Holy smokes, I Live in New Zealand.

Working Days Versus Calendar Days.
July 3, 2008, 6:43 pm
Filed under: Ask a Canuck | Tags: ,

Nancy indirectly asks for a countdown: “Time for, ‘Holy Smokes, I’m returning to Canada in X sleeps.

The answer is seven sleeps.  This is my first public pronouncement of this fact. 

More importantly, I think this raises a neat thing I haven’t talked about yet.  In Ontario, planning milestones are marked in calendar days.  As in, “Council has 90 days to make a decision on the application“.  In New Zealand, planning milestones are marked in working days.  As in, “Council has 20 working days to make a decision on the application“.  What exactly is excluded from the notion of a “working day” is defined by a regulation to the Resource Management Act 1991: statutory holidays, Saturdays, Sundays and a two week period around Christmas. 

Six of one, half a dozen of the other, I suppose.  But I like the quirk.  I think it’s neat.


Flight of the Conchords, Vol. 2.
June 14, 2008, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Ask a Canuck, Music | Tags: ,

(Volume 1 can be found here.)

Andrew asks, “How big are Flight of the Conchords down in their homeland?

Part 1: The Part Where Joe States the Obvious

No bigger than anywhere else right now.  Any time something involves them, the story makes it onto the front page of the two news websites that I usually visit (Scoop and the New Zealand Herald).  They have a sort of “Canadian media star” thing going on here, in that the whole country swoons when they do really really well.  Such events include winning a Grammy award last year for best comedy album, and their show being picked up in Australia.

What can I tell you?  Basically, they met up at university in Wellington and became flatmates, where I’m sure they spent a lot of time being creative.  As part of their other ventures, Brett was performing with various Wellington bands (including The Black Seeds) and Jemaine was writing with Taika Waititi, who is now a leading screenwriter in this country.  Jemaine and Brett started playing shows around Wellington and made it onto local television there, which led to their breakthroughs.

Part 2: Pilots Don’t Take Flight

Flight of the Conchords performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (the fringe of fringe festivals) in 2002, 2003 and 2004.  Their first album (“Folk the World”) was released as well.  It was enough to get them a chance at a pilot with TVNZ.  However, TVNZ never produced the show.  There are a series of interviews (post-Grammy award) that repeat the story of how TVNZ had never really done sketch-driven comedy before.  As such, they dithered on what to do with the pilot, and ultimately both parties went their separate ways.

Amazingly, NBC (yes, that NBC) also sought out a pilot from the Conchords, and also decided not to take it to air.

Part 3: A Door Closes, A Window Opens 

The Fringe success led to an advertising feature (for phones in Britain) and then THE big breakthrough, the one I’m pretty sure nobody in my audience knows about – their award winning, 2005 radio series (also titled, Flight of the Conchords).  You can buy it this November; I certainly do not know of any recordings of it that exist.  The core of the TV cast was there (Brett, Jemaine and band manager Murray/Rhys Darby), as well as legendary New Zealand musician Neil Finn, who I mentioned a few times in my New Zealand Music Month posts

The Conchords took their act to the US comedy festival circuit and scored an appearance on Letterman.  Sub Pop Records signed them to start making albums, which led to a 2007 release – it made it to #14 in New Zealand.  That led to HBO giving them a look, and HBO has always been quite adventurous in choosing shows to air and, as such, the rest is history.

Part 4: The Part Where Joe Actually Answers the Question

They are popular.  Not HUGE or BIG, but popular. 

Everyone knows them, for obvious reasons (big success story, small country).  I think they are more popular outside of New Zealand than in New Zealand, only because there are more fans in their demographic outside of New Zealand than in New Zealand (the “critical mass” theory).  Plus, you can’t argue against that amazing American hype machine. 

They have the same type of fans here (that “cult crowd” of other artsie types, the indie crowd, and so on and so forth).

  • When I was in Melbourne, the house I was staying in brought over the Flight of the Conchords DVD, mostly for their own interest but they did say that I probably knew more about them than they did.
  • You can watch episodes of the show on the really long distance flights (the ones with the gigantic 787 planes) on Air New Zealand.
  • Their latest album debuted at #2 in New Zealand (the same week it went to #3 Stateside) but made it up to #1 pretty fast. 
  • Remember the episode where the lads entertain a threesome, only to discover it’ll be a “Devil’s Threeway”?  Two dudes?  Guess what?  Such an offer actually happened a few months later.

