Just got back from a week in Japan. The recent announcement by the bank of Japan that they are going to jump on the "let's debase our currency" bandwagon that the rest of the big Northern hemisphere economies are on is certainly good news for those of us in the South. In the space of a week The NZD went from Y78 to Y84! For the first time ever, I found Japan to be a cheap place to visit. Also interesting is the absolute lack of inflation for the last 12 years. I bought a ticket for the Nozomi Shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo for Y14,050. The last time I did this same trip was 2001 and the price then was.....Y14,000. Amazing. Same thing with a glass of beer in Namba...Y500 then, Y500 now. To really gauge this in international terms consider this. In 2001 a beer in an Auckland city bar cost NZ$6. Last month I ordered a beer on Ponsonby road and nearly fell over when told the cost was NZ$9. Y500 is exactly NZ$6. Drinking in Japan is starting to look like a bargain at this exchange rate. I have noticed this with all sorts of things. Even filling up the car was cheaper! No wonder Osaka is full of Chinese tourist's buying everything in sight. Thanks Abe san!!! Now the interesting thing will be what happens to prices as soon as the BoJ cranks up the printing press. I get the feeling that after 20 odd years of price stability Japan is about to learn all about inflation.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Vuda Point, Fiji Islands July 2012
So....other than analysing the political and economic climate of Fiji here's what we did.
We then went to the Vodafone shop to buy a SIM card for my iPhone. The last time I tried to do this was in Osaka a couple of years ago and which lead to me wasting half a day getting nowhere with that simple task. Fiji is a third world country but it blows first world Japan away when it comes to being integrated with the rest of the world. We stood in a line for quite some time as everybody in that town had decided to buy a new phone or buy some credit for their old phone that morning. When we eventually got to the counter, it took less than 5 minutes to get hooked up with a new SIM and phone number. No stupid inkans and forms to be stamped. Just show your passport, pay the money and you're good to go.
So....other than analysing the political and economic climate of Fiji here's what we did.
|Boat parking Fijian style|
Vuda Point marina is a strange looking place. It's basically a big concrete lined bowl full of yachts. There are no pontoons between the boats and to get in and tie up you need to wedge your boat tightly between 2 other ones. Fenders are a must and everyone on the adjacent boats looks on nervously, fearing for the paintwork on their hulls as you squeeze on in. You then leap from your bowsprit on to a rickety wooden platform attached to the seawall and attach two lines to the wall. Your stern line is grabbed by a big guy in a small dingy who then runs it out to a mooring buoy in the middle of the bowl. This place is supposed to be a "hurricane hole", a safe place to park your boat when a tropical cyclone blows in. Looking at the tall seawalls, the narrow channel at the entrance and the chains lying all along the dock I can believe it. We arrived here in the evening and after stowing our gear onboard we headed for the marina bar. The great thing about Fiji right now is that their currency is low against just about everybody Else's and things like a beer at a marina are not that expensive. There are 2 types of beer made here. Fiji Bitter, which we knew from experience is fucking horrible, and Fiji Gold which is actually not bad and in this heat very drinkable. It's 9PM and 27 degrees which was a welcome change from Auckland's winter weather. The problem with this place, we found out a bit later that night, is that there is no breeze to keep the temperature down and the mosquito's away. Our cabin is fitted with a fan which was a good thing. Once switched on it sounded only slightly less noisy than a helicopter taking off which was a bad thing. So you are faced with a choice of sweating like a pig in silence or listening to that racket but at a comfortable temperature. In the end earplugs came to the rescue....thanks Air NZ!
|Vuda point Marina|
Morning brought clear blue skies and hot sunshine. Looking round at the flags hanging off the yachts I can see that Kiwis are well represented here. Lots of Aussies and Americans too with a handful of Europeans, Canadians and the odd South African thrown in. And then, right at the opposite end of the marina I notice a tiny yacht named "Dolce" with the home port of Shizuoka on the stern. "Look" I said to Shizuka, "some of your crowd have made it here all the way from Japan!"
