so they didn't slip by unnoticed. There've been three 4+ shakes in as many days since Saturday. People's hair is falling out with the stress, there are still 1600 households unable to use their own toilets, and the announcements have begun about whose homes and suburbs are unsuitable for future habitation. Demolition in the city centre is continuing apace and every few days there's an announcement of another notable building having been condemned.

But although it's tempting just to smile and shrug, and to think along the lines of 'we should be so lucky', I do understand all the excitement and anxiety about the Virginian quake, especially amongst New Yorkers. After all, they have a big anniversary of their own looming up.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Hi ho, eh bro'

This is the kind of thing you see along the road on the East Cape, even today. I also went past a house where there was a shaggy horse in a little paddock in front and a saddle slung over the gate, where I assumed someone had come for a visit and parked the conveyance outside. It's good to see horses used for everyday errands and not just for having fun; and if it had been the summer holidays, I'm sure there would have been kids riding bareback down to the dairy - one school I drove past had a paddock full of assorted ponies across the road that I'm sure were only there till 3pm and hometime.

But I did also see a remarkable number of quad bikes buzzing about, loaded up with all sorts of things but especially, given the chilly weather and the storm on its way last week, lengths of bleached driftwood off the beaches, being taken home for firewood where I imagine they would make the room smell of the sea. I guess the bikes will become the new horse for the future - though there were so very many horses everywhere, that'll be some way off, I'm happy to say.

(Note the white gumboots, by the way: from the freezing works. And the checked bush shirt, thick and scratchy - standard back country uniform.)

Only the horses were missing from Taika Waititi's movie Boy, which I watched again last night and loved again, though I still find it more sad than funny. It's about to be released in the US. I really hope it does well.

Monday 22 August 2011


Writing about the East Cape circuit today, where even though the scenery was stunning, my attention was still caught by the odd quirky sign like this one, which to me indicates a true Athenian at the end of the arrow.

And next I have to do a Macau story which alas has to be mostly about the hotels, since someone else has snaffled all the interesting Portuguese-angled material for the same magazine. It wasn't all stylish suites and scented spas: walking down the busy lanes from the ruins of St Paul's to Senado Square, I was diverted by the assumption by some Chinese company that this would be a good fashion label:
Maybe there's something about those simple letters that looks elegant and classy to a Chinese eye - who knows? And probably they could be forgiven for not being familiar with the word. But really? They didn't see anything wrong with this one? Really???

Saturday 20 August 2011

Caveat venditor

Today I bought a new (to me) car, a Mazda 3 like the one I drove this week all round the East Cape's many, many corners - and also almost like the one I went down to Christchurch two years ago to drive to Kaikoura to review for the Mazda in-house Zoom-Zoom magazines for here and Australia. As you do - or as I wish I did more of, since it was lots of fun, came with an expense allowance and paid extremely well. And I even got another story out of it, later.

It was a cool little car with a cheerful grin/grille and I loved driving it through the bright winter landscape of North Canterbury up to Kaikoura where the photographer and his wife and I stayed in a fancy tree-house, ate excellent meals, rode Segways, went whale-spotting in a cute little bubble of a helicopter, bought a crayfish from a roadside caravan and saw dozens of baby seals playing in a pool underneath a waterfall. There was quite a lot of driving back and forth past the snapper on top of his stepladder, and some personal posing that was less fun; but altogether it was a jolly couple of days and left me with positive feelings about the car.

So now I have one of my own, sucked in by my own sales pitch to believe that it's the car for me; and though it's not the same vibrant blue of the one in the story, I'm trusting that its paler colour doesn't mean that my future driving experience will be similarly subdued.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Pining for the open sea

This is why the air smells so tangy outside on the river bank - and why I had to grip the steering wheel hard with both hands over and over again on my trips up the Cape. I must have met dozens of these logging trucks thundering along pulling trailers, loaded up with logs from the forests out east. Yesterday they were like some mythical beast, bearing down on me in a great cloud of spray and passing with a whump! And the returning empties were no better, their trailers on top and whizzing along well over the speed limit (them and me apart, there was precious little traffic on the road, which did allow all of us some personal interpretation of speed advisories and white lines).

