Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's the end of the world

I haven't written anything here in over a month. Instead I have focused on fiction, and have written quite a bit, to my surprise.

So I have decided to close the shutters on the window into The Shows in My Mind. For now at least. Why keep a blog if I never write here? I may open it back up at some point, I may not. Time will tell.

Thanks to those who have read and commented, though there weren't that many of either kind.

Things change. Some things disappear, others appear.

Not only am I closing the blog, but my writing group may be disintegrating as well. For three years now there has been a core of people around which others have come and gone. Could Be King, the only published fiction writer among us, has changed jobs and won't have time to focus on much else besides writing his next novel. Finally Has A Kid finally has a kid, and will be spending most of her time being a mom.

We will try to keep meeting after the last scheduled huddle in December, and I dearly hope we can keep going. The writing class as well as the online community that followed it has fallen apart, so the huddle and my cronies are the only group I have to fuel my inspiration in the way that only fellow writers. Plus its a nice feeling to go there and feel inadequate too...

So. Bye for now. I will still be watching the shows in my minds, and I hope you will be watching the ones in your mind.

I don't have a TV now, but that's okay. The shows in my mind are almost always better.
- The Maxx, episode 1

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Home sweet home

I arrived back in Sweden last Saturday. The jetlag wasn't too bad, I was back on track in two days. Went back to work on Wednesday, where several people told me I looked really calm. One colleague wanted to rub up against me twice a day to absorb some of it. Sort of like rubbing the belly of a Buddha for luck.

My hope is that this zen-like trance will last at least a week. On Wednesday it felt like I was a spectator, watching from outside as others ran around like headless chickens in the office. A smile on my face all day long.

Something which didn't put a smile on my face was my grandfather passing away on October 1st. Olov Larsson, the rock of my family, was finally eroded by the river of life to a point where he fell apart. Everything points to him going quietly, just going to sleep, which is a relief. He was 98 years old, had spent the last few months in a care facility and refused to eat for the past few weeks, so no one is surprised he passed. Still, I'll probably cry like a baby at the funeral. 'tis what I do. I'm thinking about buying a pipe to leave instead of flowers. I think he would have liked that.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stop eating fruits, stop eating vegetables, it's doing something bad to you. Fruits and vegetables will seduce you, like a woman

Some final impressions of Kuala Lumpur. My cab for the airport leaves in a few hours, and I've spent the day doing some last minute shopping and now just hanging out at a café with the laptop and a lemon ice tea, watching people walk by. I'm actually sitting outside, on a roofed patio, so no AC but plenty of fans around.

Began my day with the usual killer breakfast. Perfectly scrambled eggs, beef bacon, a waffle and heaps and heaps of fresh fruit.

The remains of the fruit table at breakfast after my meal

I did another walk through Sungei Wang. Now, there are a lot of shopping malls in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Not be missed are Plaza Low Yat for electronics, Suria KLCC at Petronas Towers for just about any kind of shopping (but especially for the huge bookstore on the top level) and Pavilion if you want designer brands and those Japanese pastries. I haven't even checked out a few, like the even more upscale Starhill Gallery.

The best one though was Sungei Wang. It's a warren of stores and small restaurants, that gets more interesting the higher you get. On the top floor you can get a tshirt or a top for 10 ringit, about 20 kronor, as long as you don't try it on. There was a big arcade hall, with rows of old school fighting games, most of them completely incomprehensible. Young men hunched over the games or standing around, smoking, their hairdos like something out of manga. This is where they go to kill digital things when they don't find that graphics card they were hunting for at Low Yat.

The best store by far, for me at least, was street wear store Echo Park, which was also in a couple of other malls that I've been to. I now have a membership card there for some obscure reason that I really wasn't able to figure out from what the guy working there told me.

Lunch today consisted of fried dumplings, one serving with veggies and one with mystery meat. When I ordered the ten dumplings the waitress looked at me, confused, and said "Is all?". I nodded yes, is all. She made a face and walked away.

This reminded me of the Mexican place where my brother, my parents and I ate somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the US back in 2005, where the staff seemed to mock us in Spanish when we only ordered one dish each. Around us, 300 pound Mexicans that had tables full of food. So I looked around at this place too, and noticed tiny Malaysians with three or even four dishes each, with rice on the side, and here I had only ordered two. The dumplings arrived, with a side of chili sauce you could strip paint off boats with. There was also a small dish of thin yellow slices that smelled slightly lemony. Turned out it was pickled ginger that made the chili sauce taste like water by comparison. I had to eat an ice cream afterwards, and my tongue is still sore. I ate the stuff four hours ago.

Evil in food form in the middle above the plate

Then I took yet another walk to Low Yat, where I picked up some more electronics plus a killer action figure to soothe my inner not tech-geek.

Bob wasn't sure the makeover had gone all that well

As I walked out a guy passed me on a moped wearing a Darth Vader helmet. Literally. A shiny black Darth Vader helmet. He was too fast so I didn't have time to get the camera. Then the bizarreness continued as I walked past a sign advertising STD Calls. Is that the really bad version of a booty call? I tried to take a pic but the store manager came storming out, shouting at me, so I walked away. Last thing I needed was to be wrestled to the ground by someone advertising STDs...

And then I got to confuse three young Muslim men. Over the past few days quite a lot of Muslims have nodded at me or said hello. 'tis the beard. Now three twenty something men walked by, looked at me, and then one turned around and said "I'm sorry, you are Muslim?"

"No", I replied, to which he said "So sorry for bothering you." I smiled, said "No problem", and then "As-Salamu Alaykum". They all stared at me and then walked away. Win.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

One night in KL and the world's your oyster

Last night in Kuala Lumpur. Tomorrow I go back home, flying out at 2355 to Amsterdam where I transfer to Stockholm. Why the transfer you ask? Mister Control Freak here booked in March, shouldn't he have been able to book a direct flight?

See, I did. I booked a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Stockholm. However, those Malaysian Airlines flights have only been half-full, so over the summer Malaysian decided to stop the Stockholm flights from October 1st. Tomorrow is October 2nd. Hence the transfer in Amsterdam. Bastards.

Just finished packing everything, except my carry-on which will hold laptop, some other fragile electronics and stuff I need to get throught the flight without going postal. I will also carry a paper bag with some toys. Yes, toys. I may have passed my sweet sixteen twice over, but I'm still a kid at heart. Or that geek at heart? Either fits. So yeah, toys. One or two for me, one for a friend who doesn't know what he's getting. Eh, Steelwheels?

I was worried I would go over 20 kilos for my two bags, plus five for the carry-on. However, unless the scale in my room is lying (which might be a possibility) I am still a couple of kilos short. Which is a good thing, since excess weight costs 450 kronor. Per kilo.

Earlier today I almost perished in the heat. In two different ways. First I walked from the Suria KLCC mall to Ampang Park, to meet the tailor that did two pairs of pants for Mah Girl, and then back. In 37 degrees, the air like lead weights on my head. Horrible. Smoothies in two places, one pineapple, one pineapple/star fruit helped.

I really can't get enough of those buildings. Or the beard

The second death, narrowly avoided, came when I was walking down the street gawking at skyscrapers and almost fell into a hole in the ground. Now there would have been a spectacularly bad way of ending a trip.

Hans Moleman was having an open house

Since the flight leaves at 2355 tomorrow, I have a lot of time to kill, and since I can't hang out at the hotel room after 12, I will probably try and find some air conditioned place to read and write. Oh yeah, and go out to buy a toy and a portable hard drive.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The facts about food and cooking can be learned and understood by anyone with good sense

As with most of my vacations, food has been a big part of this trip. I've done my best to avoid Western cuisine, since a friend who lived in Malaysia informed me that they can't really cook that here. He was right.

What has been good, other than the stuff already documented here, has been local food. Or rather, Asian food of various sorts. Fresh, lots of taste, cheap. Good combination.

The breakfast buffet at the hotel is also good. Cooks in hats and aprons so white it hurts your teeth that make your eggs just the way you want them. And pancakes and waffles, for that matter. Excellent service at the table, almost too frequent, and a fantastic table of fresh fruits.

