Posted by: Josh Lokken | March 16, 2012

Why hello there. Remember me?

So I’ve been lazy lately, and I’m sure that the multitude of dedicated readers have endured a growing frustration. Well…maybe not. But I pushed aside updating the blog for more productive endeavors, like watching nauseatingly bad boot-legged chick flicks (yes, I’m talking to you Aston Kutcher) and researching the cheapest flights to Asia.

But in my defense, there hasn’t been a whole lot to tell you about. Except for the Asia part. So just in case you’re wondering…

I plan on leaving New Zealand in mid-April, continue to delay the real world, and spend several weeks wondering around South East Asia. That obviously requires money (although surprisingly not that much) and so the next month will likely involve mussel opening bonanzas just brimming with excitement.

With my flight booked, it has now become decisions of where exactly to go. Inevitably I’ll hit parts of the banana pancake trail, but to be honest I really just don’t know. Right now my plan sits somewhere between “just show up and see what the heck happens” and “maybe I should consider buying a guide book.” It’s worked before.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Four weeks of cruel and unusual punishment in exchange for Patong beach, Siem Reap, and Pad Thai. It’s a deal I’m willing to make.

Posted by: Josh Lokken | February 12, 2012

Goodbye, dear friend

Feast on my magnificence!

Remember way back when…you know, when I first arrived in New Zealand and debated the decision to buy a car? No? Then you can read about that here.

Okay, now that you’re up to speed, last week it came time to sell my car. And, I got exactly what I was asking for it.

Well…maybe a little less.

Okay, a few hundred less that what I was hoping. But it was still a fair deal. And perhaps I couldn’t turn a profit like I had hoped, but I did unload this fine piece of engineering for NZ$125 less than what I bought it for.

As a tribute, here are a few pictures of her – in all her majestic 177,000 mile glory.

Somethings I will naturally miss. Like the freedom to drive miles down back country roads, with nothing but my camping gear and a smile, far from any hint of cell phone reception, and pray to all things holy she doesn’t break down.

Somethings not so much. Like the conversations with the mechanic where I get to ask in my diffident, prepubescent voice, “and how much is that going to cost?” Or how I seemed to hemorrhage money every time I stopped at the pump.

Yes, the car was an expense, but far from the financial nightmare it could have been. And between the money I saved by not riding buses and staying in hostels, in conjunction with the liberty of some incredible camping, buying a car was a decision very well made.

Posted by: Josh Lokken | February 2, 2012

Kiwi Drama

Today, I vent.

I know I’ve mentioned the laid back Kiwi “sweet as” attitude before and my love/hate approach towards it. Well, my previous attitude has taken an immediate turn towards indelible hatred.

Particularly when that unmistakable attitude involves walking into work on Monday and being told, “We’ve got an e-coli problem and until further notice you’re out of a job. We think it will be fixed in one week but we really don’t know, we knew about the problem last week and actually the week before that too, but our infinite wisdom decided to tell you today. Oh, and naturally you won’t be getting paid. Have a good week.”

Afterwards, my co-workers and I did the only obvious thing. We started drinking.

And so instead of indulging in my typical Monday night mussel binge, I sat with my Brazilian and Chilean friends drinking cheap beer, watching the Australian Open, and discussing our appreciation for Maria Sharipova’s glowing contribution to the tennis world.

So maybe it’s not all bad. At least until I can’t afford the beer.

Posted by: Josh Lokken | January 24, 2012

Rock n’ Roll

Around 1:30 am I woke up from the ground shaking. Not a guy with a jack-hammer next to you type rumble, but rather a moderately slow but still very significant 5.2 on the Richter scale back and forth sway. The event was one of many, many aftershocks which continue to plague Christchurch. And despite me being on the Banks Peninsula 60 miles outside the city center, I still very much felt it.

Growing up on the U.S. East Coast, earthquakes were always the things that happened somewhere else. I remember one from when I was a kid, but it was laughably small and could have been easily duplicated by a truck passing in front of the house.

In New Zealand, not so much. If one happens, you’ll feel it. For those of you that don’t remember, Christchurch was hit by a very significant 7.1 earthquake in September 2010. Surprisingly, the city escaped with only moderate damage and no fatalities. The real blow came in February 2011 when a smaller 6.3 extended the damage to an already weakened infrastructure. Overnight the Central Business District became inoperable, the city’s defining Cathedral was destroyed and New Zealand’s second largest city became a ghost town.

It’s a sad story to watch unfold. A city anxious to rebuild is constantly being put put on hold. And while I do get tired of always reading about the aftershocks, liquefaction, and general sense of fear in the papers, it is still a big deal. Nearly one year after the event and still no major reconstruction efforts made, there is now even talk of rebuilding the lost infrastructure in a different city altogether. A sort of infrastructure transplant so to speak.

In a twisted sort of way, I somewhat enjoyed experiencing my first “largish” sized earthquake. And just as quickly as it came, the novelty wore off. The realization of how destructive these natural disasters are quickly set in.

I won’t speculate on what the future holds for Christchurch, because to be honest, I have absolutely no idea. I don’t think anyone does. But an afternoon stroll outside the Central Business District looking through the chain-link fences into the empty shell of a city was a stark reminder of just how destructive nature can be.