Gisborne is a busy little port and concerns itself with fishing, forestry and frozen food. At the moment the logs are stacking up so high, there must be a ship due in soon to take them all away: in the few days we've been here, the wharf has filled up with them, of surprisingly assorted thicknesses. Possibly the weather is delaying the ship's arrival, with blustery squalls sweeping past, big breakers rolling in on Waikanae Beach, and people in town being blown along the streets like autumn leaves.

It's a nice little town, with some fine old Art Deco buildings, wide streets, a musical clock, Phoenix palms lining Gladstone Street, and all the shops anyone needs. And even though 'Perfect Roast' serves meats rather than coffee, you can also get a decent cup; and we've had a good meal out each night. Tonight though, the sights are set lower for a pizza and beanbag at The Dome cinema: could be fun. Could also do my back in.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Two legs good

Cold and grey and squally in Gisborne this morning so, acting on a hunch, I drove back towards the Cape, and the further I got from the city, the better the weather became. Hikurangi, its flanks streaked with snow, had its head in the clouds, sulking that there was no sun to see first in the world today; but though the wind was strong and icy, there was brightness and no rain, and that was good enough for me.

It was a long drive, 170km, up to little Te Araroa, where the country's biggest pohutukawa sprawls on its 19 trunks just across the road from the long, wild beach where the breakers were roaring in like express trains - really, it was very odd to hear what sounded like motorway traffic in such a remote setting. The dairy lady with the chin moko told me that the road to the lighthouse was fine so I set off past the playground with its sign 'No Horses' and along the edge of the land towards NZ's easternmost point.

Only about half of the 20kms were sealed, and the unsealed bits beneath the high bluffs were alarming because - quite apart from the tsunami warning sign - they included a number of slips with insubstantial temporary barriers marking where the road had disappeared into the sea, and reducing the width to just one lane - which was where, of course, I met the only traffic coming the other way. But once back on the tarseal and skimming along past isolated houses, wind-bent manuka and cattle grazing along the beach, it was a lovely drive; and the lighthouse appeared sooner than I expected.

It was on top of a separate hill right on the edge of the land, poking up out of thick bush. I drove to the end of the road and thought about climbing up to it - 700 steps, I had been told - and sighed. I got my coat and went to open my door; and I couldn't. The wind was pushing against it so hard that I struggled to get it open even a few inches and I was afraid that if I tried to step out, it would slam shut and snap my leg off. I can read a sign as well as anyone: I didn't climb up to the lighthouse. So sue me.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

A partridge in a pear tree...

…was one creature I didn’t see today, on my 500km circuit of the East Cape. This is a remote and laid-back area, where animal husbandry is a fluid affair: viz the frequent roadside notices warning ‘Stock wandering’ and a helpline number to ring (if you were actually able to get a signal – remote area, remember). So on my long, long drive today, I saw on or by the road, loose, not a partridge but a pheasant, three turkeys, some ducks, a rooster, five peacocks, some sheep, some cattle, a bull, three horses, four pigs, a dog, a cat and a dead seal.

There was also a lot of frost and some black ice under a brilliantly clear and sunny sky as I wove through the Waioeke Gorge past geometrical winter-pruned vineyards and lumpy green paddocks and bush and kiwifruit orchards to Opotiki on the other side. Then I followed the coast along black basalt rocky reefs and sweeps of coffee-coloured sand, past little blips of settlements, each with a marae and a wharenui with impressive carvings on the frontage. There was the pretty little church at Raukokore, all by itself on the black rocks with turquoise sea all around, where penguins nest under the baptismal font; and distant White Island, its volcano steaming in a sinister manner, away on the horizon. Hicks Bay is a hick town with a beach second to none; Tolaga Bay has the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere. It took so long to get around, with photo stops and vain attempts to locate the locations of Whale Rider and the wonderful Boy, that by the time I got to the tip I had to power back down to Gisborne; so I didn’t get to the lighthouse at NZ’s easternmost point, or have a chance to linger along the beaches.

Perhaps tomorrow, weather willing: though it may be our turn for the Polar Blast that’s dominating the news. Poor old Dunedin is used to snow, and Queenstown thrives on it; but in Christchurch people are still living in cracked houses with outside loos (some even in caravans and tents) – and now literally on top of all that they’ve got snow too; and Wellington’s steep streets are slick with ice, plus they’ve had thunder and lightning; and they’ve all had power outages. Seems like it would be only fair if it were Gisborne’s turn tomorrow.

Monday 15 August 2011

Will the real James Cook...