However, I have been longing for a more authentic Malaysia. Jalan Bukit Bintang, the street my hotel and several of the shopping malls are on, could be the Strip in Vegas, if you threw some dilapitated buildings in the mix and had a bunch of mopeds and piece of shit taxis driving down the street. I've wanted dirty back streets with hole in the wall restaurants, and admittedly I haven't really looked for it.

Today when I walked out of Plaza Low Yat I ended up on just such a street. Throngs of locals and tourists drinking beer or eating noodles, while a band played Smokie's "Living Next Door to Alice", standing on the sidewalk, amps and all. It was like something out of an Asian Twin Peaks, including the midget who was wearing red but didn't talk backwards. That I heard.

I'm going back there tomorrow night, to take pictures, eat and socialize with the locals.

Shopping bugs me, for metaphorical reasons I'm sure, because in life as in shopping, you go in looking for one thing

I'm all shopped out. I didn't think that was possible, but I am. My head is all numb, my feet are throbbing, my shoulders hurt after lugging a backpack full of electronics and writing material around all day.

Seated now at the Hub Café, nestled within the insanity that is Plaza Low Yat, six floors of geek nirvana with dozens if not hundreds of places selling laptops, video games, printers, anything with a USB plug, servers, etc. And so many geeks. They're everywhere, young Asian men with that empty look in their eyes indicating that they won't be happy until they found that specific graphics card that haunts them in their dreams.

This is how heaven appears to geeks

There are 19 wireless access points at this particular spot, 18 of which are encrypted. Geeks, you say? The last one belongs to the café.

In the center of all this gadget madness is a big place that sells action figures and nothing but action figures. Surprising, eh? If I have any room left in my bags once they're packed I'm so going back there to shop.

My plan now is to spiral down to the bottom of Low Yat, hunting for a meaningsless gizmo for a friend, and then hitting the hotel room for some well deserved R & R. Tomorrow, I will go back to the Kinokuniya bookstore at Suria to pick up some Daredevil graphic novels, and then pick up pants for Mah Girl. Other than that I intend to do as little as possible. Sleep in. Finish my book. Maybe, just maybe ride the monorail to see what all the fuss is about.

On Friday, I leave KL for the flight back to Stockholm via Amsterdam. The flight doesn't take off until midnight, so I'll have another day to kill. No more shopping. Maybe some sightseeing. Maybe a movie. Basically enjoying the last day of vacation. Though that's technically not true. I still have three and a half days off from work when I get back, to set the jetlag straight and just kick back.

Maybe it was because you were too busy eating twice your bodyweight in chocolate

Last night I walked a bit further from the hotel, in a sort of loop out and over towards Petronas Towers. Insane traffic was braved (how come there are so few crosswalks here?), pictures of skyscrapers snapped, Swedish hardcore (as in hardcore punk, not porn) discussed.

I had two beers and a sandwich in Rum Jungle, where sharks swam in a tank above the bar, the staff practised their Cocktail bottle flipping skills and what sounded like a 45 rpm recording of a DJ talking being played at 78 rpm (yes, children, that is a vinyl record reference) over various 60s and 70s hits. Hell, the guy even sang along to most of it, through the mic. So weird. Also, the staff were wearing six pieces of flair each. They just weren't expressing themselves enough.

Kept walking and passed a karaoke place. Nothing to get you smiling like drunk sarari men belting out a truly horrific version of The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations". The security guard at the door stopped me from taking pictures, pointing to a no photos sign. Oh well.

By the way. The Wikipedia entry for sarari man links, amongst other things (ege. Your word is amongst. Amongst), to here. Sad and interesting at the same time. Did you know that Japanese rail companies will charge the families of those who commit suicide in front of a train a fee depending on the severity of disrupted traffic?

Right now I'm in MOF, a Japanese café. I ordered a milkshake and a small pastry. My order unleashed a flurry of activity behind the counter. One guy did the shake, with the kind of meticulous attention to detail that characterizes most things Japanese. The result was not so much a milkshake as the idea of what a milkshake should look like. In the 50s, in an American Diner. Say, Jack Rabbit Slims.

The work that went into the shake was nothing compared to the pastry, though. When I ordered it I thought they only had the one, since there was only one in the glass top counter. I should have noticed that there was only one of every single pastry. So two guys in crisp white uniforms made my pastry. From scratch. It was sort of a waffle thingie, with chocolate filling. Mmm...filling...

The café is in Pavilion, a fairly upscale shopping mall. I managed to score a couple of sneakers for 200 kronor and some gifts for various people. I walked around and gawked in a very touristy fashion at ridiculously expensive art and furniture and home decor. You know, in the kind of store where the staff ignore you unless you walk in wearing a Saville Row suit, waving a big wad of cash around.

Interestingly enough, one of the most swanky art stores was playing Richard Cheese over their speakers. I wonder if it was ironic or if they really didn't have a clue.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Photography is the recording of strangeness and beauty with beguiling precision

Go mopeds go!

Larry thought being out of focus was a pain in the ass

Average snack counter in Kuala Lumpur

No one was going to miss Daniel's cook colleague. Slice and dice

Blog owner photographed by Japanese geek.
Who looked at blog owner's camera with disdain

Optimus was outnumbered two to one

Dylan was pleased with how the Lego house took shape

Two quick things.

1. Skyscrapers rule
2. I sat down and spoke with some skateboarders today, after snapping some pictures of them. Turned out one of them was a huge fan of Refused, Millencolin and Breach. Good man. He wasn't on FaceBook though, so a pox on him.

Zombies pounding against the shopping mall's glass doors

Poking around the center of Kuala Lumpur a bit more today. Only a high of 33 degrees today, the moisture is actually lower today and there's the occasional waft of air down the streets. Just as you start to imagine that maybe, maybe its a breeze it dies down, but still, better than nothing.

Began my day with the sumptuous breakfast buffet at the hotel. Waffles and an abundance of fresh fruit. Hallelujah, brothers! Then out into the hustle and bustle for shopping. People everywhere. My first stop was Isetan, a Japanese department store where I scored some shirts. As in "not tshirts". Actual shirts. Seems Japan is more of an XL and even XXL country than Malaysia. Who knew?

Now online from a café where I'm having some fruit juice while hugging the air conditioner. Soon more shopping, at two or maybe even three different malls. Looks like they stay open a lot longer here, so there's plenty of time. Stamina is more the issue, I think.

I found a Tower Records that had racks and racks of TV show DVD boxes, at very affordable prices. Unsure if they will play at home though. Does anyone know?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Shopping malls exist on the inside only and have no exterior

Status report number one from KL.

This morning, 36 lovely degrees and 88 percent moisture. Beard + 88 percent moisture = epic fail. Around lunch, rain poured down in enough quantities to make little Malaysians run for the hills to construct Arks. Lovely.

The hotel is good. Certain parts, like my room, are kinda old, but not bad. Clean, all the comforts, good AC. A bunch of restaurants in the building. The room service menu looks mighty enticing.

Today I went a-huntin' for tailors, and found Fat Boy Tailors. Like it was made for me, eh? Then on to Berlaya Times Square, a massive shopping mall with a theme park in it. While sitting down for lunch I heard children screaming on the roller coaster. Scream, children, scream!

Fast food, Malaysian style

The plan is to go through two malls a day. My main problem will be to locate clothes. This ain't exactly an Extra Large country. My other problem will be managing not to spend to much money. Toys are everywhere.

If that ED-209 had been for sale, it would have been mine now

To be well-informed is to have the world at your fingers

Things learned in the last 48 hours:
- Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand, is frikkin' windy. I had trouble walking straight at times.

- Just because you have an SUV doesn't mean you can drive around on a beach any which way you want.

"Honey? I need to tell you something about your new car..."

- Toyota RAV4s are extremely popular in New Zealand for some reason. On the drive from my brother's place to the airport, which took maybe 30 minutes, I counted ten.

- There's a city outside Kuala Lumpur called Cyberjaya. Only in Asia would a place have the word "cyber" in its name. Its apparently a semi-failed attempt at creating an Asian Silicon Valley.

- Mopeds are popular in Malaysia. On the highway. Preferably with two people on.

- Keeping speed limits is a big deal in New Zealand. My taxi from KLIA into Kuala Lumpur did 100 kph on a 60 kph road. Marvelous.