Posted by: Josh Lokken | January 4, 2012

Christmas with the Kiwis

I woke up on Christmas morning with a huge present – a 6 foot 3 inch, slender, blonde German guy laying right next to me. Wait…that sounds a bit weird. Let me start over.

I decided to take a trip. After working a factory job which made me empathize with people who have gone postal, I gladly accepted the three week holiday break. 30 minutes of packing and a quick trip to the supermarket later, and I was off. (Oh the bizarreness of fitting your entire life into a single bag.)

The first week was very relaxed as I meandered down the West Coast stopping at whatever looked interesting. With some of the most scenic driving in New Zealand, it was easy to roll down the windows, put on my Ray-bans, look out over the Tasman Sea and forget that I drove a 20 year old car with a Kelly Blue Book value of around $500.

Eventually I met up with my very straight and heterosexual friend, (just avoiding confusion) where we arranged a trip through the Mount Aspiring National Park backcountry. And so, fueled by a hearty diet of instant noodles and rice, for five days we wheezed and ached our way up 6,000 foot climbs only to realize we had to go back down.

If the landscape from Avatar collided with Jurassic Park and somehow added snow, Mount Aspiring National Park would be the result. 9,000 ft mountains capped with glaciers, creeks billowing off cliff edges into beech forests and deep jagged valleys make for a very dramatic landscape. Escaping the Canon carrying tourists and parades of camper vans, it was both an exhausting and rewarding trip. A photo album from the trip, with a few other New Zealand randoms, can be seen here.

So there it is, my very unorthodox Christmas for 2011. Many people in New Zealand celebrate the holiday by going to the beach wearing a Santa hat. I decided to sleep in a tent with a guy who hadn’t showered in days. Perhaps I should rethink my priorities. On second thought, I’d probably do it again.

Posted by: Josh Lokken | December 14, 2011

Hot Side Diaries

Yet again, I’m hesitant to write about my day job.

Maybe it’s my pride that won’t allow me to admit that my job can be performed by anyone with an IQ higher than an eggplant. More likely, its probably the fact that my job just isn’t that interesting. But regardless, perhaps you’d like to know.

I open mussels. Green shell mussels to be exact. Apparently, they’re pretty famous and get shipped all over the world. On any given night I’ll open between 6,000 and 9,000 of them. It’s titillating work.

Most people’s reactions are fairly typical. Inquisitive, mildly surprised expressions that I’ve lasted eight weeks in a job so profoundly boring. But I tell them, and perhaps I can convince you, that it’s actually not that bad.

Of course it’s not a resume builder. But the fact that the job requires no more than three brain cells allows me to devote most of my attention towards other things. In this instance, audio.

I’ve become a huge fan of iTunesU. A fantastic resource where you can download (for free) lectures from colleges and universities all over the world. Economics, philosophy, theology, whatever. It’s an awesome resource which I wholly recommend checking out.

Consequently, my days have become mussel opening, econ lecture/spanish lesson/audiobook binges which, oddly enough, I often look forward to. Maybe it’s a strange coping mechanism, but it works.

But before I seal my identity as a total nerd, I do have periods where I just want to throw on some rock classics and space out for a few hours. And of course, I do.

Posted by: Josh Lokken | November 6, 2011

Pubescent Angst

I’ve never liked teenagers. Why? Two reasons. First, on a personal level, that life chapter haunts me with the dark memories of acne, clumsiness and awkward attempts at talking with girls. (One could make a compelling argument I still haven’t out-grown two of these three.)

Second, teenagers continue to exist. Unlike the first reason which closets itself in the past, there’s occasional present day situations where I am forced to deal with this demographic.

Take last Tuesday for example. Our small group of three were on the third day of a four day hike through Nelson Lakes National Park. After walking for five hours, we had just crossed a frigid and waist deep river swollen by snow-melt. Mud caked our bare feet and legs. It was raining. We were cold, wet, and very tired.

So you can imagine the relief we all felt when we reached the trail leading to the hut 400 meters away. We knew the hut was hardly anything special, but it didn’t matter. It was warm, provided a bed, and most importantly, dry.

Or so we thought…

With the cruel timing that only sick and twisted fate can provide, an armada of canoes all filled with high school 14-15 yr. olds pulled up to the hut as soon as we arrived. Apparently they were on a school trip, something to do with “learning the outdoors.” The peacefulness of the lake was suddenly replaced with the piercing sounds of 25 high schoolers generously sharing their deafening chatter. Serenity now!*

I developed a pit in my stomach as I realized we didn’t bring nearly enough wine. It was a rough night, and hence the reason, I don’t like teenagers.

But just in case you’re wondering, the rest of our trip was great. The four days spent in the back county were filled with big lakes, bigger mountains and far too many walks uphill. The company of one French and one German made for good evening conversation. Our Tuesday night fiasco aside, it was a much welcomed break from the dull monotony of my day job.

*Seinfeld, Season 9, Episode 3.