We headed to the nearest town for some supplies. The marina has 3 taxis that are approved for the use of the visitors and they have standard fees so nobody gets ripped off. Our taxi driver was a friendly young fellow called Abdul who told us that he was trained as a plumber but makes better money driving the yachties around. Lautoka is Western Fiji's main commercial port and is dominated by the Sugar Mill with it's plume of smoke. There are large numbers of decrepit trucks piled high with sugar cane from the plantations of the interior. The whole town smells of sugar and diesel fumes and the air is thick with dust. It's a scruffy town but it's a lively place. The Supermarket was packed full of people dressed in very colourful clothes. After a few minutes cruising the aisles I noticed a curious thing. I'm used to supermarkets being packed full of stuff and for that stuff to be arranged logically in various departments. Not so here. I had grabbed some bottled water from the water department but 3 aisles over I came across another water department and then closer to the checkouts yet another water department. It was the same story with instant noodles....the same packets of noodles but displayed in 3 different locations. I guess they are trying to hide the fact that all they have to sell is water and noodles. If they put them all in the same place, it would be obvious but the way they are scattered throughout the store give people the impression of variety and choice. Next stop was the liquor store for some beer. While queuing up to pay for it, an old man very politely asked me for a dollar. Without really thinking about it I handed him a dollar coin. He thanked me and then left quickly. Right then I felt someone tapping my shoulder and turned around to find a Fijian woman behind me. "Don't give people money like that" she said. "That guy has big land in Nadi...he doesn't need money". The Indian liquor shop assistant agreed with her telling me that tourist's giving money encouraged people who are not poor to try their luck. I said that I thought he was very polite....unlike the beggars I have encountered in America. They were both rather startled by this statement. "There are beggars in America?" asked the Indian guy. I told them of my days in Tucson, Arizona where just about every convenience store car park has a panhandler with a hardluck story. They were both amazed to hear this information. As we were paying for our groceries, Abdul, who had been waiting outside in the car, came into the supermarket and started packing our stuff into bags and carrying it out to the car. What service!
|Lautoka Sugar Mill...smoggy but sweet!|
|Lautoka traffic jam|
By the time we got back to Vuda point it was early afternoon and stupidly hot in the marina. We decided that even though there was no sailing wind we were heading out to the islands. We loaded up the supplies and fired up the engine. Our destination was to be Mololo island and the cruiser's hangout of Musket Cove.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Lautoka. Fiji Islands. July 2012
July brought the opportunity to escape the wind and rain of NZ. Captain Shane had managed to sail his yacht "The Dealer" all the way from Auckland to Tonga and then on to the Fiji islands. Phoning from Vuda point marina near Lautoka, he said "Why don't you guys come up here for a week?" Shizuka is always keen for a tropical island holiday and I was keen for some sailing and swimming in warm water so tickets were booked and we checked in at Auckland international Airport for the 3 hour flight to Nadi.
We have been to Fiji before, in 2003, when we stayed in the south of the main island Viti Levu. To be honest, my impressions of the place were not good. It was like a 3rd world country with highly visible poverty and run down infrastructure everywhere you went. In the countryside some people live in really primitive conditions. Add in some obvious ethnic tension and you get a depressing image of what should be a paradise. Think Africa rather than South Pacific.
Fiji has an interesting population mix. The indigenous people are melanesian and have that relaxed island way of life. Fijians are friendly....almost disconcertingly friendly. They are very helpful to the tourist's and most of the resort or hotel staff are Fijian. Just like the Polynesians, they make great rugby players and they like to eat and drink and sing. You won't find a more chilled out, laid back people. When the islands were part of the Empire, the British imported thousands of labourers from India to work the sugar plantations that are still a major export earner today. Indians are generally hard working and ambitious and before long had became established in commercial sector of the economy. Indians also tend to be very astute with money and don't encourage their children to marry outside of their own culture. Fast forward a hundred years and the Indians have thrived to the point where the demographic is split evenly between the Fijian native and the Indian communities. They live side by side fairly peacefully but you wouldn't really say they are integrated. This has caused a lot of friction between them as the Fijians hold most of the land while the Indians own most of the businesses. Democracy has lead to ineffective governments as no one can obtain a clear majority. Corruption was rife and there have been several military coups as the mostly Fijian army has stepped in when ever they felt threatened by an Indian controlled government.
Before the 2006 takeover Fiji was a divided, under performing nation which had never lived up to its potential. Now, from my own experiences, I would say the country is on an upward course and things do look like they are improving. Of course NZ and Australia have played their role to perfection, moaning and complaining bitterly about martial law and subversion of democratic process and censorship and all that other crap that politicians do when they see their counterparts in other countries unceremoniously booted out of power and privilege. The press also howled and bitched to the extent that some of them were deported and told not to come again. Fiji, as one of our closest neighbours, has always been aligned with NZ but our government's sanctimonious behaviour has caused a rift. This is something that hasn't escaped the notice of China. Eager to purchase allies and influence in the South Pacific, the Chinese have wasted no time in replacing NZ and Australia as Fiji's best friend. China's "soft power" is very visible on the streets of Nadi with a notably expanded Chinese community and on Lautoka's commercial wharves which are piled high with containers filled with Chinese goods. From the Chinese fishing boats in the harbour to the Chinese funded development projects there's no doubt about it...China is Fiji's new BFF.