And I don't know what is more scary. That the taxi driver had a 2 Unlimited ring tone on one of his four cell phones, or that I knew it was 2 Unlimited.

Quotes from my brother overheard in the last 48 hours:
- I have a feeling we're supposed to turn left. Or right.
At a T intersection in Whangarei

- It's very uncommon to see a road sign with distance stated on it in New Zealand.
As we're passing a sign that says "Auckland 164 km"

- Damn you!
After we have passed signs that say "Auckland 163 km" and 161 and 158 and 157 and 152. I was in tears.

Any landing that you can walk away from is a good one

I don't like flying. I rarely sleep, even if the flight leaves late, and there's all that stuff that everybody complains about. Leg room, dry air, the noise, etc. However, I also don't like landing. At all. Seeing as how most accidents involving airplanes take place on take-off and landing, this may not seem all that strange, but it is to me. I'm mostly a rational person, and statistics like that really appeal to me and calm on a logical level. Here something else is at work.

This feeling of fear is often augmented by the fact that a lot of the time landings aren't exactly feather soft. With two notable exceptions.

When Mah Girl and I were in the States in 2008, we had two flights to get from Vegas to NOLA, and two more to get from NOLA to New York. On one of these flights, I didn't even notice we had touched down. Not a single jolt, and probasbly no noise from squealing tires either. It was like we landed on a big cushion. And also, last night. The landing in Kuala Lumpur was smooth and uneventful. Or maybe I was just sleeping...

More on KL later. I'm still trying to wake up and come to grips with reality.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I'm easy like Sunday morning

I'm so easy. A few big riffs, a good voice and above all vocal harmonies get me every single time. And so it is, that we come to Burning Libra. Acquintances, a few of them, and my oh my how I've fallen for their song "Of the Essence". If I had to make a comparison, I would point to Onesidezero's "Is This Room Getting Smaller?".

And don't they look the part too?

Gulliver had a new career as a photographer

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Behind the wall of sleep

I snore. A lot. Enough for Mah Girl to once have hissed "Let's see how well you snore with a pillow shoved down your throat" when I woke her up at some ungodly hour. She claims not to remember having said so, but I know that burning hatred I heard then is only hidden in some locked backroom in her mind, the door to which can only be shattered by snoring.

While visiting my brother I have been sleeping on his guest bed, a hellish contraption that really has no business calling itself a proper bed. No, I exaggerate, it is a bed, though one that seems to have been built by people with a different opinion about dimensions and spacetime than us average mortals. It slopes down from the middle, in both directions. If I want to sleep on my left side, I need to be on the right half of the bed, face inwards. If I want to sleep on my right side I need to be on the left half, face inwards. There's no way to sleep on my back unless I want to feel like I'm strapped onto some torture device.

So, while here I haven't snored, not loudly enough to disturb my hosts anyway, who are in the next room with only a thin door separating us.

When we went to Wellington (wow, four... make that five words... make that six... that begin with w... make that seven... starting to feel like a Spanish inquisitor Python style here) I slept in a regular bed, and a queen size at that, so I had plenty of room to roll over on my back. I snored. A lot. Enough to make my brother resurrect a tradition that was spawned when we were in the US in 2005 and had to share rooms for almost three weeks.

This tradition has two versions. The first consists of him saying "Encarnacióooooooon" really loudly to wake me up. We watched a Marlins - Astros game in Houston, during which a spectator sat and taunted Juan Encarnación with just such a call, over and over. It was hilarious.

The other version consists of him saying "What are we gonna do tonight, Bwain?" and me answering either "Narf!" or "The same thing we try to do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!". This is a somewhat incorrect reference to Pinky and the Brain, an excellent part of the Animaniacs show. During the US trip I never managed to answer it correctly, but in Wellington I managed to groan "Narf!" before fading off to sleep again. My brother was very impressed.

Brain wasn't pondering what Pinky was pondering

All this confirms what the snore analysis I did a few years back said. I shouldn't sleep on my back. The doctor told me, after concluding he didn't want to carve up the roof of my mouth, that I should wear a tshirt at night, with a plastic ball sown into the small of its back, thus preventing me from rolling over on my back. Ouch. But might be worth seriously thinking about.

Also, he said I should lose some weight, which often is a reason for snoring. And whaddayaknow, I actually lost about 10 kilos over the last couple of months, through nothing more than shifting my breakfast habits and staying away from alcohol and most fatty foods. I haven't been closer to weighing less than 0.1 metric tons since I was 23 or so.

Though I'll probably put at least some of that weight back on during this trip. Oh well. I can always shift my food habits again when I get home. And maybe start walking some more. And maybe practice my couch potato skills less. Well, maybe the first two will be enough...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Knowledge is a wild thing, it must be hunted before being tamed

Right, kids, sit on down while uncle Beard unveils fragments of another culture for you.

The Maori language only has 20 letters and digraphs. Thus, the same word combinations can have different meanings depending on, for example, the lengtening of vowels or emphasis on different syllables. For example, kia ora is both the traditional Maori greeting (sort of like "hello") as well as a more celebratory expression (like "great!" or "awesome!"), as well as other things. Read more here.

The Ta Moko, the Maori facial carvings, have deep significance for the tribes. On female chiefs, forehead carvings mark them as chiefs. Below their nose and on the chin the rivers, mountains and forests of that chief's particular tribe are described, showing the influence of the tribe. Likewise, the carved wooden idols of the different tribes also showcase the source of that tribe's influence, be it a mountain, a hill fortress, a bountiful river or their close connections to the English missionaries of old.

For male chiefs, the Ta Moko is all about ancestry. Their father's ancestry is carved on the right side of the face, and their mother's on the left.

There had never been an appropriate time to tell Donald he was adopted

And the Ta Moko is not really tattoos. Its more like scarification, the skin is carved at the same time as its tattooed. I'm going to try and find replicas of usi, the bone chisels used to carve, for my cousin who's very much interested in the art form of tattooing.

The funniest historical fact I learned at Waitangi was that in 1642 when Abel Tasman, the first Western explorer to find New Zealand, attempted to land he was met by Maori tribes, shaking their hands and weapons, chanting, tongues protruding. Tasman fled, fearing for his life. This was repeated several times as Tasman tried to land. Turns out what he saw was only a Maori greeting, saying "Hello. Welcome. What do you have to trade?". Had Tasman realised this, the Dutch may well have been the first Western nation to lay claim to New Zealand instead of the English.

The haka, the traditional Maori dance, was actually quite different a ways back. One form of haka was mental and physical preparation for battle, a way for the warriors to get ready for combat. It was very much an internal process, though performed in large groups. Many of the physical aspects of the haka that the All Blacks rugby team or Maori perform at cultural events comes from that greeting ritual that scared Tasman off, and the current haka is actually a combination of that greeting and the ancient battle haka.

Now, kids, I'm going to be nice and not give you homework. Off you go, you little rascals.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The history of man is a series of conspiracies to win from nature some advantage without paying for it

Today I spent a few hours at Waitangi, the grounds where the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand was signed, as well as the Treaty of Waitangi, the treaty between the English and the Maori tribes. For the Maori, this is basically sacred ground, and it is the birthplace of the New Zealand nation as we know it.

Waitangi is situated by the Bay of Islands, four hours north of Auckland, on the North Island, next to Paihia, where I'm staying. All the little towns along the bay are ridiculously focused on tourism, and I have never seen so many hotels, resorts and bed n breakfast places in one place as there are in Paihia. Five, six, seven in a row on some streets. There is basically no other industry here except tourism.

To my eyes, Allegra House takes the cake. Along with a few other places its on the top of a massive hill overlooking the bay, and the rooms are excellent. Better than most of the hotels I've stayed in over the years, except for the insulation which, like the rest of New Zealand, is really bad. If you ever go here you could definitely do worse than staying here.

Allegra House on the right

I took a tour at Waitangi, which basically consisted of listening to a Maori guide speaking about the history of his people and the details of the treaty. We were seated in Te Whare Runanga, which is the only meeting house in New Zealand dedicated to all the Maori tribes. Usually they belong to one tribe or even one chief. Te Whare Runanga was finished on February 6th, 1940, exactly 100 years after the treaty was signed.

