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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Wellington Routine v2.0*

Well since moving to Wellington, I've developed a routine of sorts on my days off in town. Usually I divide my time between haunting any of three or four different cafes and time spent outside (weather permitting), walking around town or along the waterfront, sometimes stopping to sit on a bench and bask in the sunlight.

The good thing about this is that it frees my mind up from having to constantly wonder where I'm going or what I'm doing next. I can just sort of pleasurably amble between and amongst these favourite 'nodes' of mine and just relax and focus on my book, writing, texting (in order to pester my friends that are trapped working) or sometimes taking pictures. I've also come to know the staff in these places on a quasi-friendly level, so it's always nice to be welcomed as a regular.

Such is the conceit of the Day Off: I don't get too worked up about always trying to find something new to see or do and I can enjoy my favourite places out of all the ones I have so far visited.

That being said (written), there is far more to experience here in Wellington than I can shake a program flyer at, so I'm always open to new happenings that grab my attention. As much as I love my routine, I don't want it to become stale and boring. Because then, by extension, I would become stale and boring (no comments from the peanut gallery, please!). If that happened I would have to turn to a life of crime out of sheer desperation. As much as that might spice things up around here, I don't fancy the prospect of writing this blog from behind bars. I hear Internet privileges are rather difficult to come by 'inside'. While there may be 'cooking' and 'laundry' details for well-behaved prisoners, I seriously doubt there is a 'blogging' detail.

Anyways, I digress. Not that this is shocking, for it's now become a trademark move of mine. But now that I've got it out of the way, let me finally come to my point.

Last week one of my friends from Improv class last year, Lucy, invited me to an event via Facebook. Once a month there is a tradition called "The Six O'Clock Swill" (SOS) held at one of the coolest places in Wellington, called The Mighty Mighty. I had yet to go there, so I was doubly intrigued by this invitation.



Mighty Mighty sits on Cuba Street, as do many of the coolest hangouts in Wellington. It is an upstairs bar with high ceilings and a ranging, rectangular floor bisected roughly in the middle by a large retractable black curtain. The 'back half' of the building is dominated by a long bar against one wall, while the other side has some tables, barstools and a pinball machine or two. The front half of the bar is where the stage is, all the way at the front by the big windows overlooking Cuba Street.

Whenever there is a show on, which includes things like bands, one-act plays, stand-up comics and improv troupes, the curtain is drawn between the two halves of the bar. Actually the curtain may not be drawn for a band, but I have yet to catch a band at the Mighty Mighty.

There are many tables scattered in front of the stage, and the walls are adorned with a variety of eclectic items such as a stuffed stag's head, an anatomy poster cribbed from some medical school, various black and white photos, and some paintings. A large chandelier dominates the centre of the room and the stage is illuminated by a singular bank of Fresnel lights. The sound system is truly mighty - perhaps too mighty - as I chose a seat right at the front. As good a view as this afforded of the stage, unfortunately for my tympanic membranes I was also right next to the speakers.

SOS is dubbed as 'pint-sized theatre' which is a cute but apt description of what is on offer. There are several acts but they are short and sweet, and I was struck by the inclusive and friendly atmosphere of everyone involved. As Kelsey Grammer (as Dr. Frasier Crane) once said, there really is nothing like the collaborative spirit of theatre, which here is summed up best by this quote from the back of SOS's programme:

“We are always on the lookout for actors, directors, writers, producers, technicians and other creative practitioners to get involved with the Swill.”

Performing first tonight was Steve Wrigley, one of New Zealand's best comedians and also one of Lucy's best friends. Next up was Lucy herself with, I believe, an American actor named Gene. They would be performing a brief scene from On Intimacy, a play by American playwright Lori Leigh. The one-line description of this scene in the programme read, "Have you ever woken up next to a stranger?" The final segment of this particular SOS was an improv troupe, which contained at least one Wellington Improvisation Troupe member, who would be performing another instalment in their ongoing improv series called "Magnum: The Lost Episodes". In this edition, they were inside Magnum's mind as he struggled in a coma, and in this bizarro world Magnum was played by a woman. They did totally open scenes with no audience input so it was raw improvisation and they had a lot of fun with it. The audience enjoyed it but this act, too, was very short.

Lucy was great in her scene, which was also disappointingly short. I say disappointing because it was really neat to see her perform outside of an improvised setting and she did really well with it.