So the army set out to do what was good for the country and wasn't prepared to listen to any dissent or opposition. For this they were roundly condemned and isolated by the western world. The people who actually live in Fiji see it a bit differently however. Of all the people I have asked, Indian and Fijian, here in NZ or in Fiji itself , all have said that they approve of and support their military government and all agreed that they are better off for it. Corruption is under control, foreign investment is increasing, tourism is growing, living standards are improving and people actually seem to be happy. Military government has worked for Fiji.
There's an interesting conclusion to be drawn here...in a country that's split right down the middle, be it on ethnic, religious or ideological lines, democracy will produce ineffective, impotent governments. This is bad for a country. All the developed democratic countries now produce mediocre governments who are unable and unwilling to make real progress. In Fiji I see a genuinely popular government that makes things happen. At the same time I see NZ and Australian governments moralising and condemning, while all the while they do nothing to halt our own decline. If Commodore Frank arrived in Wellington with a gun and threw out all the useless riff-raff that inhabit our parliament I don't think I'd be at all unhappy.
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Heres my new truck. It's a 1996 Mazda B2600 4x4. When I got it it was totally stock standard but since then I've given it a 50mm body lift, 33inch x 12.50 tyres, cranked up the front torsion bars, fitted a boom box and some spotlights, replaced the factory seats with some half leather MX3 sport seats and tinted the windows. BLING!!! Not only does it look the part...it does the biz offroad too. Do you like it???
Surfers Paradise. Queensland. June 2012
Australia. It looms large in the lives of most Kiwis. Everybody in NZ knows someone living there. There's hardly a person in the whole country that doesn't have some family member who lives in OZ. My own sister is in Melbourne. Not surprising then that Kiwis go to Australia a lot. It's easy...a 3 -4 hour flight, cheap airfares, cheap accommodation when you crash with the relatives and all that great weather and sunshine. And then there's the fact that we can stay there permanently if we want to, something that around half a million New Zealanders have chosen to do. For sure the mining boom in Australia has lead to many great opportunities for Kiwis and there are plenty of stories floating around about six figure salaries and great lifestyle opportunities. But....I've never really got the whole "lets move to Australia thing". I've visited a number of times but never really understood what the draw was for so many Kiwis. The last time I was in Australia was 2003 and I left with the same impression that I had always had...nice to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. This year was different however. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that I was accompanied by a Kiwi who now lives in Brisbane and another one who wishes he did. Possibly it was the 20 degree midwinter sunshine that did it. Either way when I flew back to Auckland at the end of the week I found that my position on Australia has changed somewhat...
It's not financial. It seems to me that when you boil things down there's not really a lot of difference between average Kiwi Joe and average Aussie Joe when it comes to money. If you are a super specialised highly skilled geo-tech consultant in the mining business or something like that you will definitely be ahead but if you are a taxi driver in Sydney it's not so much different. Some things are cheaper but some things are dearer. Housing in the big cities is just as ludicrously expensive as in NZ and my trip to the supermarket in Surfers paradise seemed to cost me just as much as it would have at home. It's not political. Australian politics and system of government is even more perverted and absurd than our own one in NZ. It's not commercial. Setting up a similar business to mine in Australia is an exercise in jumping through hoops and dealing with enormous amounts of ridiculous bureaucracy and pointless red tape. In fact, for me, the most compelling reason to move to Queensland is that they seem to have maintained its social standards and cultural identity while New Zealand has gone so far backwards
The gold coast is not doing so well financially these days but the overall impression I got from talking to the inhabitants is positive and optimistic. Standards are being upheld and most of the people I saw in Queensland still seem to have some pride in their country, city, culture and even their personal appearance. The people there are mainly European Australians and Asians the vast majority of whom were well dressed and moved around with a real sense of purpose. By contrast, a trip around Auckland seeing the large amounts of badly dressed mongrel deadbeats sloping around without any visible purpose leaves me with the feeling that we have lost our culture, civic and national pride. Downtown Brisbane is clean and tidy with great infrastructure and a real go ahead atmosphere. By contrast, in NZ the merely proposing to do anything constructive unleashes a tsunami of dissent, dispute, protest and acrimony. In the beach side village of Piha the community was split over the issue of a tree branch which had grown over a footpath. One side wanted the tree pruned as it has become a safety issue. The other side argued that the tree had been there for years and that the road should be altered. The tree huggers were the most vociferous of course and forced the local council to spend tens of thousands of dollars on feasibility studies and proposals to re-route the road and build a new footpath in a manner that was environmentally sound and culturally sensitive. This farce dragged on for months until one night an anonymous person, in a stunning display of common sense, simply cut the branch off with a saw. End of problem. Somehow I just cant see that nonsense happening in Queensland. It certainly wouldn't happen in Tokyo or Shanghai.