Lawrence's face paint session at McDonalds had gone horribly wrong

He also spoke of the history of the Maori, who arrived in New Zealand or Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud) around 1000 years ago in large, ocean-going catamaran canoes. They had left their Polynesian islands with the express purpose of finding new land that could sustain enough people to found a new culture. Once they found Aotearoa they started calling themselves Maori and brought over more of their kinsmen. The south island was deemed too cold, and all the tribes except one chose the north island to settle on. The guide said "We tried convincing them it was too cold, but it didn't work".

I poked around the area a bit more, had kick-ass French toast for lunch and then walked back to Paihia, which was a fairly long walk along the beach and then up the hill where Allegra House sits. Now I'm looking forward to a quiet night in, with my laptop and my book and the TV. Tomorrow, depending on the weather, might be more of the same or another walk.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

I figured I would reinforce the view that I'm a Cthulhian cultist (check the comments here) and post this (I would have embedded it if only Google Maps allowed me to do so in the fashion I wanted).

Once again this proves that the boys over at Google aren't quite right in the head, and therefore lovable.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The worst day at the beach is better than the best day at work

Today I got on a bus in Auckland for the four hour journey up north to Paihia, to stay at a BnB run by relatives, look out over the ocean and read.

It was sort of unclear how we're related, until we sat down with some charts of our various families that they had compiled and had filled in by my parents when they visited a few months ago, and figured it out. The common denominator is two generations back from my grandfather, with the Dybecks. Back in the 1800s our common forefather Richard Dybeck wrote the Swedish national anthem, our family's only claim to fame.

The trip up here was cool. Winding roads up and down steep heavily forested hills, interspersed with vast green fields with sheep happily munching away. Like something out of Lord of the Rings. Oh, wait...

I wonder what this country looked like before the Maori (though they weren't Maori then, only becoming so after coming to NZ) and Cook came here, when it was all covered by bush. Dotted throughout the forest landscape along the road were ferns, some over 6 meters in height. Like something out of Jurassic Park. This must all have been very wild and untamed wilderness back then, seeing as how a lot of the country still is.

So now I'm at Allegra House bed and breakfast, a very modern building on a hill overlooking Paihia and the Bay of Islands. The view is spectacular. Too bad its pouring down. With a bit of sunshine it would be breath-taking.

Tomorrow a slow day, reading, writing, just kickin' back. Maybe a walk down to Paihia and look around. My brother is coming up on Friday, and we'll probably do some kind of tour on Saturday. On Sunday I'm leaving for Kuala Lumpur, and a completely different cultural experience.

Pornography: A two-dimensional substitute for that which the consumer cannot accomplish in three

This morning on the news, the words "boobs on bikes" caught my ear. Boobs as in know-nothings? Boobs as in breasts? Either way, this was obviously news in New Zealand.

Turns out that today is the 7th annual parade of Boobs on Bikes, where a group of semi-nude women (strippers and porn stars, apparently) ride through downtown Auckland on motorcycles. Last year, an estimated 100 000 people came out to watch. In the middle of the day. What the hell? According to Wikipedia, this is done to advertise a pornography trade exhibition.

I wonder if this would even get a permission in Sweden? And if it did, I wonder how far they would get before angry feminists blocked the road? Different cultural parameters here, though they did say that protesters will be there.

On the news they had footage from last year's show, showing a women from behind on the back of a massive Harley driven by the archetypal biker, as they passed - not kidding - a construction site. Dozens of men in hardhats stood on scaffolding, leering down.

I find it fascinating when stereotypes are confirmed, or when people conform to stereotypes. In this case, three stereotypes. Adult film star, biker, construction worker. Well done to you all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

To refer to (part of) a statement that has been made by someone else

The best quotes from the trip so far.

1. Drink, drive and die in a ditch
Sign by the road. New Zealand don't mess around with warning signs.

2. Excuse me but it appears that I have imbibed a touch too much tequila and my legs are no longer functioning as they should = Estoy hasta el gorro.
Part of the Spanish dictionary on the menues at The Flying Burrito Brothers. If you're going to Mexico, learn it well.

3. Why you stopping there for? Why you stopping there for? Hey! Why you stopping there for?
Just fuck you.
A taxi driver questioning our taxi driver's decision to stop in the middle of the road outside the train station to let us get out of the car. And his response. Not very New Zealand-ish.

4. It might be that they suddenly find themselves outdoors and in shorts, and start running to get inside and warm up.
My brother's theory as to why New Zealanders run around in a tshirt and shorts when its eight degrees outside.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Don't let the mystery go now

Some Rings trivia for y'all. The film geeks among you may already know this, but whatever.

1. The first Orc Aragorn kills on Pelenor Fields is Viggo Mortensen's son.

2. Stuart Townsend was originally cast as Aragorn, and was in New Zealand when, according to, "after four days of shooting" he left the production because "they realized he was too young for the role". In fact, Townsend was kicked off because he was an arrogant bastard that didn't get along with the other actors and above all Peter Jackson. Has anyone seen him in anything memorable since then? No? Now isn't that a surprise.

3. Liv Tyler had some serious problems during the shoot. She couldn't handle a horse at all, and when she finally figured out how to sit in a saddle, she managed to stab her horse over and over while attempting to sheathe her sword. Her character, Arwen, was also supposed to be at Helm's Deep for some reason, and she was there to film it. However, when she fired her bow she kept letting go of the bow instead of the arrow, hitting herself in the face over and over. In the end, Weta Digital made her hair blond so Jackson wouldn't have to reshoot the shots where she's just standing there.

4. Sean Connery was offered the role of Gandalf, for a percentage of the profits. He turned it down. Had he accepted, he would have made 450 million New Zealand dollars (about 2.2 billion kronor) and counting. Good call, Mr Connery. He went on to do The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen instead (which I won't link to on sheer principle, since its such a horrid POS). Who else was in that movie? Stuart Townsend, ladies and gentlemen. Good choice to the both of you.

Anatidaephobia: The fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you

Or is that window washer?

I was sitting in my brother's living room, in his third floor apartment, when suddenly a guy rappels down and plonks himself down on the balcony rail. No kidding. Rappelled down like he was spelunking (one of the best words ever, by the way).

Then he pulled a short fat rod from his back, extended it with a few expert clicks, flipped it around and aimed it at the glass balcony door, which was slightly ajar. I had the time to think "what the hell is going on?" before he pushed the door closed, and I realised the rod was in fact the handle of a mop.

He then proceeded to hose down the floor to ceiling windows and the door, used the mop to give them a good soapy clean, and then hosed them off again.

Now, how come we can't have that service in Sweden?

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world

Wellington was a blast. After the sightseeing, we went to a great Mexican restaurant, The Flying Burrito Brothers, where we had enchiladas, Monteiths Golden (good local beer), churros and chimichangas, and treated ourselves to a tequila tasting board each.

Tequila to me has always been piss-poor stuff that needs salt and lemon to go down, and hasn't been anything I've had on any kind of regular basis. This was completely different. Three different ages of the same tequila, one that burned, one that went down smoothly with a sharp licorice aftertaste, and one right in between. There's a place in Stockholm that specialises in tequila, might need to go there to do some research...

Then on Saturday we took a Lord of the Rings tour, going around Wellington and the surrounding area for four and a half hours. Turned out it was just me and my brother taking the tour, which was cool. We took in the locations for Helm's Deep, Minis Tirith, Rivendell and others.

Aragorn realised Aglarond wasn't exactly what it was cracked up to be

It would have been hard to actually see that the scenes had been shot there if the guide hadn't brought lots of film clips on his laptop where he could point out trees and rocks that were in the frame. He guided us to spots where we could stand and see the specific views the cameras had over the scene, and showed us plenty of clips in the van while driving around, setting it all up. Very effective. 400 kronor well spent, if you can live with forever seeing in which parts of the Minas Tirith scenes that Pippin is a doll.