…please stand up? Gisborne is where, in 1769, James Cook first landed in New Zealand (not the first European to come here, or even to set foot if you believe that thing about the Portuguese, but the first to plant a flag, and that’s what counts - so the moon is American, of course. Unless it’s not!) So naturally there is a monument at the spot: an ugly obelisk that when erected at least had a backdrop of shore and sea, but now is the focal point of an area of concrete, warehouses and passing logging trucks.

But up on the hill, with a fabulous view over Poverty Bay (so called because stroppy Maori prevented Cook from getting the water and provisions he wanted - and not, as all the tourist literature obligatorily insists, because the area is infertile: quite the opposite) is a bronze statue of a man in 18th century uniform with the tricorn hat and britches, who’s stood in place since the Bi-Centenary. Except - and this was pointed out some time after the, er, erection - he’s not James Cook. Quite who he is, no-one knows; and as the statue was a gift from a brewery, all bets are open. The attached plaque is cheerfully upfront about the confusion, which is rather charming, and preferable to a Gaddafi-style toppling of the statue.
Down by the river is the real thing, put up at the Millennium (a big deal here, as thanks to the Date Line and its position further east than anywhere in NZ, Gisborne is the first city in the world to welcome in the new day). And further along the river bank is another statue, of young Nick, the surgeon’s assistant on the Endeavour, who was the first to spot land and thereby earned himself a gallon of rum — after which he would have needed some medical intervention himself, I’m guessing. Cook named the promontory south of the bay after him: Young Nick’s Head. Which, when I was learning NZ history at school, was amusing enough; but somehow I wasn’t listening when/if we were told that the boy’s real name was actually Nicholas Young. Oh, how they must have laughed at the joke, Cook and Joseph Banks and co, tucked into their cramped cabins rubbing their forehead bruises from the low cross-beams.

But the real news today is that sprinkle of snow on the far hills beyond the imposter's feet: rare enough here, the dusting that fell in Auckland was, if the pro-snow people have their way over the hail-deniers, the first snow to fall there since 1939.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Where's Michael Fish when you need him?

Three weeks ago I returned to NZ from summery UK via Hong Kong where it was 34 degrees and even though I didn't leave the airport's air-conditioning, I felt uncomfortably oppressed by all that heat and humidity bearing down on the vast curving roof; and then I got back to Auckland for the coldest day of the year. It was raw and chill and miserable.

Yesterday I returned to NZ from Macau and Hong Kong where it was again - still - 34 degrees and drippingly humid. I had spent a week going from melting heat to goosebumpy air-conditioning, setting off a similar fever-chill series on a personal level that had me prostrate in bed for 16 hours. But then I got home to a bright and surprisingly warm day, all set to head off to Gisborne this afternoon, seduced by reports of what last week was brilliant clear sunny weather. Except that now there's a massive cold front passing up the country bringing snow even to such unlikely recipients as Rotorua and Napier, and the phone is promising single-digit figures for Gisborne itself and freezing night temperatures.

It is winter, after all, but Gizzy and the East Cape usually skim through with lots of sunshine and warmer temperatures than elsewhere, and I was looking forward to exploring Whale Rider country. Bother. If only the forecast had come courtesy of Michael Fish, I could be feeling optimistic.

Friday 12 August 2011

Beating the heat

At the Peninsula (where I stayed last time I was in Hong Kong, in a 6-room suite with a hallway and brass telescope) the string quartet was playing 'Roll Out the Barrel' as I sipped my Earl Grey at high tea. Were they being ironic? Because the Pen's afternoon tea is as far from a knees-up as you can get.

It's in the lobby, with high moulded ceiling, acres of shiny marble, potted palms and white-suited bellboys opening and closing the doors for everyone, even those who arrive, sweating, on their own feet instead of gliding up in one of the hotel's fleet of Rolls Royces.

The tea was well done, beautifully presented and very tasty: hot little pastries, cucumber and salmon sarnies, pretty petits fours (especially loved the almond friande with the maraschino cherry) and bottomless tea made from leaves. Lots to look at as people came in and out; and no hurry at all to vacate the table, despite the long queue of people waiting.

It was all very classy and elegant, and cool in every sense: unlike outside where it was stiflingly hot and muggy, people were huddled under their umbrellas, and others had given up entirely and composed themselves for sleep on shady benches and elsewhere, shoes off, folded cardboard under their heads and dead to the world.