The other thing I like about Queensland is that it expects it's immigrants to assimilate and integrate more than we do. Everybody we encountered in the Gold coast and in Brisbane spoke good English no matter what their job was or what country they had come from. In Auckland there are now large sections of the community that are unable to communicate in English. Going to a supermarket or bank in South or West Auckland is like a visit to the UN headquarters. Here it has been decreed that it is unreasonable to expect an immigrant to learn our language and that it is us who must make the effort. The same thing goes for fair and reasonable behaviour. I recently had a customer who had immigrated to NZ from India and in the time honoured tradition, as soon as he had obtained NZ citizenship, he promptly departed for Australia. This abuse of NZ as a gateway to Australia is common among third world immigrants. This particular Indian found life in Brisbane a bit harder than he had imagined and so after one year returned to NZ. When I asked if he did not like Australia he replied that "Australia didn't like me". It didn't take me long to find out that I don't care for him much myself. When dealing with him I found him to be underhanded and untrustworthy. While he may find it easier to get away with that approach here by claiming cultural differences, Australians tend to be less afraid to enforce first world standards on third world people. In that respect, Japan is similar....if you plan on living there you will have to fit in and don't expect the locals to bend over back wards to accommodate your culture or traditions. NZ has imported tens of thousands of third world people over the last 20 years and has done bugger all to ensure that they fit in with the existing culture and traditions. On the contrary, we have been browbeaten by successive governments and special interest groups into accepting without question their cultures and traditions no matter how incompatible they are with our own.
I am not under any illusion that all of Australia is the same. Sydney, as far as I can see is not much different to Auckland and has all the same problems and ills caused by all the same stupid policies and attitudes. And the same crappy winter weather. I wouldn't contemplate moving there for a minute, but as for Brisbane...I think I'm starting to get it.
Monday, December 24, 2012
"I can tell you have been busy....every time I check your blog I see it hasn't been updated". Someone said this to me the other day which made me realise that its been 6 months since I did anything with it. SIX MONTHS!!! 2012 has just flown by which is kind of worrying, but, I have achieved many things and I don't think I have wasted too many days this year. So...as the year winds down and I have a few days of relative peace, i will attempt to fill in the gaps in this narrative.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
The annual midwinter break/business conference is on again. After spending the last few years in Northland we decided that we would once again get on a plane and go somewhere a bit warmer This year its Surfers Paradise in Queensland, Australia. The Gold coast is 25 odd Km's of resort hotels and apartment towers and is a favourite winter destination for Kiwis looking for a break from the wind and rain of NZ. Surfers Paradise is a bit misnamed however. The beach is very nice...long stretch of white sand, clear water etc, but the waves are not what you would call primo surf. This is no North shore Hawaii with a monster break like pipeline.To me it feels like Las Vegas without the casinos. Or the desert. By the sea. I don't really know why I think that as it's totally different but anyhow.... It's been 12 years since I've been to the Gold coast and things have certainly changed. The building boom of the early 2000's threw up dozens of new apartment blocks along the beach. The tower we're staying in is called Q1 and it was finished in 2005. Apparently it's the tallest residential tower in the world. We are staying on the 60th floor and the apartment is absolutely stunning. 250 sq metres, 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, Tv room......this beats stying in a hotel room. The elevator is incredible...it moves at 9 metres per second and makes your ears pop!. The view from up here is awesome. It's going to be hard to top this place next year.