The only real downer was that the previous day, when we went sightseeing on our own, we did have some plans to see some Rings sites, but realised they weren't properly marked on any map and so we scrapped those plans. Then we got a little lost, and had to pull into a parking lot to check the map and get our bearings. To our left a big white van was parked, and behind us, across the road, was a quarry. The next day we sat in that same van in that same parking lot while the guide pointed to that same quarry and said "Helm's Deep is right there". D'oh.

After the tour we spent the afternoon at the Te Tapa Museum, checking out exhibits of Maori artefacts, New Zealand art through the years and some natural history stuff (kiwis, wetas, whales, etc). I built a squid. His name is Beardonaut. Check out what he's up to here (click "Enter Squid's name" down the page).

The coolest thing was a Chinese earthquake catcher, constructed in the second century AD, which determines the direction of an earthquake through a pendulum within a large jar knocking a ball loose to fall from a dragon's mouth into a metal frog. Of course. Western science sucks.

Benji the frog insisted he could catch the ball every time. Liar

Saturday ended at the All Blacks vs Wallabies rugby test. Calling it a test is evidently important. Nation vs nation is a test. Team vs team is a game. This was New Zealand vs Australia, a real grudge match. I have just about zero experience watching rugby, and since I'm a football guy I really didn't know what to expect. It was faster than I had anticipated, and while a lot of the rules are as incomprehensible to me as football rules are to an outsider, I think I grasped some of it. Thirty thousand fans and a couple of beers helped put us in the right mood.

Bruce wondered why his mate's hand felt so good right there

And for any Americans or indeed football fans reading this, I doubt there's a single football player that could survive a rugby game, even if they did know the rules and had mastered the techniques. We felt some of the full on body hits up in the stands, and these guys make do without any gear on except a teeth guard and a cup.

Then yesterday we boarded the Overlander train and spent twelve hours going from Wellington to Auckland, the reverse version of the trip that took us fifty minutes on a plane. The landscape was spectacular, with wooded hills, deep valleys and snow-capped volcanoes. The trip was at least four hours too long, but well worth doing. Once.

Now I'm back in Auckland for a couple of days of just hanging out, before going up north to Paihia to stay at a BnB run by relatives, write and look out over the ocean. The next few days won't contain a lot of adventure, but I will probably write some anyway.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Next they're gonna give the Oscars in the parking lot. It'll be like a drive-through Oscar lane.

Got back about an hour ago after a twelve hour train ride from Wellington. The first eight hours were cool, with some very spectacular views. The rest was mind-numbingly boring.

So my brain is too scrambled for a long post. Suffice to say that the Wellington trip was very good. More tomorrow.

I will leave you with this nugget of movie trivia. The Gates of Moria, the Dead Marshes and the scenes from flooded Isengard were all filmed in a parking lot on the outskirts of Wellington. Good bye, movie magic.

The traffic warden had a bit of an attitude problem

Friday, September 18, 2009

You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to

Back at the BnB after a long day sightseeing around Wellington and its surroundings. We rented a car this morning, a POS Nissan for 200 kronor for the day, and then drove east and south, to take in the scenic routes along the coast.

It was very windy and cold, which was appropriate since we were at the ocean. The air smelled of salt, and at times I even tasted the salt on the winds. No rain, which was good, but it felt good to get back in the car every time we did so.

The sea was choppy and looked really cold and uninviting. Took some pictures of rocks and waves and houses up on the cliff faces above the coastline.

Coolest. Sign. Ever. No penguins about though

Then we visited Weta Cave, which was cool. I held on to my wallet with both hands, and managed to walk out of there with no more than a Hellboy figure and a little something for a friend. I had thought it would be exclusively Lord of the Rings stuff, but they had some things from earlier movies Weta has been involved with, like the ghost dog from The Frighteners.

It was unclear who was the Uruk-Hai and who was the Swede

Tonight, off to the Flying Burrito Brothers to eat and maybe taste a tequila or three. Tomorrow we're taking a four hour LOTR tour and then the All Blacks vs Wallabies game awaits. Probably no time to write tomorrow, and then on Sunday we're spending the whole day on the train to Auckland, so it might not be until Monday that I write again.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Winter is the season in which people try to keep the house as warm as it was in the summer, when they complained about the heat

When we arrived last night, our BnB lady showed us the heater and its swanky controller, and said "You need to make sure the little sun is visible on the display, otherwise it won't work".

See, they can't isolate buildings worth a damn here. Single-paned windows, drafts everywhere, paper-thin walls. And why? As my brother put it last night, "They think they live on a tropical island". Which they don't. In no way, shape or form. Its spring here now, and last night it was around ten degrees, if that. I wore a hoodie and a beanie and was still cold. The beer helped, though. And the walking. All them hills, and we live at the very top of one.

Back to the heater. We got in last night, punched the correct buttons and went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night, freezing. Luckily the duvet is about a mile thick, so I pulled it over me and went back to sleep. This procedure was repeated several times during the night.

This morning when my brother got up he pulled the control thingie from its place on the wall, squinted at it and said "Hey. This isn't a sun. Its a snow flake". Anyone surprised it was cold? Hooray for us.

We're supposed to be two fairly technical guys. Certain incidents involving microwave ovens spring to mind...

The world is a book, those who do not travel read only one page

A wee bit drunk, on all of three beers, and sprawled on the bed at Booklover's BnB where we're staying during our visit to Wellington.

I think I entered Vacation Mode today. Partly this is because we went rafting yesterday, which was so outside my frame of reference it felt unreal, and partly because I've managed not to think about work today. Hooray!

We flew down today, spent about 45 minutes in the air which barely gave the cabin crew time to bring out the snack cart, and then enjoyed a taxi drive through Wellington to our BnB. The city has sort of a San Fransisco vibe going, with steep hills and plenty of small hole-in-the-wall bars. We had steaks and beer at a place called Coyote, where the drink list contained things like Cookie Monster, God Father and Quick Fuck, which contains Baileys, Kahlua and Midori. Not sure if that might be the most delicious thing ever, or liquid evil.

Tomorrow we're renting a car to drive around Wellington and surroundings for a while. Perhaps visit Helm's Deep and Isengard, and definitely going to Weta Cave, though that may be Saturday and not Friday.

I forgot my book, The Gum Thief, on the plane down, for some reason. We have a twelve hour train ride back to Auckland on Sunday, so I figured a new book might be a good idea. We found a big bookstore on a side street from the main drag in Wellington, which turned out to have a very well-stocked sci-fi and fantasy section. I wanted something new, so I asked one of the employees what I should get.

"What do you like?" he asked. I listed Gaiman, Gibson, Stephenson, Barker and Reynolds. According to my brother, the guy's smile got wider and wider for each name. "Obviously you're a man of good taste", he said, which is something I can't argue with. He proceeded to ask me if I had read some of the obvious stuff (Dune, Ender's Game, etc) and then pointed me to Peter F Hamilton. So now I have a brick of a paperback on the sidetable for the ride home.

Vacation Mode feels really good right now. Relaxed. Laid-back. I think I will be well rested, at least mentally, by the time I get back home. Shutting work out like this is absolutely necessary to mental well-being, or at least I think so. I hope this will be true for me in two and a half weeks' time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The underground caverns, the booby traps, the skeletons, the monster, the lost treasure

New Zealand is one of the premier places for adventure. Bungee jumping, sky diving, rock climbing, hiking, all are things associated with the Land of the Kiwi. Kiwi as in the bird, not the fruit, though this suggests otherwise.

Food prep, New Zealand style

I'm not much of an adventure person or even an outdoors person (shocking, I know), but I have been looking forward to the Waitomo black water rafting experience since my brother told me about it. You get in a wetsuit and helmet (not a small feat for me, either of those), sit down in an inflatable tube and then spend about an hour going through Ruakuri cave, both on foot and gliding across the water. It was an incredible experience.

Like I said, I'm not much of an adventure person. The Beard prefers quiet nights at home to jumping out of airplanes or skiing down slopes or mountain biking. I see why other people might find it interesting, but I'm not an adrenaline junkie and besides, you can get some exercise from doing those things. The horror.

So even though I was looking forward to it, I was a bit nervous. Turned out I had nothing to worry about, though the trek through the caves involved a bit more adventure than we had thought. At a few points we got to stand on cliff edges, backs facing out from the cliffs, tube around our asses, and then jumping off to land in the water two meters or so down. Exhilirating, but doable. The only scary bit was when we had to go through a really low passage.