When Lucy and Gene were done with their scene (the laddie reckons himself a poet!) rather than strike their set (which was basically a big inflatable mattress), they left it on stage. The improv troupe made often comical use of this prop but they were careful not to be careless and damage it. It would have been far too awkward to try and deflate the thing offstage while the improv troupe was performing, as the stage area is tiny and 'offstage' is really nothing more than 'Stage Left' concealed behind a folding screen. It would never do to be upstaged by a prop, let alone one not even on stage!

Although I wish there had been more time spent by all three of the acts, there is truth to the theatrical adage, "Always leave them wanting more." They certainly did leave me wanting more and I know I'll now try and make The Swill a regular part of my Wellington Routine, which is now dubbed Wellington Routine 2.0! SOS is a monthly affair on two consecutive nights including my day off so it's very doable for me.

In a way I was glad that the shows weren't too long because I was worried it would clash with the beginning of a WIT show later that same evening. It was the first of their eight weekly instalments of a new show, "The Young & The Witless". This format of improv revolves around eight characters in a soap opera set aboard the fictional New Zealand ferry, the SS Blake. It's a great vehicle (Hah! Get it?) for exploring the character and narrative aspects of improv, and my teacher Simon is one of the eight people in the cast. Y&W is being performed at the Blue Note Cafe, a jazz bar just one click north of the Mighty Mighty on Cuba Street.

The show was great fun, and here is a linkie to a review of the show and here is WIT's own page about the event and the people involved. For tonight's performance I'll be buying a season pass because I'm such a groupie this also gives me something new to do on my days off.

I do love my work schedule, in that having Wednesdays off breaks the week into manageable halves. It's quite a comfortable work week. The only problem I am having with it at the moment is that, once I complete this second half of improvisation classes next month, all of us in the class will be invited to attend WIT's weekly training sessions. That is fantastic, but unfortunately they meet on Tuesday nights - the very night I work late. So there is no way I could be a part of WIT, wit my current work schedule (heh). I have mentioned this to my boss and stated that I am quite keen to change my schedule so that I can attend training. Much as I am loath to give up my Wednesdays off, the chance to perform wit WIT (wheee) far outweighs what day of the week is off for me.

My friend and co-worker Sarah is sadly leaving us soon, and the only silver lining to this is that she has Tuesdays off. It is then a natural time for me to switch to her schedule and have our new hire take over mine. Sorted! But this is not a definite thing so I shall have to wait and see. At the very least, there won't be any changes for several months so training is not an option this year no matter what.

So I'll be soaking up as much improv as I can in the interim, so that I don't lose that edge that you get with repeated improvisation. As Derek, one of the WIT trainers, says, improv talent is a muscle that needs to be worked out frequently or it just atrophies away. So improvisation ain't exactly like riding a bike; it's more like ... pumping iron!

I might even sign up for the Monday night beginners' improv class again, just to keep a hand in, and I'll try and see as many WIT shows as I can until I can train.

What can I say? I'm a slavering fan-boy devoted student of improv!

*I arrived here in New Zealand exactly two years ago today! Nice symmetry, ay? Two years today, Wellington Routine v2.0! Yeah, yeah, I know. Shaddap.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A bit of rugby, some pub food, and thou

I know this is all really last-minute, but I have been wanting to tell you about a cool way to be able to listen in to the New Zealand All Blacks' rugby matches online. This is assuming, of course, that you don't already get their games televised somehow but given how far off the radar professional rugby is in the United States, I am thinking maybe you wouldn't have the chance to watch these games.

Hey, don't feel bad if you're too poor for a dish - so am I! Once I get a dish from Sky, I'll still put ARC on in the background and have the television muted. That way I can watch the footy but listen to the good stuff from ARC. But to make matters worse, the AB's first game of 2008 is being played right here at the Cake Tin in Wellington (versus Ireland), and I won't even be able to go!

That's why I wanted to tell you about the Alternative Rugby Commentary. Not only does it allow you to listen in, live, as the All Blacks are mercilessly pummelling playing their next hapless victim opponent, but streaming live right along with the action is hilarious commentary. So you not only get to experience the All Blacks and their many wonders to behold, but you get a slice of Kiwi culture on the side. Wash it all down with a few pints of your favourite BEvERage and I daresay you'll have found a great way to kill a couple of hours. Plate of fish 'n chips optional but highly recommended.

At the end of the experience, hopefully you will find yourself highly entertained, a little more knowledgable about all things rugby and especially Kiwi, and most assuredly overjoyed at yet another All Blacks victory.

I must warn you: it is probably not 'politically correct', this live streaming broadcast, but that is precisely one of the reasons why I like it so much. There is a good short article doing a better job of describing ARC than I am, posted over at Scoop. Also, the weather right now in Welly is cold, windy, and wet as we are right in the midst of a southerly. So it is not such a bad thing to have to miss out on seeing the All Blacks in person tonight.