The only thing that puts me off this kind of property is the safety issue of living in a skyscraper. It's certainly not for those with young children. The outside terrace would be a constant nightmare if you had a couple of kids running around. The other thing that struck me was the way the air currents swirl around and through the building. In some places, particularly around doors, the wind screams through like a jet engine and opening the door you can feel a massive difference in air pressure. If this place caught fire I believe it would soon be an uncontrollable inferno due to these updrafts and currents. If I lived here I seriously think that I would take a base jumping course and have a couple of parachutes hanging in the wardrobe just in case. You also need to be extra careful not to drop anything out a window as it would probably kill someone if it hit them. There are signs in the building stating that the penalty for throwing objects off the balcony is 14 years jail time. So if your partner is one of those people who likes to throw plates when she gets upset, you might want to think twice about this kind of living. There are lots of good things about living in the sky. Security is really good...no worrying about some burglar climbing in the window when you're 300 metres up. In fact, you won't even have to worry about forgetting to close all the windows when youre going out. The elevator only works when you swipe your magnetic apartment key over it so no unwanted visitors either. Great for when the mother in law shows up unannounced. Another advantage is that Mosquitos are'nt an issue here...even seabirds don't fly up this high. There are even helicopters flying around below us. You also are unlikely to encounter any of Australias hazardous wildlife either which is a really good thing as even the ants here can kill you. One of the fun things is the garbage chute. No buying special bags or sorting out your trash here. Just throw in in the hatch and it's gone. Theres something really satisfying about the sound of your rubbish bouncing of the sides of the chute down 60 floors. In all, this kind of apartment living is one I could get used to. We met some people who were staying on the 19th floor which led Glenn to comment that they might as well have slept in their rental car.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Let me start by saying this...I don't really care for teachers. Like policemen and tax inspectors, they are a necessary evil. Part of the reason why I couldn't wait to finish high school was the motley collection of so called educators that I encountered on my journey through the education systems of 2 countries. A small number of the teachers I had were genuinely good people who cared about what they were doing but most of them were merely clock watching drones who had little to no talent or power tripping egotists who got off on scaring small children. A relative who is a teacher of some eminence once said to me "there are 3 reasons to become a teacher...June, July and August". For me however, the old adage "those that can, do. Those that can't, teach" is one of those indisputable truths of life. The reason for this rant is that I have just read a book by a Kiwi guy who spent 3 years as an assistant language teacher (ALT) on the Japan English teacher (JET) scheme. It was a great read for a number of reasons but mostly for the fact he didn't take himself seriously. He seems to have had a lot of fun during his time in Japan because he realized this right from the beginning.
The JET scheme has been running for 25 years now and is still enthusiastically supported by the Japanese government. For a small town mayor in backblocks Japan having an exotic foreigner on the payroll of the local high school is a boost to his prestige. The local school board can claim to be "international" and can demonstrate to the local people that they are taking all possible steps to prepare their children for the new globalized economy. As usual in Japan it's all about image and if this is the primary goal it could be judged as a huge success. Less publicized is the inconvenient fact that the average Japanese student's English level continues to be abysmal. It's not really surprising when you consider when these so called "English teachers" are nothing of the sort. Because just about anybody can get themselves on this scheme it's no wonder that the results are woeful. While I believe most teachers in NZ are a waste of good oxygen I will concede that they have at least attended several years of training college, have gained experience in the classroom and have done their time in the system. Contrast this with the recruiting criteria of the JET program...
To be accepted as a JET you need to, A) speak English, and, B) have a degree in something (anything will do). And...that's it. Don't worry about the fact that you have no experience as a teacher. It doesn't matter that your degree is a Doctorate in Equine Psychology. You don't even need to speak any Japanese. It's no secret that becoming a JET is the easiest way to exist as a foreigner in Japan. Your average JET is a twenty something American/Canadian/English/Aussie just out of university and on the lookout for a way of funding an overseas experience for a couple of years. Some of them have an interest in Japan while others are just there to meet people and get in adventures. Some may even have a genuine desire to teach English and to participate in the education of the students they will meet. Whatever their reasons, the JET scheme is their ticket to a life in Japan.
Now this is all good and wonderful. The Japanese Government and the local education boards get their progressive image and the foreigners get to live the dream, meet girls and drink a lot. Even the long suffering taxpayers who foot the bill for it believe it to be a good thing. It's a win-win situation....except, the internet is full of blogs with JET teachers railing about the injustices that riddle the Japanese education system and the abuse and intolerable working conditions they endure. Now I don't doubt for a moment that all of this is true and that they have some real grievances but they all seem to have forgotten the fact that they are not real teachers. For some reason these people expect to be taken seriously as bona fide educators despite the fact they have had no training or experience and their qualifications amount to the grand total of being able to speak their native language and that they managed to show up to enough lectures at university to get a degree in something. The only reason they work in education is the fact that they can't do anything else that qualifies for a visa. It's very clear to me that if the Japanese government had an interest in teaching English to children they would hire real teachers and pay them real money to do so. The Jet scheme is simply a feelgood exercise and is not intended to be a real career for anybody. You are not supposed to be there 7 years later and demanding pay and conditions to reflect your long service...you were supposed to have gone home years ago. Anybody in this situation has missed the point of the program, which is to go to Japan, party, sight see, reinforce a few stereotypes about foreigners, learn some kanji and generally be a bit of colour for the local community for a year or two.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
It's time I went back to Japan again and did some housekeeping. The trick is now to find a good airfare. Jetstar is undoubtedly the cheapest but I don't like having to transit in Queensland and I hate giving money to an Australian airline. I need for Air NZ to come up with a special like they did this time last year.