Promo pic, but it gives you an idea. Nothing for claustrophobics

The best part was slowly guiding through the caves, headlights off, looking up at glow worms on the ceiling, which made it seem like we were floating underneath a starlit sky. Very solemn and mysterious. So much in fact that I couldn't stop myself from whistling the X-Files theme. Geeky, I know, but it had to be done.

In all, a magnificent experience, and if you go down here and don't have a real problem with darkness or confined spaces, you should definitely do it.

This is before the descent. Note the horror behind the smiles

Today, we fly down to Wellington for three days of sightseeing, rugby (All Blacks! Haka!) and visiting Weta. Not sure if the BnB where we're staying will have wireless, so I might not post anything here for a few days.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

E iti noa ana, na te aroha

Second day in Auckland, and I woke up at 0445. This was partly because of jetlag, and partly because of the fact that I had three beers with the mussels yesterday. After two and a half months without a drop of alcohol, I felt those three beers quite a bit when we got home last night. I always have trouble going back to sleep the day after I've consumed alcohol. I gave up trying to sleep at 0630, got up and spent a little more than an hour on the couch, reading John Ajvide Lindkvist's "Människohamn" (great stuff) until my hosts woke up.

I took the bus with my brother's fiancee this morning. She was off to work, and I rode along to go to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which is less warlike than it sounds. Sure, they had some stuff about both World Wars and a lot of Maori weapons on display, but on the whole it was focused on Maori culture and arts, with a lot of side exhibits, including the unavoidable natural history museum dinosaurs. A nice mix.

The best part was the Maori Cultural Experience, which is a fancy way of saying we got to see some traditional Maori rituals, performed live. Lots of singing and dancing, various games involving sticks and staffs, and of course the haka. Very impressive, even though it was only three warriors performing with four women supporting. I wouldn't want to try and stand my ground against say a dozen or so Maori warriors. According to the guide, a well performed haka before a battle sometimes meant there was no battle, because the enemy were so scared of the Maori they just left the field.

Bob was so embarrassed by his friends, that he did his best to escape
But no matter how hard he flapped his arms, he couldn't take off

After the museum I walked around downtown Auckland for a few hours, did some shopping and just enjoyed the fact that I'm on vacation. Found some gifts for Mah Girl. On the way back to the apartment I went to Eve's, a sort of café that has all sorts of interesting cakes and pastries, and bought some stuff for dessert for tonight. Mmmm, unnecessary...

I've seen quite a few street racing cars here in Auckland. You know the type, monstrosities that are just as much about making the right sound as being able to go fast. Often with a twenty-something man behind the wheel, who is just as much about looking just so as being able to drive the car. My brother told me that a law has been passed whereby the police can stop someone if they have a street racey car and they either race the engine so it sounds loud, or if they do basically anything to draw attention to the fact that they're not a normal driver in a normal car. The owner of the car, regardless of if he was driving or not, gets a warning when this happens. The second time it happens, the police seize the car and crush it. That's right. Crush it.

That's one of the funniest things I've heard, ever. Can you imagine how one of those twenty-somethings would feel when he gets his pride and joy back as a one ton metal cube, where you can just make out the remnants of the chromed rims and a warped outline of a flame pattern? Hilarious.

And as a further side note. There's a wireless connection in the apartment complex here called Die Eier von Satan. Me thinkest there liveth a TOOL fan here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Because first impressions...last

Day one in New Zealand, because yesterday didn't really count.

My initial thought was "its like the US". This was mostly based on the sidewalks, which are made of the same sort of concrete slabs here as there. I think this was the jetlag infecting my brain, yesterday.

Her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can't move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.
William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

Parts of my soul luggage has arrived today, though frayed and disorganised. Some pants missing. Or maybe someone else's pants mixed in with mine.

Those similarities I saw were only surface, attributes that are the only ones visible if you go by in a car, quickly. Or walk around jetlagged. Today I noticed differences instead.

Door locks turn the other way to lock the door. Away from the lock mechanism. Weird. People seem generally friendly, unlike the US where its mostly a frontand unlike Sweden where everybody hides behind walls of quiet politeness. Beer and wine is sold at the supermarket. Beer is about as expensive as in Sweden, which was a surprise. The tap water tastes of chlorine to me, so I have to buy the bottled stuff. And supposedely the water in the sink and the toilet twirls the wrong way, as Bart Simpson once found out. Haven't really checked that out yet.

Tonight was spent at Munday Mussel Madness at a local restaurant, where you get a kilo of mussels for 10 dollars, roughly equal to 50 Swedish kronor. A good deal. I had never had mussels before, so it was interesting. Not an awesome culinary experience by any means, but good food. Could have used more garlic.

The madness is a bit more evident than the mussels.

Tomorrow, exploring Auckland's downtown area, and going to the museum to see a haka. I'm planning on doing some reading and writing at a café or two. Vacationing at its best.

Oh. My brother and his girl recently got engaged. Apparently my mother screamed out loud when she heard the news. But no pressure on me, no no.

This moment was the apotheosis of the postmodern era — the era of images and perceptions

I forgot to write something about 9-11, which wasn't all that strange since I was travelling on the date in question.

9-11 to me is the Kennedy assassination of our generation. Everyone in my parents' generation tend to remember where they were when they heard Kennedy had been shot, and most people I know can tell you how and where they found out that the planes had hit WTC.

I was at work. At the place I worked then there was always a TV on, up in one corner of the room. Often muted, sometimes with the sound on. No one had really explained what it was doing there, and I'm not sure anyone knew. I heard someone say that a plane had crashed into WTC, so I got up from my desk and walked over to see if I could get details. At the time I thought it was a one-engine Cessna or something, some rookie or suicidal pilot.

As I walked over I looked up at the TV, and watched live on CNN as the second plane hit the South Tower. That image of the plane hitting the tower, the ball of fire, debris spraying out in all directions, has etched itself into my mind.

I've read a lot of the conspiracy theories around 9-11. I've also read stuff that while not spelling out suspected government involvement in 9-11 at least hints at it. My standpoint is that I just don't know. I find it hard to believe that any government could murder so many of its citizens to justify, for example, the privatization of the military.

In September of 2000, The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a non-profit organisation released the report Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century, explaining their view on how America should develop their armed forces. In it, they write that "the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor". Jeremy Scahill writes about this in "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army" (scary but necessary reading), and points out, like many others have, that the presence of private security companies within US armed forces increased significantly after 9-11.

I don't believe the conspiracy theorists that tells us that the events of 9-11 was engineered specifically for this purpose. That Erik Prince and other madmen were somehow involved. But you have to realise that a lot of these organisations, be they PNAC or Xe Services LLC (formerly known as Blackwater) or others, have some troubling ties to the Bush administration (check out this list), extremist Christian groups and other people whose opinions in no way, shape or form should be able to influence how the world works. Undoubtedly they have had a say in how more and more of America's defense budget is funneled into private military companies.

It would be nice if, as we've become quote more civilised unquote, the world has become a better place over the years, if we're talking about war and hidden agendas. After all, the Internet allows us unprecedented access to information and news, from a variety of sources, so we should be able to see through any subterfuge on that scale. The control of the news flow is no longer in the hands of the few.

However, it seems to have become worse and worse. I'm not really interested in politics, which to me is sort of a weakness, since it would give me at least the semblance of a grasp on How Things Work, but I know enough to know that a lot people are in it for themselves, regardless of whether its on a private or national scale. I have yet to meet or see a single politican that I trust. And this is in Sweden, where we don't bother with concepts like war or terrorism. I can't imagine what it must be like to live in the US and have opinions outside of the party line, so to speak.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fatigue is the best pillow

New things on the agenda. I knew we were going down to Wellington on Thursday, where we're going to a museum and renting a car to drive around the coast a bit. What I didn't know was that my brother had made more plans.

We're going to see All Blacks vs Wallabies. That is, New Zealand vs Australia, rugby. Black-clad tattooed men doing a wardance. Thousands of screaming fans. I'm not much of a sports person, other than NFL games, but large spectacles are always fun. Plus, you know, black-clad men doing a wardance.