If you miss out on this game versus the Celts tonight, well I only gave you seven hours' notice, so it's understandable. But do check out the Fixture List to the right of ARC's main page, and mark your calendar for a game in the future! There is also an archive section, going back over three years, but the AB's play a lot this year so hopefully you'll get to listen in on at least one match.

Go the All Blacks!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Kiwi-English Dictionary 4: The Final Chapter of The Return of the Dream Master*

Now, I'm not in the habit of making excuses, but I do want to explain why I've not been posting much of late. You see, my very favourite of all of my electronic gadgets (and there are many, sadly) has been on the fritz lately. Yes, my beloved AlphaSmart has not been working properly for the past few weeks. It has a cold or something. It probably doesn't help that I lug it around with me everywhere as I tramp around Wellington. This also includes the countless times it has been tossed into the passenger seat of my car or onto the empty train seat next to me. At least I keep it in its case, but this doesn’t help much thanks to my common habit of stashing books, magazines, mail, loose change and my iPod in the case with the keyboard itself.

Hey, I never claimed to be the shiniest coin in the fountain!

So hindered thusly, I've been finding other ways to while away my free time, although the good part of that is I've been catching up on other parts of my life that I've been neglecting.

But I can never go too long without updating my blog, so I'm back again! This time, it's with another update in my ongoing, amateurish attempts to catalogue all expressions Kiwi. My vocabulary is always on the lookout for new words (and for every new word I learn, I forget an old one - such is the life of a scatterbrain), and I find that reading books is certainly one way to expand my vocab. Moving to another country also works, but that is a bit of an extreme strategy, to say the least.

Nevertheless, that is exactly what I have done, and so I mean to share with you some more of the funky and catchy words and phrases I've picked up whilst living amongst the Kiwis!

I should warn you, though, this is quite the long post ...

See also!

Kiwi-English Dictionary the First

Kiwi-English Dictionary, Collegiate Edition

Kiwi-English Dictionary 3: In 3-D!

blimmin' - First time I heard this one, I wasn’t sure if it was that person’s own personal creation or a term in wider use. Turns out it’s another bit of Kiwi slang! So I’ve added it here, and while a direct definition is hard to give, I’ll weakly offer you these American slang synonyms: friggin’ and freakin’. That got ya up to speed? Good! Now go use this new word and see what kind of reaction you get. (I am speaking, of course, to my non-Kiwi audience here.)

bludger - Not to be confused with the position player used in J. K. Rowling’s Quidditch game in her brilliant Harry Potter novels. The bludger I refer to is also known as a deadbeat or loafer, somebody who makes a living off of handouts. This is the person who is ‘on the dole’, or welfare as well call it in the States.

bogan - It is hard to believe I have now posted four dictionary ‘volumes’ and failed to include this term so far! Put mildly, it is someone who is unrefined and from a poor, lower-class upbringing. Tends to favour heavy metal, black clothing, souped-up cars and male bogans often have mullets. What a bogan is took me a while to figure out exactly, as we do not necessarily have the direct equivalent term back in the States. There are definitely American bogans, of this I have no doubt, only we don’t refer to them as such. If there is an equivalent Yank term for bogan, please enlighten me. Redneck and white trash don’t count, as they carry a more negative connotation and bogans are looked at less antagonistically here.

One of the funniest things I’ve seen lately was on television and the news announcer was pointing out the annual “Running of the Bogans” ritual, inspired by Spain’s Running of the Bulls. They had footage of the very first fans to enter the stadium for this massive outdoor concert held in Wellington over Easter called “Rock To Wellington”. We had KISS, Poison, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and lots of other hair band and metal acts. The very first fans were all bogans, and you saw various mulleted dudes clad all in black (obligatory heavy metal T-shirt, black shorts, black socks, black shoes) sprinting in rather unathletic fashion for the very front row, where they would tenaciously and at times viciously hold sway for the entire duration (just ask my friend Holly, who survived more than a few tilts with the bogan crowd).

cooee - An odd term, and its origins are Aboriginal, from an extinct dialect as I found out from ‘researching’ Wiktionary. I’ve seen this term in print lately, haven’t heard it said, but it is used to describe an attention-getting call, and the context both times I’ve seen it involved trying to attract certain influential or important people to a cause.

different kettle of fish - The similar American phrase would be ‘different ballgame’ or ‘like comparing apples and oranges’. Another favourite phrase I’ve adopted, why don’t you go ahead and try it out? Spice up your lingo a bit! I’ll give you an example: Jack was never intrigued much by maths or sciences at school, but when it came to cars or girls, that was a whole different kettle of fish.