|Mixin it up on the Midosuji|
I read in the Japan Times that in Kameoka a teenager in a van ran over some schoolkids and killed 2 of them. It always surprises me that this sort of thing doesn't happen everyday. The traffic/pedestrian mix in Japanese cities is ludicrous. Despite having a huge automotive industry Japan is at heart a nation of walkers and has not yet come to terms with traffic. A lot of places there are no footpaths and the fact that houses and shops are allowed to be built without any setback from the road means that people are simply going to walk on the road. OK...but when they do that they seem to forget that cars and trucks are also using that same road. I've rarely seen anybody who looks even half aware of this fact. Old people are the worst. Some of them may have been living beside this road all their lives but still look astounded when a car comes along while they're shuffling across it. Even though large numbers of motor vehicles have been driving around Japanese cities for over 60 years, I still get the feeling that they are viewed as something that has just come along and people don't yet quite know how to respond to them. In Kameoka I used to drive past a rock which was right on the edge of the road. When I say road, I mean the barely 2 metre wide path that everybody uses to access their homes. And when I say on the edge, I mean this thing was literally on the road. This rock was about 50cms high and had some kanji written on it. To me it looked like a shrine of some sort, the kind of which you see all over Japan. Driving by this rock I was always scared that even a minute twist of the steering wheel would result in me driving over some ancient monument and incurring the wrath of the natives. It was a stupid place to have a rock of any kind much less one of some importance or spiritual value but that's the kind of traffic hazard you see everywhere in Japan.
Bicyclers and scooterists are even worse. It seems that a lot of people disengage their brain whenever they jump on a bicycle. Weaving erratically around traffic and pedestrians with careless abandon is the name of the game when using any form of 2 wheeled transport around town. People ride straight through stop signs while using umbrellas and texting on their phones. I believe this stems from the tradition that in an accident the driver of the car is automatically guilty of causing it just like if a bicycle hits a pedestrian the cyclist is at fault regardless of the circumstances. The laws around bicycles are a great example of this lack of attention to traffic reality. Riding a bike on the footpath is forbidden except in places where it is not but nobody seems to know where they may be so everyone rides on the footpath. Riding at night without a light will get you a stiff fine while riding drunk will mostly likely get you a lot of finger wagging and a warning to not do it again. The cops are big on bicycle theft....(all bikes have to be registered) but aren't interested in enforcing laws like the ones prohibiting carrying other people on your bicycle or chatting on the phone while riding. One good thing about Japan is the lack of militant "cars are evil, everybody should ride a bike" activist bicyclists like we have in NZ. These idiots are usually to be found wearing bright coloured spandex and riding 5 abreast on busy roads. They know they are being unreasonable and don't care who they offend. I don't know which is most annoying....stupidity as seen in Japan or such willful stupidity as seen in NZ.
Where I come from roads are for motor vehicles. Sure you are entitled to be on the road on your bike or horse or scooter but be under no illusions....the car is king. It's up to you to stay out of the way and not do anything stupid. If you don't you'll be splatted and get very little sympathy from anyone. And that's as it should be..............
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Right...... it's time to re-boot this blog.
This blogging software sucks....you spend hours arranging text blocks and pictures only to find that when you publish it, it looks nothing like your compose post screen. WTF? Trying to layout photos is enough to send you insane. Whoever designed this software should be taken around to the back of the Google mirror glass headquarters and shot. Rant over.
This blogging software sucks....you spend hours arranging text blocks and pictures only to find that when you publish it, it looks nothing like your compose post screen. WTF? Trying to layout photos is enough to send you insane. Whoever designed this software should be taken around to the back of the Google mirror glass headquarters and shot. Rant over.
Another Summer has rolled past. Normally summer is filled with swimming, surfing, sailing and evenings spent on the beach. This year was different. Life has a habit of constantly changing but sometimes we get so wrapped up in the daily grind it can come as a surprise how much things have changed .Everybody seems to be busy now, busier than ever. Friends who would always be up for an adventure are now tied to family and business commitments. Girlfriends, bosses and customers have always been there off course but now they are joined by wives, children and mortgage payments and companies. Luckily everybodys health is good and in general, everybody in good spirits but there is that lack of time now to do the things we used to do. The other reason this summer was different was the weather. It was without a doubt the worst I can remember and the general consensus is that we have been robbed of our best season. The forecast for the Easter long weekend was not good, but as it turned out, completely wrong. Several things occured in the fashion of stars aligning. I traded an old Toyota Hilux 4WD, Glenn came into posession of a Suzuki jeep, nobody had to work, the sun came out, the tides on the west coast were favourable......a beach trip was in the making.