We're also going to Weta Cave, special effects company Weta's store/mini museum. Very cool. Hopefully Muppets and Hellboy stuff in the gift shop. I might have to give my wallet to my brother to avoid spending too much.

Yesterday was all about staying awake. Tick tock, tick tock. I was moving between exhaustion and some kind of focused state that unfortunately didn't extend to motor skills. I managed to stay awake until nine o'clock, and then fell asleep about ten seconds after I put my head down. Woke up at 0120, looked at the time on my phone, and remember thinking that I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep. Then woke up at 0445, phone still in hand.

Managed to get another two hours of sleep, and now I'm on the couch, laptop and book and tv remote within easy reach. Trying to level out, just relax and enjoy the fact that I have three weeks vacation left. Tomorrow I will explose Auckland's city centre, and Wednesday we're cave tubing. Beardonaut in a wetsuit. Horror of horrors.

Experience is the teacher of all things

Landed in New Zeeland two hours ago. Now sprawled on my brother's couch, winding down. Soon a shower and then male bonding over rugby and beer. Mmm...bonding...

Ten things I've learned/remembered over the past 36 hours.

1. People I know pop up in the weirdest places. This time it was Set Himself On Fire, so named after an incident involving a can of gas. He has been off my social radar for quite some time. Turned out we were on the same flight, so we reminisced a bit over food and duty free shopping before boarding.

2. 11 hours in the air was less uncomfortable than I thought, but felt longer than I had anticipated.

3. In flight entertainment is the best thing to happen to flights, ever. Six movies, or at least parts of six movies, were consumed over two flights. And episodes of House, Big Bang Theory and 30 Rock.

4. Wolverine really is a POS movie. Horrifying.

5. Kevin Costner can act. I tend to forget this in light of The Postman and Waterworld.

6. I am slowly moving towards being a video game nerd. The "upcoming games" feature in the Xbox magazine I bought for the flight has drool stains all over it.

7. The bed I slept in at the Kuala Lumpur Transit Hotel was the second hardest bed I have ever experienced, only eclipsed by the bed in Prague that felt like three slabs of concrete joined together cross-wise by metal rods that protruded a good inch from the bed.

8. H1N1 is a big deal in Malaysia. Seemed like every other person at the airport was wearing a face mask of some sort. No Outbreak suits visible, though I expect hordes of men dressed in them waiting in sterile rooms to bodytackles feverish travellers.

9. Shutter Island and Inception may well rekindle my faith in Leonardo de Caprio.

10. Jetlag is a gloriuos thing. Jetlag going east is even more glorious. I expect it to be even more glorious in a few hours.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The torch of doubt and chaos, this is what the sages steer by

The day started well enough. Woke up before the alarm, to warmth and hugs. Maybe the nervousness before an 11 hour flight stirred something in me, butterflies in the stomach and all that, and woke me, or maybe it was just the fact that I usually get up at 0545 and now I woke up at 0635. Some internal clock going off. "Wakey wakey! Rise and shine! I've got a nice cuttlefish for you when you wake up!"

I wasn't pushing up the daisies though, nor bereft of life. Not even tired, really. Excited. On the move. Being the control freak that I am, lists of what to pack and what to get done were completed weeks ago. Started laying stuff out in neat piles on the living room table during the weekend. Packed most things last night.

And then off to the airport. Mah Girl walked me to the train station, which is ten minutes from our apartment, and then I rode a train from there all the way to the airport. No changing at Centralen, no lugging of luggage from one end of the station to the other. Sweet.

Arrived at Arlanda with three hours to kill. Scratch that. Four hours. Why? My flight to Kuala Lumpur is delayed. Already. By an hour. Not a good start of the journey proper.

Then problems at check-in, something with the ticket that said I was going to KL and KL only. I spotted it when she tagged by back as "ARL to KLU", not "ARL to AKL via KLU". She looked a bit embarrased, and then spent ten minutes trying to convince whatever evil system she was working in that yes, I was supposed to go to Auckland. Airport voodoo was performed and the system acquiesced.

Now I'm at a café in the airport, having consumed a surprisingly moist piece of carrot cake (from a distance it looked like a brick, but it was still the most appetizing thing they had), tapping away. The wifi here is ridiculously expensive, so I'm writing everything I plan to post/send ahead of time.

A little more than two and a half hours to lift-off. The butterflies in my stomach have settled down. Or maybe they're just smothered under the carrot cake...

Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today

So I'm off today. The plane leaves at 1310, and I land in Auckland, New Zeeland, 36 glorious hours later. Happy happy joy joy at the trip, not so much joy at all that time spent in a metal tube with wings and crap air recycling systems, or three weeks away from Mah Girl, but still.

I will be hanging out with The Beardless One, as in my brother, and his girlfriend for two weeks. See some sights, gawk at nature, drink some beer, go cave-tubing and relax. Sweet. And then shopping for six days in Kuala Lumpur. And gawking at skyscrapers. Sweet again.

I aim at posting regularly here during the trip, but we'll see. The point is to experience, not photograph your experience or write about it, as a friend once put it. On some levels I see his point. We're all too busy chronicling or planning how to chronicle our lives that we tend to forget to stop and just enjoy.

I hope I can find some balance in that regard over the next three weeks. Because we all know I'm too much of an attention whore not to write while I'm down there.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Look out, Paddy Power, someone's just parked a tank on your lawn

I haven't written anything here in a while. I've been busy with other things, like planning for my trip, working and hugging Mah Girl. Hopefully I'll find more time and inspiration during my vacation, so I can chronicle it here.

Today I realized just how badly I need a vacation. Over the past two months or so I've ranted three times at various things at work, things that I could have handled in a much calmer fashion. They've ranged from small-scale to monumental in terms of the changes it will bring should my gripes be listened to. Time will tell. I believe this is the very definition of my job description: “constructive criticism”. Though I'm not sure its been all that constructive lately...

There's been a lot of construction (con-structive, con-struction. I know, not even a pun, really) going on outside our apartment though. They're building some sort of youth center across the road. As if the daycare below our window wasn't bad enough. Soon we'll have pimple-faced punks tearing it up on their mopeds outside. Hell, we have Homer in the apartment across the hall (as in Sport Fanatic) so why not Pimple Faced Kid a.k.a. Squeaky Voiced Teen across the road? Gods, I'm old.

Also, a couple of months ago they installed what looks like a traffic gate from Blade Runner. It's a big metal rod smack dab in the middle of the road into the yard outside our apartment, topped with red lights. The whole thing slides down into the ground when we use our electronic key on a post on the side of the road. You can stand on it and rise into the air as it slides back up. I'm just waiting for someone to tinker with it and have it go catapult.

Recently they realized it wasn't enough, and started sinking giant rocks into the ground around the road and across the expanses of grass on either side. I guess they're aiming at stopping cars from driving around the traffic gate, but it looks more like they're trying to emulate the Maginot Line. I mean, Flemingsberg is not the best neighborhood, but I seriously doubt Ze Germans are arriving in force anytime soon.

And the funny thing is, it looks like they put the massive rocks on the sides of the gate too close to it. I doubt a truck or a fire engine will get through there. I'm going to measure it at some point, just because that's the kind of annoying guy I am.

Two working days left, and then I need to worry less about work and construction and more about 23 hours in the air over two flights and bringing 240 prescribed pills past two sets of customs officers. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

If a man goes into business with only the idea of making money, the chances are he won’t

That evil and despicable mega-corp Disney has gone and done it again. The day before yesterday it was announced that Disney is buying Marvel. Let me repeat that. Disney, as in Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, is buying Marvel.

Now, this may not mean a whole lot to most of you. In fact, most of you probably don't care. To me, though, and to othr comic book nerds around my age this is a pretty big deal.

Marvel comics were an integral part of my teens. X-Men, Spider-Man, The Hulk and, above all, Daredevil, were like friends to me. The Marvel universe is the first that I found escape in, and regardless of the ups and downs Marvel and it's titles have gone through over the years, I will always look back at all that stuff I read in the early to mid 90s with a smile on my face.

My favorites are X-Men circa 1991-1995, Frank Miller's Daredevil and some Punisher stuff. Oh, and Marshal Law, but that's not really Marvel Marvel.