Everything is illuminated

Macau is a very compact place: a peninsula and a couple of islands linked by bridges, only 30 square kilometres altogether, so we’ve been travelling the same roads back and forth as we’ve been taken to various sights over the last four days. This quickly became a favourite view, across a man-made lake to the man-made cityscape of tall and extravagantly-shaped buildings. The Grand Lisboa is the oddest of them all, and at night is spectacular.

We were on our way to yet another Portuguese restaurant, Antonio’s, and were served by Antonio himself who indulged us (and himself) with his party piece after the excellent meal and the flaming crepes Suzette: he wiped off his sabre – what, you didn’t know that chefs had sabres? – and showed one of our group how to take the top off a champagne bottle with one swipe. That’s the glass and all, cleanly, with no splinters, or lost wine. Pretty cool, we all had to admit.

There was nothing cool about today. I’ve no idea of the temperature or humidity, but walking around the narrow streets I nearly melted, and reduced a substantial paper serviette to a limp rag simply by wiping my brow with it. My sense of direction was discombobulated and I went in frustrating circles trying to find my way back from a little park where I was sorely tempted to commit a sort of theft by releasing the birds left there by their owners in tiny little bamboo cages.

Despite the heat, there were people there working on the machines that are dotted about in parks throughout the city, doing unselfconscious tai chi under the trees and even walking backwards down the path; as well as playing cards and mah jong in stone pergolas. And everywhere there were people sweeping and tidying, keeping it all neat and tidy.

Then it was off to the ferry for the hour-long trip to Hong Kong, for which it would have been lovely to stand on deck to enjoy the islands and the interesting shipping, but we had to stay shut inside by foggy windows, alas. This city is as busy and energetic as ever. It’s odd to see other white faces here, after Macau, and the waterfront is very cosmopolitan – as well as spectacularly illuminated too, on this hot and muggy night.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

A glass act

Two connections today: at the MGM hotel (yes, another site inspection) they have a Dale Chihuly hallway lined with big pieces of his work, which also features in the lobby. I first came across him in Washington state and especially in Tacoma - and thought I had already seen some of his distinctive twirly tubes at the Galaxy earlier today (why yes, since you ask, that was a hotel inspection too). Lovely stuff, and classy, which was the aim - where all the other hotels have had us walking on (spit) marble, at the MGM the floors were jade and lapis lazuli. It's the kind of place where they employ leaf-dusters.

At the two hotels we drifted through scented corridors where it was all about hush and Zen, every detail considered - at Galaxy's associated Banyan Tree, the swirls of little bubbles in the coloured concrete panels of the walls were each applied by hand - and in the suite that was bigger than many houses, if it was Tuesday it was Ylang Ylang. Galaxy had a wave pool with a white sand beach on its second floor. MGM had a Portuguese square recreated indoors, with bored little budgies in tiny cages hanging from pergolas.

But then we got to see some proper sights: wine museum where we tasted white port, an aperitif; a Grand Prix museum where we got to sit in a real Formula 3 car (those things are like coffins - and hopelessly insubstantial); and a science museum where they had a display of da Vinci machines which included the cryptex that Dan Brown claimed he had invented, wrongly - but the da Vinci people were forced to include it by popular demand, and it's the most popular item. How sad, when there's all that other amazing stuff there that he actually invented.

And then we went to see the pandas, so I could be all "Oh, I've touched a panda before, in Adelaide, look at the close-up photo on my phone here, I can tell you all about them, what do you want to know?" I make a lot of friends that way. The two here were in the same enclosure, and moving around, which was lovely and a treat - "They do spend most of the day asleep in a ball," I informed everyone beforehand - but we were whisked away after a scant 10 minutes, which was mean.

Finally we had some free time and, having been shown the hotel's Six Senses Spa where it was all trickling water, perfume, open spaces, orchids and bamboo, I went to a dark little dive off the street where armchairs draped in towels were jammed in and Chinese men with no trousers were lolling back having their feet rubbed while they smoked and watched Brazil beat Panama in the football. I had a rather painful foot massage from a fat woman who tutted over the hard skin on my toes and simpered "Tip? Tip?" when I paid her.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Not even one Cornetto, though

"Call that a bathroom? Why, it's only three times bigger than mine at home - pah!" That's what happens when you've been paraded through the swankiest suites of five flash hotels in the space of two days. Luxury fatigue: it's a sad condition.