give it a bash/go/whack - Either bash, go, or whack, any of them work, and not to be confused with ‘giving someone the bash’, discussed below. Just as it sounds, really, and like many other Kiwi phrases it has slowly replaced the similar American ones I used to use. So now I’m often ‘giving it a go’ as opposed to ‘taking a shot’.

give someone the bash - To beat a person up, often just figuratively but certainly can describe the physical act. First heard this phrase used jokingly in the excellent New Zealand film, Sione’s Wedding, known to you Yanks as Samoan Wedding.

gone bush - Retreating to the hills or forest or just nature in general in order to live and function outside of modern urban society. Actually probably not to that extreme but is used to describe when someone is on a fishing, hunting, mountaineering or extended tramping trip. Could also refer to someone who has recently undertaken an outdoorsy-type lifestyle.

gormless - Unintelligent and clueless about it, often as applied to a certain situation like someone being taken advantage of but not really smart enough to pick up on it, let alone act upon it. I love this one. It's just one of those great words that sounds so very much like what it's describing.

goss - Short for ‘gossip’. This one’s a no-brainer, but I’d never heard it said before. As in: So what’s all the good goss since I’ve been away?

have a go - Like running someone down, or taking a shot at them. Personal attacks, or maybe putting someone in their place. Usually done face to face, as opposed to sniping behind their back.

hen’s night/stag do - The former and latter both describe what we Americans know as bachelorette and bachelor parties, respectively. Don’t you like the Kiwi versions much better? I know I do, and I’m not just talking about the terms! OK, so I have yet to attend a ‘stag do’ but hopefully one day I’ll be a part of one. I’ve seen quite a few hen’s nights in progress when I’ve been out and about in downtown Wellington, though, and they sure know how to have a good time! In that, the Kiwis and Americans are both on a par, I’d have to say.

home time - As we Americans would (and love to) say it, “It’s quittin’ time!” Or perhaps, if you’re a child of the 70's as I am, “It’s Miller time!” Time to go home after a long day at work, in case you haven’t discerned the obvious already.

I'm rapt - Great word, never once heard it uttered in the States and I would love to see the reaction of my friends when I use this word next time I’m there. To be rapt means literally you are filled with delight and anticipation, and it probably came about as being short for ‘enraptured’. Heard said when someone is eager at the prospect of a new job, a visit from a friend, or looking forward to a date.

love to bits - Just another way of saying how much you love someone or something (in this case a lot), however sometimes it can be in the context of ‘I love him/her/it to bits, BUT...’ So it could be like saying that, at the heart of it, you do love what you are describing but there is something about it or them that drives you crazy or upsets you.

mate - As with the term ‘bogan’, I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without including this very important Kiwi term! Mate is a term of familiarity, used to either describe one’s friends or when talking to another person. Sam’s mates are planning his stag do and they’re really going overboard. That is one example of the usage of ‘mate’, and here is another: Mate, you don’t have to tell me twice! Or even the eminently simple: Cheers, mate. The American equivalent of that last one would undoubtedly be: Thanks, dude.

plonker - I actually first heard this word in an episode of the original UK version of The Office (when David Brent was saying that he wasn’t one), but to be called a plonker is definitely not a nice thing. A plonker is a bumbling idiot, a fool. Very similar to being a wanker, probably interchangeable terms.

rogering - Well, we’re all adults here, right? So this term, while not exactly X-rated, is a bit dirty. Refers to having sex, and usually rough sex at that, often preceded by the words ‘right good’. Ahem. Time for a cold shower, ay?

smoko - Man I just love Kiwi terminology, and this word is one of the many reasons why. I don’t even smoke, either, but something about their words and phraseology really appeals to me. Anyways, someone is having a smoko or on one when they are taking a smoke break. Invariably this is outdoors, as New Zealand is much like California in that you can’t smoke anywhere indoors unless it’s your own home. And even then, if you’ve got flatmates who aren’t keen on cigarette smoke, well ... It’s a smoko out on the porch for you!

sort - Ah, the wonderful world of sorting, as in, Right, I’ll sort you out, mate!, meaning you’re either jokingly telling your buddy you’ve had enough and are about to beat him down (not really), or you are about to start a brawl and are going to punch some guy (really).