So now Disney is swooping in, assuming control of a Marvel Comics once again on the top of their game. This is a company that filed for bankruptcy in 1996, after being the most visible comic book company for a long time. The recovery they've gone through since then is nothing short of remarkable. And much of this is due to the success of the movies based on Marvel characters. This began in 1998 with Blade, and continues to this day with blockbuster hits like Iron Man.

Let's take a moment to ponder all them Marvel films. Being a fan of many of the original comics, I have watched these movies with a mix of fascination and utter dread. There have been disasters and there have been surprising highlights.

The surprise was Iron Man. I was never a die-hard fan of the character itself, but as soon as that first trailer surfaced and I saw Robert Downey Jr's crooked smile, I knew it would be a wild ride. And it was, and still is. I await Iron Man 2 with a not so crooked smile.

The disaster? Daredevil. A train wreck, of epic proportions. I know the word may seem inappropriate here, but it was a downright rape of one of my favorite characters. Horrendous.

Daredevil, which is sort of Marvel's equivalent to Batman, is one of the reasons why I view the acquisition of Marvel by Disney with a great deal of horror. Sure, they had the good sense not to mess with Pixar's recipe for success after they bought them, but that's not really the same thing, to me. Marvel has a darker side that I imagine may be hard to swallow for some Disney execs. This dark side is rarely more evident than in Daredevil. And there has been talk of a reboot of the Daredevil franchise, a la Batman Begins. Darker, edgier, without Ben Affleck and Colin Farrell. Oh the possibilities.

Now though, Scrooge McDuck has opened his vault of infinite dollar bills and let them rain over Marvel's shareholders. An astonishing 4 billion dollars is the price for my childhood nostalgia. Time will tell if anything good comes out of it. I expect disappointment. My gut feeling is that Disney is after the possibilities to sell toys, video games and all that jazz, and will focus on churning out blockbuster movies based on Marvel characters. Not in itself a bad thing, but like I said, I doubt they will embrace the darker side of Marvel.

If there are any comic book fans reading this (and yes, the question is to you too, Steelwheels, oh mighty Marvel geek), please share your Marvel memories and tell me your fave Marvel movie. If anyone says Daredevil, I will disown you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Silence adds sparkle to many a speech

Triangles showed me a video a ways back. I thought about it today when I saw a guy signing on the train, using video telephony on his mobile to talk to a friend. Technology is cool. So I asked Triangles to send the video again.

And here it is.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A void of indifference

Possible spoiler below, if you haven't seen Heroes.

We watch a lot of TV, Mah Girl and I. Preferably in the DVD box form, and we have a bunch of them on our shelves. Today we finished Generation Kill, which we started yesterday. A miniseries of seven episodes about a unit of recon Marines during the second US invasion of Iraq, in 2003.

I like the miniseries format. I like knowing that the writer and producer and director have a set ending in mind while they're working, and that they know the path to that end from day one. I tire quickly of TV shows that go nowhere and seem to have no goal in sight (can you spell Lost?), though shows that just fade before a proper end comes along pisses me off even more. Carnivale is one example of that (though I haven't watched it yet, its on our shelf), Millennium another.

If I'd had my way, Heroes would have been a miniseries too, at least at this point when we've seen season one and two. If the show had ended at Kirby Plaza, with the explosion, I would have been a very happy camper. Few shows, especially American shows, have the guts to end in that way.

Back to Generation Kill. Excellent script, brilliant characters and good actors, including Alexander Skarsgård in top form. The show doesn't make a political statement about the US presence in Iraq, but instead highlights the futility of the actions of American soldiers as well as show the horrors of war. The indifference of most of the recon Marines in the face of death and suffering is horrendous to watch.

I myself actually see the point of war. I'm not saying I condone the invasion of Iraq, but there are times when armed conflict is unavoidable and indeed necessary. History are full of such examples. We might have all been speaking German today if someone hadn't decided to meet violence with violence.

Yes, there are crimes committed and innocents killed in war. That is horrible, and something none of us should accept. However, this should not make us blind to the fact that war is necessary. There are greater wrongs in this world that can only be corrected through the use of force. That is sad, but an undeniable fact.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The sway of alcohol strikes back

Continued from Saturday, or rather, brought back on track to “good party nights” from “good nights, period”.

My 25th birthday (the music one, not the one where my “friends” got me horribly drunk). This was when I still lived in Karlskoga. I went to an acquaintance of mine who had a restaurant/night club, and asked if we could rent that place. He said if I could get fifty people there, and paid for the bands myself (cause you gotta have bands on your 25th) we could have the place. With fifty guests he would make enough money at the bar to make it a worthwhile night for him.

So we sold 98 tickets, including the 25 or so friends who sat down at six o'clock in the restaurant before the party and ate. Then we went upstairs to the club, and hit the beer and drinks. The first band went on, my friend Posti's stoner band Dog Will Hunt. Then a friend of mine came up to me and said “There's a line outside...” And there was. All in all, over 200 people showed up that night. People I'd never met came up to me, all smiles and hugs, and wished me a happy birthday. It was like some weird dream, where everything just seems warm and fuzzy and pleasant.

Two more bands played that night. Local act Ed Myer, who began something of a tradition at my birthdays by giving me a present in the form of a cover, that time Deftones' “Korea”. Then my friend B-Jet's band H.A.L. played, fronted by another friend, Det Finns Bara En Av Oss, who was part of that band very briefly. Tito Beltran (pre-rape conviction) came up and stood watching in the doorway to the club, surrounded by various hangers-on, gaping as Det Finns belted out scream after scream. It was surreal.

After drinking literally every bottle of beer the place had, we all left at two, a bunch of us retiring to Posti's home for an afterparty of epic proportions. We left at 0700, riding the crest of a wave created by music, a perfect blood alcohol level and excellent, excellent friends.

Easily the best birthday party I've ever had, though my 30th comes extremely close.

I had three 30th birthday parties, because why settle for one? The first was with colleagues at work. Food and then a bar where we were the only patrons, and got the full attention of bar staff more than happy to help celebrate me. A good start. Then I had a party back in Karlskoga, this after having moved to Stockholm, with all my closest friends from back home. We started at the local Stadshotell (which is a very Swedish small town thing, where the often only hotel in town has a night club), with food and a set from friends Lingua, where they first played some of their own songs and then a set of covers. That was their gift to me, a cover set that I got to choose all on my own.

We fled the hotel quickly after that, cause the owner is an asshole and we didn't want to be tormented by what they normally play there. We went to Looks Like Jöback's place, which was right behind the hotel. Problem was, his supply of alcohol was very limited. So Mistlur and I got our asses into a taxi and went to the all-night gas station and bought a couple of crates of beer, and Makes Kick-ass Chili walked home to see what supplies he could find there.

On our way back we passed Makes Kick-ass Chili on his way back, with a big bag slung over one shoulder. Turns out he emptied his liquor cabinet. Again, this was a night of good friends, laughter and music.

The third 30th party was in Stockholm, at Tanto-gården. An acquaintance had a club there, and we made a deal where I could have my party on her club night if I could book a band, Fingerspitzengefühl (best band name ever), she had been trying to book for a while. They're friends of friends, so I did, and three bands played that night too. The band then known as Smut, now known as A Swarm of the Sun started, then Lingua did a set of their own songs, and then Fingerspitzen. Then Lingua finished with yet another cover set, with lots of guests. The highlight was Deftones' “Passenger”, with a guest vocalist doing Chino's parts and Lingua's vocalist handling the Maynard parts. Not as mind-blowing as the real thing, but close.

As an added bonus. For my 30th, Mah Girl made a cake with the bearded smiley that I sign with on top in chocolate, and got me this:

Somebody stuck his blades in all his
major organs in alphabetical order
T-Bird, "The Crow"

There have been other great birthday moments too, such as when Det Finns Bara En Av Oss's then band Headplate opened for Machine Head in Stockholm and got the 800 people or so there to chant “Hurra hurra hurra!” for me since the gig was on my 26th birthday. Too bad I was just pulling into the parking lot since we had gotten ourselves thoroughly lost on the way there...

So much for birthday parties. Another time, other parties.