March 5, 2008, 8:30 pm
Filed under: Ask a Canuck, Food | Tags:

Celeste asks: What can you make with kiwifruit?

First, a quick history of New Zealand’s namesake fruit.  Kiwifruit‘s ancestors evolved from plants in China.  In fact, the kiwifruit is the national fruit of China.  The sister of a missionary there brought seeds back to New Zealand after a visit and planted them here.  Further agriscience occurred and the version of kiwifruit you and I are most familiar with was first planted in New Zealand in 1924.  They are now grown all over the world, and New Zealand is not the world’s leading producer of the fruit.  That would be Italy (bravissimo Italia!).  The name of the tree the commercial fruit grows on is called “New Zealand Hayward.”

Now, as for things you can make from kiwifruit:

  • sliced up raw;
  • scooped out of the flesh and eaten raw;
  • bite into it like an apple…or peach;
  • as the ubiquitous garnish on everything, including cocktails;
  • as an ice cream or sorbet;
  • as a cheesecake;
  • as a jam or jelly;
  • in salads (I found a recipe mixing turkey and kiwifruit);
  • as a pie (the recipe in particular was a frozen yogurt pie);
  • in a fruit smoothie (mixed with banana and milk…I guess citrus can mix with milk in small doses);
  • I saw a fruit salsa recipe that had kiwifruit in it;
  • juice; and,
  • fruit spring rolls and crepes and kebabs and such.

And of course, in New Zealand’s national dessert, a Pavlova.

Footnote: I keep saying “kiwifruit” because there are so many things “kiwi” that, down here, the items need to be further described.  Kiwi bird, kiwi fruit.  “Kiwi” is a default for all things New Zealand, including its people.


March 3, 2008, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Ask a Canuck | Tags: , , ,

Scott asks (via Facebook): How long would it take you to run from Auckland to Korea?

Assumptions made in responding: I am running to Seoul, I am invincible, there is food and water stations at frequent intervals along the route, and I am Jesus and can run on water.

Seoul is the capital of South Korea. According to some random website, it is 9,595 kilometres northwest of Auckland. That’s 457 half marathons…or 228.5 full marathons.

Yesterday I ran a half marathon in 1:51:30ish while sporting a common cold. That slowed my pace down to roughly 4:50 per kilometre. From a pure math perspective and making the assumptions above, I should complete the ultra-ultra marathon to Seoul in 32 days, 4 hours, 55 minutes and 50 seconds.

However, I’m not a world champion runner, so I doubt I could keep that pace up over 32 days…let alone 32 hours. I’m planning to run a marathon at the end of September in Toronto, and I think that 4:30:00 is a realistic goal time for me. To do that, I need to run at a pace of 6:09 per kilometre. If I could keep that pace up for the first (and probably) last Great Auckland to Seoul Ultra Marathon, I would finish in 40 days, 23 hours, 29 minutes and 15 seconds. Naming rights are still available.

Of course, the easiest option is that I could always run laps around economy class in the airplane. Irrespective of how far that would be, it would take 12 hours and around Cdn$1500, but it comes with all the oversalted peanuts, fruit juice and major Hollywood films I could handle.

(Also note that today is Casimir Pulaski Day in the state of Illinois.)

Sheep. And About Time, Too.
January 5, 2008, 6:05 pm
Filed under: Ask a Canuck | Tags: ,

Andrew asks, “Where are the sheep growing areas in New Zealand?

The short answer is everywhere, but the more detailed answer is the South Island and the more highland and rural parts of the North Island.  I’d rather stick with everywhere, though.  When I went on a tourist trip to the three large volcanoes in Auckland, there were sheep grazing on Mt. Eden/Maungawhau all up and down the hills.  Cheaper and more profitable than lawnmowers, I suppose.

There used to be some 70 million sheep in New Zealand, but that number has fallen by almost 50% in the face of declining profits and the loss of a guaranteed trading partner in the United Kingdom (EU subsidies make it a lot cheaper to buy internal and European sheep).  Still, there are lot of sheep in New Zealand.  A lot.  Over 40 million of them.  That works out to some twelve sheep for every person.

One-quarter of the world’s supply of “crossbred” wool comes from New Zealand.  That carpet you are walking on, or the bedding you are snuggled into right now (as I write this, at Midnight EST) may well be strung together using New Zealand wool.  Champion!