Also, ‘sorted’ is often uttered when a task has been completed, or used to refer to said completed task. Or you and your friends, when discussing vacation plans to Rarotonga, plan to ‘sort it out’ over dinner later that night. Sort may not seem like such a terribly Kiwi thing to say, but my mum and my friend Kathy both picked up on my frequent usage of this word right away.

turn to custard - ‘When the sh*t hits the fan,’ as we might say in the States. Or, my own favourite, saying when things ‘go south’ in a hurry, things can be said to be turning to custard. Well I had dug the holes for the fence posts and had everything out and ready for finishing the job when it just started pissing down and it all turned to custard.

Te reo Maori

And I’d like to finish this edition with something new! In hindsight I wish I had started the other editions by including some Maori terms as well, for they are very much a part of the everyday New Zealand printed and spoken word. Te reo translates literally from Maori to mean ‘the language’, and this shorthand phrase is often used to describe the resurgence of this language in New Zealand culture. In 1987 Maori was made a second official language of New Zealand alongside English.

Since moving here I’ve absorbed many Maori words and phrases as well as pronunciations but by no means do I speak Maori. Every year it seems to me that more people are signing up to learn to speak and read Maori and this gladdens me as so much of their history and culture is tied up in oral tradition, especially when it comes to learning one’s whakapapa, defined below.

Aotearoa - Maori term for New Zealand. A condensed form of the phrase (“Ao tea roa!“) said to be uttered by the wife of the legendary explorer Kupe as they approached the shores of these islands for the first time. Literally translated, it means “Land of the Long White Cloud”. Beautiful, and fittingly so for such a glorious place. I learn a lot from my frequent strolls through the Te Papa museum! There is a serious movement afoot to have the country’s name changed to this officially, although how far that gets I am not sure.

iwi - Term for larger collection of Maori as a whole race or nation, broken down into smaller groups or sub-tribes such as hapu, on down to the smallest unit within a tribe, the whanau.

kia ora - Perhaps the most widely-known Maori phrase as it’s used heavily by New Zealand’s tourism councils. It is the Maori phrase for greeting meaning “Hello!”

ka kite - I like this one, it means “I’ll see you,” and I learned this one from my friend Karen. Also said as ka kite ano, the third term meaning “again”.

pounamu - Jade, or greenstone. Considered one of many taonga granted to the Maori by the gods when the land was created. My mum gifted me with a handsome pounamu necklace during her visit to New Zealand, an unexpected and overwhelmingly kind thing to do! It is considered bad luck (tapu, perhaps? See below), to buy such a necklace for yourself, so it is always best to receive it as a gift.

taonga - Treasure. Not just glittering gold and large hunks of pounamu, it also can and often does refer to artifacts and relics of cultural significance, such as a cloak made entirely of kiwi feathers worn by a powerful chief. I’ve seen just such a taonga on display at Te Papa, by the way.

tapu - Taboo, forbidden, sacred. Refers to a person, place, or thing, used to protect someone or something from harm in its many forms.

whakapapa - Important cultural and specifically family generational history recited orally by an individual Maori. A powerful and important rite of passage is to be able to recite one’s whakapapa as far back as 25 generations or more. It is more than simply reciting ancestry, as Maori believe this traces them all the way back to the gods who gave rise to all living things, so even trees and rocks and water have their very own whakapapa. Obviously I don’t have this concept mastered, but that’s basically what it is in crude fashion.

whanau - The family, meaning both one’s immediate and extended family. I should mention here that the wh combination of letters is pronounced as an f, so whanau would sound like ‘fa-now’. Also, while I’m at it, te is pronounced ‘tay’, and it means “the”. Today I'm free, but tomorrow I'll be spending all day with the whanau.

These are obviously just a few of many Maori terms and phrases, more of which I hope to learn as I go along. If you’d like to learn a bit more on your own, check out these two helpful links, the last of which is a very good Maori-English dictionary:

Maori Language Commission

Maori-English Dictionary

Right. “That’s it! That’s the list!” to once again quote one of my idols, Tony Kornheiser.

New also to this fourth instalment of my Kiwi-to-English dictionary is the dreaded Homework Assignment! Yes, you’ve been sponging free vocab lessons off of me long enough, so it’s time to go out and put that new knowledge to use!

I challenge you to use any one word from any of the four editions of this so-called dictionary in your every-day usage sometime in the next week. You’ve only got to use one word - of your choosing! - and only do it once. And you have a whole week, so there is no pressure! Being the kindly teacher that I am, I’ve provided links to the other dictionaries near the beginning of this post.

N.B. - Using the words when talking to your pets does not count. Partial credit may be given, and extra credit certainly will be for startlingly creative uses of said words or especially for multiple and repeated usage!

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*A little something for all you slasher-flick fans.