The west coast of Auckland is an long stretch of unspoiled nature, crashing surf, windswept beaches, tall cliffs, forests and sand dunes. There are a number of beaches, all with their own character, which are popular with surfers, artists, fishermen and daytrippers from the city. Piha is the best known and gets all the fame and glory with its elietist surf club and their TV show but, for me at least, Muriwai beach is the definative west coast beach. Muriwai is a special place. 50Kms in length, the beach is a endless empty stretch backing onto the Woodhill forest. The best thing is that theres enough space for everyone to surf, swim, fish, ride horses or mountain bikes, kite surf or just lie in the sun without bothering anyone else. I have even seen someone land a small airplane on the beach. For us however the main reason we come here lies at the far northern end of the beach. Here at the entrance to the Kaipara harbour is the old Kaipara weapons range. It's a wilderness of sand, water and wind with towering dunes and thick forest which the air force use as a practice area for dropping bombs out of airplanes. Now, seeing as we don't really have an air force thats capable of dropping anything these days, it's become a mecca for off road vehicles...a huge 4WD playground
So...Sunday was the choosen day. Kids and wives were loaded into trucks and we rolled onto the beach at midday, just after the high tide. When driving on the beach wind and tide must be observed carefully. Theres no where to run if you get it wrong and the beach has claimed many vehicles over the years. At the right phase of the tide the sand just above the surf line is firm and can be driven on with ease. Just watch for waves sweeping in and soft spots that can take you from 80km/h to stopped in just a few metres. It takes about 45 mins to travel from the crowded south end to the lagoon at the extreme North end of the beach. theres no road access here and the only people you will see have come here by off road vehicles.
Lunch was eaten and sand castles built by the lagoon. A little foray into the soft sand dunes resulted in a recovery operation as the Hilux is not really setup for these conditions but great fun was had by all.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Last night I went for a little trip up country. This involved using the one and only toll road in the whole of NZ. Using this road makes me angry, firstly because toll roads are a crime against motorists who have already paid for the road through fuel taxes and so on, and secondly because the toll collection system was designed by a moron. Japan knows how to do toll roads. Obviously the people who designed the toll collection system got together and asked themselves "whats the most important thing to consider when you're fleecing motorists?" Answer...make it as painless as possible. While people may not like paying Y700 to go on the highway they tend to put up with it because it's easy. Just slow down, toss a few coins at the old dude in the box then mash the gas pedal to the floor and off you go. If that's a little too much like hard work you can eliminate the tossing and braking parts and get an ETC card which bills you electronically as you blast through the toll gate. While you are justified in moaning about the cost you can't complain that they make it difficult. Here in NZ it's totally the opposite. At $2, the toll to use the Northern gateway is a bargain. Great new highway, designer bridges, sculpted native bush, scenic landscape and a gleaming new tunnel make this a nice bit of road for very little money . Where it all comes crashing down is the hoops you must jump through to pay that money.
NZTA offers several ways to pay...all of which are a complete pain in the arse! You can use your mobile phone and a credit card but, as doing this while driving is illegal, you must exit the highway and stop. You could pay online but in order to do that you would have to find the internet so you must exit the highway and stop. You could also pay at the kiosks which are at either end of the toll road but as they are located some way off the road you must exit the highway and stop. Are you starting to see a pattern emerging here? It seems to have eluded the Muppet's in control of this road that the whole idea of a highway is that you do not have to stop for anything. I imagine they were possibly inmates of a mental institution and that the blueprint was drawn up on an big piece of cardboard using crayons. Obviously a electronic gadget geek was on the committee as was some faceless bureaucrat who saw the opportunity to do some empire building. As they were desperate to avoid having any human component in the system it was decided to provide a vending machine type thing to deal with those stick in the mud, flat earth types who insisted on paying with actual money. Not for us a simple grandad in a box to take your coins with a cheery greeting....we get a touch screen robot which, as all sci-fi geeks know, is way more efficient and cool. Except it isn't. What it is in fact is confusing and irritating. I used the kiosk last night and paid by the archaic method of putting a single gold coloured coin in a slot. This procedure involved exiting the highway and parking the car in a car park. I then had to exit the car and walk over to the kiosk where the machine is located. Next you wait in a line of equally annoyed and confused people. When you do get to the machine you discover that you need to know the registration number of your car to make this thing work. As the car park is quite large this tends to involve a lot of shouting as people scream out letters and digits to each other due to the fact that the cars number plate isn't actually visible form the kiosk. As you go to type in your reg number on the touch screen you will find that it doesn't work that well due to the last user having smeared grease all over it from a bucket of KFC that he was eating before he had to exit the highway and stop. After depositing your coin in the slot you are issued with a receipt...that is if the paper hasn't run out. Or the ink. Or that it just doesn't work. Which is what happened to me. Not only did this infernal machine swallow the first coin without crediting it, it refused to print out the reciept after the second coin was sacrificed. The next step it seems is to leave the receipt in the slot at the bottom of the machine. Throwing it on the ground also appears to be a popular choice judging from the amount of them littering the kiosk. Which is certainly better than having another useless piece of paper cluttering up the interior of your car. As you turn to leave you will inevitably be stopped by a confused European tourist and asked for instructions on how to work the damn thing. You are now free to continue your journey, or rather join the queue of cars waiting to continue their journey.