All that said, there's no not being blown away, stunned, astonished and simply gob-smacked by The Venetian. It's the size - 3,000 suites, 10,000 employees - and the success - takes more in a year than the entire Las Vegas strip combined - but mostly the concept: recreate Venice, canals and all, indoors. It's bizarre, but so well done that it's fascinating, and easy to see how people spend all day there indoors under its permanently blue sky, wandering the shops, taking a gondola ride, watching the street entertainment, eating in one of the 30 restaurants - and then, of course, popping downstairs for a flutter in the vast casino.

Of all that, I took the gondola ride with Luciano, a real Italian opera singer in a blue-striped tshirt and red sash who had to learn how to row when he came here but belted out a mean cliche - Volare, Santa Lucia - and when asked how this Venice differed from the real one said simply, "It's cleaner."

We also visited Ice World there: an exhibition of ice sculptures - Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Taj Mahal plus animals from dinosaurs to pandas and penguins - where I went down an ice slide (fast!) and was glad after half an hour to emerge from the -15 degrees, despite my big padded coat.

And then last night we were in the packed 15,000-seat theatre for a Cirque de Soleil show, Zaia, which was as spectacular as ever and left me feeling astonished and physically feeble.

There were other things today - cemetery with PO Box tombs as well as mini-mansions; old colonial houses; lotuses and white herons; and lots of delicious Portuguese food - but mainly it was all about the Venetian. Just as well really, as there was a tremendous thunderstorm this morning which dropped the temperature to a mere 25 degrees, but hoisted the humidity to 95%.

Monday 8 August 2011

Sick of it

I've seen more shiny marble, thick rugs and gold taps today than you could shake a stick at. This famil has a tedious number of site inspections included in the itinerary: two or three every day, which is a shocking waste of time when we could have been out and about in Macau seeing the sights and getting material to write about. If I'd known how it was to be, I wouldn't have come - but I didn't get the itinerary till a couple of days before we left. This is travel agent stuff, not travel writer treatment.

It's because there's no such thing as a free lunch, of course, and though I would have been fine with street food, taking us to fancy hotels for slap-up buffets and shows means we have to trail around behind the marketing people making polite noises about their executive suites. They were pretty good, though, if you like acres of floor space, showers like small rooms, your own karaoke room, giant flat-screen TVs everywhere including over the infinity bath, and floor-to-ceiling views over Macau's skyscrapers and huddled apartment blocks to the hills of China just across the harbour.

We did get to do some touristy things: a visit to the A-Ma Temple, which climbs up a hill and was very busy with worshippers lighting bundles of joss-sticks and bowing before shrines; as well as buying wishes which were written on red paper, hung inside a big incense spiral and hung from the ceiling to smoke away for a couple of weeks. Then the ruins of St Paul's - literally just the facade at the top of a flight of steps, the rest having been destroyed in a fire. And we went up the Macau Tower, designed by the same company as Auckland's Skytower (evidently short of ideas, as it looks almost exactly the same) and found a Taupo guy called Anthony running the AJ Hackett bungy from the top: in the job 20 years, and still amused by how jumpers try to fly by waving their arms as they fall, "screaming like a stuck pig".

And then I got sick, and was sick, and had to opt out of the last visit which included a casino. It was incredibly hot and humid today and very uncomfortable walking the streets (even the locals hiding under umbrellas when they had to venture out of the air-conditioning); but I think it was actually something I ate that did for me. Such a tragedy, because the rest of the group couldn't stop raving about the lunchtime buffet...


Even I found yesterday unconscionably long, despite having slept in later than everyone else on the morning of departure thanks to having spent the night at the new Novotel Auckland Airport, which was very comfortable, amazingly quiet despite overlooking the runways, considerately provided breakfast from 5am, and was a brilliantly satisfying five-minute walk to check-in from literally across the road.

There was a lot of waiting around, as there always is with travel, plus a hiccup with a group member who broke a tooth on his flight to meet us from Sydney and had to be taken to hospital; so we didn't get out to dinner until well after 8pm local time (midnight according to our bodies). The drive to the restaurant was pretty spectacular - Macau advertises itself as "where Asia comes to play" and there are many casinos here, a couple of them built almost on Las Vegas scale: enormously tall, with fountains, mirrors and millions of coloured lights flashing and swirling and changing. That lovely bridge was spectacular too, in a much classier manner, lit up with white lights and reflected in the water.

