I whinged about the price of Internet access in the last post as many places in New Zealand have coin-operated Internet PCs, which demand you pump in another two dollars every ten minutes or so. It’s like playing some greedy arcade game, even more frustrating when I take hours on end carefully uploading and captioning photos and honing these blog entries down from war-and-peace length train-of-thought streams of cobblers to the slightly more streamlined cobblers you’re reading now.
I’m staying in a backpackers in Oamaru, on the East coast of New Zealand, partly to take a break from the van I’ve been sleeping in for the last week, and partly because they have free Internet access. I’m more enthusiastic about the free Internet access than taking a break from the van because I’ve slept better in the van than just about any other time in my life. While I’ve been writing this I’ve only been distracted by two people attempting to conduct a conversation in Japanese around mouths full of food, which is pretty good going. I tried to write the blog the first time in Christchurch while resisting the urge to pummel the man four seats down into unconsciousness with his keyboard after he kept making a deep, resonant snorting noise – the kind you’d make if you were trying to suck your brains out through your nose. It was like waking up on an Indian train. Listening to Japanese, or any other language, can be very frustrating because I can tell my brain is still hoping to understand something if it listens long enough. I was easily distracted by the full-mouth Japanese conversation earlier (they were eating for a while) because I was reading a novel by Ethan Hawke, which was basically enjoyable, but he insists on using the word ‘breasts’ far too often, which eventually becomes annoying.
I got to New Zealand a week or so ago now, and I’ve hired a small van from Escape Rentals – if I was going round New Zealand, it was always going to be in a van, despite it being a really uneconomical decision when it’s only me, petrol is exorbitant, and you still have to pay to park it most places. Nevertheless, I am driving a colourfully painted van with a ram down one side and a bull down the other, which makes me feel potent. The van is even called The Ram, and this name was given to me by the guy at the hire place in a growling voice, so I could tell it was a serious vehicle. I’m cultivating my beard and wearing a beanie to really get into the spirit of things, but I’m aware that image is an issue for some. A ten-year-old boy said to me the other morning, “My sister says that all people who sleep in vans are freaks, but I don’t think so.”
I was sad to leave Australia, but it wasn’t the place as much as friends there that I miss. Sydney is a great city, and Fraser, the Whitsundays and Uluru were must-do experiences, but Oz was the first place I saw after Asia, and it took me a while to get used to it. Australia is designed to cater to even the lowest common denominator, the hung-over nineteen year old gap year student with the sense of direction of a blind hedgehog in a bag. There was none of the sense of excitement and risk that came with traveling in Asia – I’m not asking for danger, but there was that much more satisfaction in Asia if you just managed to get on the right bus – this is obviously quite apart from the fact that I’ve learnt a great deal traveling in Asia, but didn’t feel like Australia taught me much. Australia felt less like traveling, what I came away to do, and whatever the hell that is, more like just taking a holiday. There are millions of English people all over the place there anyway, so it felt like home from home, even though it’s a home with insects, plants and animals poised to kill you, staggering distances from one place to another, and a weird predilection for putting beetroot in burgers.
Because I don’t know when I’ll be on the Internet next, I’m posting this now – to follow, New Zealand, yes there are sheep everywhere, rumbling in the mountains, and penguins that won’t show up on time.