Posted by: Josh Lokken | October 9, 2011

Life in the Vines

So I’ve held off on writing about my work in the vineyards, because since I stopped working there about one month ago, I would have been writing in the past tense. I always fear writing negatively about past experiences, fearing that a cruel and ironic twist in karma would make me re-live the horror. With the arrival of spring however, that’s no longer possible, pending some freak change in the earth’s orbit. So at last, I can recount my experience.

At first I was thrilled to have landed a job. Not the best job, but at least it was work. I was told it’s challenging vineyard labor, but if I work hard, I could make decent money.

“Cool” I said to myself. “I’ve worked hard before, so that’s nothing new. Plus what better place than New Zealand to be working outside, right?” Hahahahaha!!!

Don’t be fooled by the pretty scenery – this exercise in abject misery will strip every ounce of joy from your existence. What was supposed to be an adventurous working holiday suddenly turned into a tragic recreation of indentured servitude. Endless rows of Sauvignon Blanc waited to be pruned by my aching and callused hands. I yearned for anything, anything but this.

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. But it’s certainly wasn’t fun. And in case you’re wondering, here’s the job description:

1. Make cuts with loppers in the excess branches, or ‘canes’ as they’re called in industry speak.
2. Pull and yank excessively to remove canes from the wires.
3. Get repeatedly whipped in the face, neck and back while removing canes.
4. Curse, often loudly.
5. Move to next plant and repeat steps 1-4.

To be fair, I did make decent money during the 6 weeks I was working the vineyards. I did work hard, probably the hardest I ever have in my life. But at the end of the day, I’m glad I did it.

Sure it came at a great expense to my body and soul, but it’s a memorable New Zealand moment. I can commiserate with other backpackers subjected to the pain. I can impress my friends with my knowledge of New Zealand whites. Just please, don’t ever, ever send me back.

Posted by: Josh Lokken | September 22, 2011

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage: Thoughts on a Game I Hardly Understand

Rugby World Cup 2011 has arrived. Like most Americans, my exposure to the sport is sparse.

The kid down the hall in college played it. I even went on a few dates with a girl who played it. But I never actually took the time to understand it. For me, rugby has always been nothing more than the inbred love child of football and soccer.

Nonetheless I find myself in an country enveloped by the game. All Blacks memorabilia hangs in most store windows hoping to inspire a nation to a championship. Radio, newspapers, and the evening news are all dominated by reports on the biggest sporting event this country has ever hosted. An oddly disturbing, and likely the dumbest ad campaign, got even more people following.

So, here I am. I might as well embrace it and join the crowd.

Strangely enough, the United States qualified a team for the World Cup. As the freedom loving, buffalo wing eating, cargo shorts and flip flop wearing American that I am, I believe it is my patriotic duty to cheer them on. I look forward to draping Old Glory over my back and chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” despite how much the other team is favored. I just hope the matches versus Italy and Australia aren’t total blowouts.*

Rugby will always take a back seat in my sporting world, forever condemned to the penumbras beneath my love for baseball. But that’s hardly an excuse to shun my circumstances and not follow. I can never pass up an opportunity to have a good time – regardless of the odds.

*Post Update: The match versus Australia was a total blowout. Final score, 67-5.

Posted by: Josh Lokken | September 10, 2011

Top 5 Things to Hate About New Zeleand

1. Internet. By far the worst in the developed world, your connectivity the world wide web sends you back to the paleozoic era. For the most part, speed is not an issue. Instead you’re left with a cruel “pay as you go” system which monitors data usage and time. This poses no problem if you want only want to check your e-mail but terrible for wasting your afternoons watching stupid cat videos on Youtube. Thankfully, most public libraries offer unlimited access to free wi-fi. But be warned, walking to the library just to check Facebook updates really puts your priorities into perspective.

2. Beer. I hope I can complain about the lack of good beer without my parents thinking of me as some inebriate. One thing New Zealand seriously lacks are abundant and creative microbreweries. Of course American bars all have the lackluster Bud and Coors, but it’s easy to get past the kiddie game and find the good stuff. Here, not so much. Those creative and sometimes daring libations are virtually non-existent. The few that do exist offer only mild variations on the same redundant pilsner theme. Never again will I take a Stoudts, Troegs or Yeungling for granted.

3. Kiwi lifestyle. I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with the Kiwi “sweet as” attitude. That same relaxed atmosphere can sometimes get, well, too relaxed. There I days when I want answers. Now. Don’t tell me that the internet is down and then proceed to smile and say, “and we don’t know when it will be fixed.” This a big deal. Tell me that someone is working on it, will be fixed shortly, and that I’ll be the first to know when it’s working. Because that’s what we do in America. Or we sue you.

4. Gas. Maybe it’s the taxes or the logistics of shipping oil to some lonely island in the South Pacific, but buying gas in New Zealand hurts. Taxes and fees make up 40% of petrol prices giving you real sticker shock at the pump. Converting from liters to US gallons and NZ dollars to US dollars, the current price of gas hovers somewhere around….wait for it….$6.50 per gallon.

5. Condiments. Okay, maybe I’m just being picky but making me pay for ketchup with my fries qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment, tantamount to paying to use the sun. Ketchup is an inalienable culinary right. End of discussion.

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