You can also eat sheep, although the lambs are tastier (I am told).  Sheep mostly graze outdoors in New Zealand so they are mainly grass-fed here.

Here is a delicious looking recipe for Rogan Josh using lamb.  The spices used result in a chili-looking meal.

I also found a Flash-based game called Sheep Farm Tycoon.  It’s as authentic New Zealand as it sounds.

I am also told that another game on the above website, Farm Management 101, is highly addictive.

I, however, have yet to find the twelve sheep allocated to me.

In Town Without a Car.
December 2, 2007, 9:30 pm
Filed under: Ask a Canuck | Tags: , , ,

Dave asks, “What’s it like living without a car in Auckland?

Fortunately, I work and live right Downtown, so it’s wonderfully easy.  I walk 200 metres uphill to work in the morning, and rumble 200 metres downhill in the afternoon, rolling through a park both ways.  With grocery stores, restaurants and fun all nearby for me, living in the “right” neighbourhood makes for lots of short walks to anywhere.

This isn’t exactly the most transit advanced city in the world.  I am told that Auckland has more freeway miles per capita than Los Angeles – there are a lot of “motorways” here.  Traffic jams are nothing like Toronto jams.  I should know; I’ve driven other people’s cars here FOUR TIMES already.  Like home, it’s far easier to drive here.

But even if it’s still a tonne of buses crawling through the streets here, the value added infrastructure that exists for transit is fantastic.  They have a feature on their regional mass transit website that allows you to enter in a street address (105 Queen Street) or a landmark (Britomart Train Station) or even a business name (KFC Ponsonby) and it spits out the next available transit trip you can take to get there.  It gives you a walking distance to the nearest transit stop, route numbers and distance, times and the fare (Auckland works on fare zones, so the cost of a trip is always variable).

There are a gajillion taxi cabs here.  You and I are probably used to there being two or three taxi companies, each charging the same fare and each serving the same locations.  As far as I can tell, there are three types of cabs here: super-cheap cabs that are somehow still roadworthy and are probably run by a really small company, typical cabs charging an average rate and what we are most used to in Canada, and luxury cabs that aren’t as nice as Pearson luxury cabs (not that I’ve ever seen one) and charge a small fortune to ride in.  It’s amazing how much a person can charge if their car is clean.  The taxi business here is almost entirely deregulated.  Anything goes!  This is why it’s important to pay attention when hailing a cab at night’s end.

There is no subway here, but instead a small (compared to GO Transit) commuter network using old freight tracks scattered through Auckland and in between the two ports.  The central hub is around the corner from my apartment (Britomart Train Station, completed only a few years ago) so when I am able to get somewhere on a train, I take it.  It’s also a fairly central bus transfer point as well, although there are two of those in the Downtown.  The train is never full.

Of course, if you really need a car you can join a car share organization.  With Cityhop, you pay a signup fee and an hourly rental fee and you have a car for your use around the city.  They have roughly a dozen cars scattered around Auckland Central.  A coworker has signed up with them.  Their cars are sporty little things.  I quite liked them.

The moral of this story is that if you’re prepared to live a car-free lifestyle and make decisions according to that (such as living near work, be it Barrie or Auckland) then it’s a wonderfully easy way to go about things.

(And three cheers to stores who buck the trend and have full service grocery stores in Downtowns.)

The Fixtures Question.
October 25, 2007, 9:06 am
Filed under: Ask a Canuck | Tags: , , , ,

Chris, Isaiah and Scott asked: Which way does the water flow down your drain?

For me, it’s clockwise. 

To preempt your comments, no, that is not my sink.  It was the first Youtube video to come up for my search on Southern Hemisphere Sink.  Plus, I think it’s funny.  Hopefully you were watching at work with the volume turned up high.

Apparently, though, the forced rotation of water in either hemisphere is dependent upon the volume of water present.  So in my little sink and shower, the clockwise rotation is a result of circumstance, design and plain ol’ good fortune.  Here is a video attempting to explain this.

Therefore, in a perfect world with no variables or design flaws, my fixtures would drain clockwise and yours counter-clockwise.

Jason and Matt ask: It would be a better challenge to find the point on the earth where water drains straight down.

Youtube has a bundle of videos showing sinks on the equator draining straight down.  The airplane toilet went straight down too, but I’m told that’s because of a vacuum…Jason (yes, you did already inform me on this, hence why it appears here)…

And if it says so on Wikipedia, it must be true.