We had an excellent dinner at O Porto Interior, a Portuguese restaurant that specialises in seafood, and the giant stuffed prawns and the seabass were really delicious; and the wines excellent too. It was nice to see big family parties there with three or four generations all eating together - and they're good-looking people too, the Macanese. We were sorry not to be up to reaching the port stage, but everyone was drooping by then and looking forward to our big soft beds. It took some vigilance on the part of our guide to herd us safely across the road - the zebra crossing under our feet meaning nothing whatsoever to the relentless drivers zooming along the street even late on a Sunday night.

Sunday 7 August 2011


By hydrofoil across the Fragrant Harbour to Macau, a 45-minute trip with views of fishing boats like spiders, volcanic jungly islands ringed with ranks of uniform apartment blocks, and finally Macau itself, disconcerting  with its oddly familiar Skytower-clone silhouette looming over an unfamiliar skyline. And a very splendid bridge soaring across the water, white and modern and graceful.

Even at 6pm it's hot, and humid, and we were thankful for airconditioning on the short drive to our hotel, the Landmark, which is also rather splendid and spacious and has a most opulent marble bathroom to disport myself in. There was much excitement in the group when we checked in and were told that the minibar was free. "Surely she said 'fee'?" we speculated, thrilled at the prospect but anxious too.

There was no cause for concern. Even if our credit cards are charged for the entire contents, it's not going to break the bank:

Ni hao

Back in Hong Kong, just two weeks after passing through here on the way home from the UK - waiting now for the ferry across to Macau (straight from the airport, via train and a series of escalators, all very automated, clean and efficient).

We were wafted here in Cathay Pacific's Business class. I love those pods: unlike Air NZ's Business which scrimps on comfort, these are the real deal, with big TV screens, seats that recline fully flat WITH ALL THEIR PADDING, tables that are easy to eat off, feathery duvets and good-sized pillows. And excellent food and wine and chocolates and hot flannels...

So feeling pretty chilled - which is a laugh, seeing as how it's 34 degrees here.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Over it

It's been not quite the Black Dog of Depression on my shoulder, more the Grey Cat of Jet Lag sleeping on my face, but the effects have felt the same, especially when it's dragged (oh, how it's dragged) on for nine days, sucking the colour out of the day and making the endless night feel stuck at the 3am pits when the past is one long mistake, the future a downward spiral and all hope dead. But last night I finally slept through like a baby (actually not at all like the babies of my acquaintance) and woke at a sensible hour feeling refreshed and interested and light, so normal service can now be resumed.

Stephen Fry has just arrived in the country to film on The Hobbit, and is tweeting tetchily about feeling "weirdly high and spaced-out" after flying in from South Africa, so he has my sympathies (also, it must be rather irritating to be constantly mistaken on the street for James May - what are you thinking, Wellingtonians?) Coincidentally, Hugh Laurie is in Auckland this week filming Mr Pip. The Americans think he's theirs, and cool, thanks to House, but we've known him since A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Blackadder so we're not fooled by the jeans and stubble, and know what a cheerful (and thoroughly English) clown he really is.

The Baby was er, babysitting Motat yesterday while a set was being constructed in the blacksmith's forge for Mr Pip filming to take place there on Friday - it'll be exciting for them to have a bit of glamour in their midst. Motat (Auckland Museum of Transport and Technology) is a worthy place, but old-fashioned in a way that doesn't quite pull off charming, unfortunately. They have good stuff there, but it's not well displayed, and most of the hands-on stuff seems to be broken. It really needs an injection of cash and some pizazz in its management - if it could aim to be like the Yakima Valley Museum in the otherwise fairly undistinguished town of Yakima in Washington state, it would be beating the visitors off with sticks, rather than desperately enticing them in with free entry.

Their stuff was just as eclectic as Motat's - from a skunk pelt to a butter churn operated by a sheep to a piece of hardtack from the Civil War - but the display was bright and open and inviting, with lots of colour (especially the collection of neon signs) and entertaining storyboards. It probably helped that we were welcomed by the director, David, who was bubbling over with enthusiasm. I love enthusiastic people; and I hate that jet lag makes enthusiasm impossible. I'm glad to be over it.

(What a shame, then, that I'm going to Macau on Sunday, starting the whole sorry business all over again.)


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