If this sounds like an awful lot of cocking about that's because it is. No wonder then that a large percentage of people using this road say to themselves "fuck all that!!" and just drive on through without stopping. This works particularly well if you are driving someone Else's car. A spy camera on a pole takes a nice picture of the car's number plate and you have 5 days to pay the toll by credit card. No bill is sent and most people forget to do it, caught up as they are on the treadmill that is modern life. This is where the bureaucratic evil empire swings into action. Admin fees are charged and reminders sent out. If you don't pay promptly the penalties skyrocket. If the driver of your car was not you but was in fact your cousin from Namibia for example, you can transfer liability to him. But only after you fill out a tedious form supplying his details to the toll Nazi's and and having it witnessed by a Justice of the peace. JP's are about as hard to find as rocking horse shit these days on account that nobody wants to do this thankless unpaid job. The ones that are willing tend to be about 70 years old and are available for witnessing statements for about 2 hours a day, usually between morning tea and lunchtime. Except Fridays as they have to tend to their rose garden. Or weekends as the grandchildren might be visiting. In short, if you're a 9 to 5 working stiff, you're screwed. Seeing as filling out forms and taking time off work to run around town looking for a JP, a 50c stamp, an envelope and a postbox is even more of a waste of your life, some people just pay the fine to make it go away. Others just ignore it until it gets passed on the the courts where it then wastes valuable time and resources. The admin and enforcement costs are so great that the road barely makes any money. The whole thing is a disaster from start to finish. So next time you come to a toll gate on the expressway say a big cheery Mai Do! (if in Kansai) to the grandad in the box and be satisfied in the knowledge that you're being robbed in the most efficient way there is all while staying firmly rooted in the past. Something Japan excells at.
Monday, January 30, 2012
Here's something I bought last week in an internet auction. It's a 1978 Toyota Corolla SR hardtop KE35. It is pretty much identical to my first car except for the colour (my one was red) and the Alloy wheels. It has had only 2 owners from new, the last one had it since 1980. It has travelled only 77,000kms. Cars like these are rapidly increasing in price these days as young guys looking for something different and cool are snapping them up. Finding an original low mileage 70's car is near on impossible now so when I saw this one I figured that it would probably be the last opportunity to own such a car for a reasonable price.
These Corollas were assembled here in NZ which is both a good and bad thing. The Aussie/NZ versions of this car were different from the US/Japan ones which had tacky interiors and hideous front and rear styling. We got nicer seats and carpets and proper chrome bumpers with out any of those silly rubber bits that were stuck onto the American ones. The down side is that they were assembled in a miserable place called Thames in a factory built from bits of pine trees and sheets of corrugated iron. The build quality was variable and the process for painting the cars produced here was abysmal and the cars started rusting from the day they rolled off the line. Be that as it may however, the Kiwi version is to my mind the prettiest looking Corolla ever made. The styling of the car is pure early 70's American . The roofline is Ford Torino as is the instrument cluster, the rear fenders and bootlid look like a 74 Mustang and the quarter windows and front grille are replicas of the Australian Ford Falcon XA coupe. The vents in the bonnet and the frameless doors are classic design features of the muscle cars from the US. The main difference between them is the matter of size. Being a sensible Japanese car its a lot smaller of course. The 3K engine is a mere 1200cc. There also little in the way of extra options....you have to change gear and wind up the windows all by yourself. So, it was a sensible car for the sensible man who wanted the look of a fire breathing muscle car but without the fuel bills and the parking hassles.
Thirty four years on and these cars still turn heads, all the more so now because there are so few left. This one is 100% original which makes it even more special. The interior is in mint condition and there is nothing missing or broken. There are a few minor rust sports and the paintwork needs some attention so I will probably repaint it later this year. At first I wasn't too struck on the green colour but it's growing on me and I will probably keep it that colour. As a coincidence this car has been living for 32 years at a house just down the street from the place where I worked when I had my first car. Getting into it and driving it past my old workplace was like being transported back to a time when I was 18. The sound and feel brought back so many memories. For that reason alone I feel it was worth buying this KE35 coupe for $3600....exactly the same price that I paid for the first one all those years ago! Spooky eh?
Saturday, January 28, 2012
It seems that December and January have passed by really quickly. I have not put anything up here due to these reasons. 1 The weather this summer has sucked. 2 Business has been really good which has taken most of my time. 3 I couldn't be bothered. Anyway, here's a summary of what we've been up to....