Friday, March 30, 2007

So not how to get to Christchurch

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Air New Zealand's Grabaseat had flights from Oamaru to Christchurch for $28 each way, so I booked in for a long weekend. The flight was leaving at a stupidly early time in the morning, so I thought I'd go up the night before and try out one of the three new restaurants that have opened in and around Oamaru.

But then my dance card began to get full. First there was the release of the Plato to help entertain a visitor to work: since I had something to ask him and hadn't been to Plato for a year or so, I was in.

That meant a very early drive up to Oamaru: I was a little disturbed to get there and see no plane, and a fair amount of fog. Sure enoug, eventually, the plane was cancelled: this for a trip I was only ever taking because the fare was so cheap. Of course, I had made some plans of what to do in Christchurch, so I ended up driving the whole way.

Oh, and Plato was just as fabulous as I'd thought it would be - whitebait fritter entree, steak with a garlic potato mash followed by a micro chocolate cake. And Haunted Love were also fabulous - a few songs followed by the DVD. The thing I love about this band is the way they use the two voices - they tend to counterpoint each other, rather than harmonise - and the style they bring to what they do. They even manage to make a Kylie Minogue cover sound like serious music.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Zenith Angle by Bruce Sterling

I'd never read anything by Bruce Sterling, although I knew that people talk about him in the same breath as Neal Stephenson and William Gibson - in fact, both are name checked in this novel's blurb. I've read and enjoyed novels from both, and should probably put Douglas Coupland in as another referent. They're all in this category of writing known as speculative fiction, where we take reality as we know it and add in a couple of "what if" elements, and generally raise some big questions. Sterling is "visionary in residence" at some Californian Design School and, according to his Wikipedia entry, top dog in the earl;y days of cyberpunk.

So, I was looking forward to reading The Zenith Angle (this, by the way, is the angle between the point in the sky directly overhead and any object seen in the sky) after finding it in the library the other day. Unfortunately, the book turned out to be as close to rubbish as anything I've read in a long time, messy and with its big idea really rather silly.

For the first 263 pages (out of a total of 306), the book is focussed on the need for internet and general computer security in the months and years after September 11. The central character is one Dr Derek Vandeveer, who is a computer security genius: we see him in context with his family. He's a bit of a geek, so family conflict revolves around his choice of furniture (a $600 magnesium chair), maybe a bit like this one (a Ross Lovegrove Go Chair):
He's not good at face to face communicating, to the point that:
He loved Dottie [his wife], but he and Dottie always got along best by e-mail. E-mail was how he had first asked her out. E-mail was how they carried out their professional lives and co-ordinated their schedules. They often sent each other e-mail over the breakfast table when they were living inside the same house. They'd decided to have a child by e-mail. They'd been talking over e-mail about having another one.
We learn a lot about his working life - he had been a technical whizz in "Mondiale", a telecommunications company (since Enron and various failures are named, this is obviously but has been recruited to work for some central government computer security outfit targeting a so-called cyberwar, one outfit among many, with all sorts of hierarchical tensions between them. He develops a particular style of running a large number of computers together to provide massive computing power and redundancy (called a Grendel cluster). The point is that all of the technology talked about was of the here and now, can be googled to find details. He also develops a sort of fight-club ethic to how to do things - be quick, be quiet and be on time is a mantra often repeated.

So, the bulk of the book is all about this possible cyberwar he's fighting, and the infighting and politicking with the other computer security government departments. This all culminates in a long internal muse on his part about the internet, ostensibly while looking at a list of conference topics and holding his child in his arms.

That was odd enough, but then a few pages later, he reads some science-geek paper and has a brainwave: the telescope in his wife's observatory is more than it appears, it is in fact a laser gun which can, very slowly, shoot down satellites. One of his school buddies is getting ready to sell the technology to the Chinese. Or maybe the Indians. This is the "thriller" element adverted to in the blurb! Random - pretty much nothing to do with anything that's gone before (unless you count the fact that the buddy has been going out with a Bollywood film star and a few dazed elks we've been told about). Worse, the "big idea" is that instead of the lazer being a light beam, he's beaming Internet traffic, spam to be exact. I had to laugh at the ridiculousness of the concept when I first read it: now I want to cry.

A reviewer on the site says this end was a "tad abrupt"! He's not kidding. Of course, if the novel was to be a satire on the goings on of the security industry, that's fine, but he really should have stuck to that all the way to the end, rather than this incongruity.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

What's Next? Mary Poppins as Ninja Warrior?

I have to interrupt the flow in order to express my shock and horror at something I have not experienced, and never will experience, but believe should never happen but apparently will anyway.

I refer to the throwaway comment this afternoon on the wireless that there is to be a movie remake of Sherlock Holmes, a detective most famous for his cerebral qualities. The new and revised Sherlock will be an "action hero", revelling in new-found qualities as a pugilist and swordsman, and his sidekick Watson will be presented as a rather "buff" assistant.

The new movie will be made by one Neil Marshall, who has recently foisted some crap called The Descent upon us (some friends are stuck in a cave, there are bloodthirsty predatorial creatures, the friends realise they might not be such good friends) and is presently making even more crap called Doomsday (deadly plagues wiping out Great Britain, "futuristic action thriller").

The horror. The horror.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Embracing the Dragon: A Woman's Journey Along the Great Wall of China by Polly Greeks

This was an odd sort of book, written by a one-time resident of Dunedin. She meets this fellow, who has returned to New Zealand from his efforts to walk the Great Wall - it would apparently run for something like 56,000 kilometres, if all of the various segments and offshoots were joined together. He had managed a mere 3000 kilometres and nearly died of exhaustion in the attempt. Nonetheless, he is determined (obsesses?) to finish his task. As Polly candidly confesses, she'd never given a stuff about the wall, but was finding life a bit unfulfilling, doesn't appear to have much idea of what to do with herself, and she liked him:
I liked seeing the world through Nathan's eyes. I'd never met anybody so enthusiastic about sunrises and sunsets. the landscapes he walked through at times seemed half-mythical, woven with hidden meanings and spiritual signs. he was highly emotional and superstitious, with a charming arrogance that saw him dream big and do exactly as he pleased, regardless of other people's rules.
Despite noticing a big gulf between them, that this was very much his project rather than their project, and that they'd broken up twice in their first six months she wants to go with him when he returns to the wall.So, yes, there are some cool accounts of her first time in China, the towns they visit and the occasional wonderful experience on the wall, the majority of the book makes it clear just how much this trip was hard work for her, both in the physical task of following the wall and in keeping the relationship going. So badly prepared and spur of the moment is their trip that they damn near freeze to death on their first night on the wall. After a couple of months, it is all over for her. I have to say that I finished this book not knowing very much about Nathan, as every account of him is filtered through the author's eyes, and not liking the author very much.

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One Flat Coyote on the Centre Line by Karen Goa

Karen Goa and her husband are transplanted Canadians, who have lived in New Zealand for twenty or more years. To celebrate Ken's 50th birthday, they decide to go back to Canada, buy an old wreck of a vehicle (also 50 years old) on the internet without ever seeing it first, do it up and drive across Canada - a place about which there is not much travel literature written.

Their first problem was trying to get through the hoops involved in ownership of a vehicle as a non-owner: luckily for them, they had family in Canada willing to be stand in owners, because from all accounts, it is near impossible. What did prove impossible was getting the car to the Yukon - that involved a climb over the flanks of the Rockies, but the car proved to not be up to the task, so they had to make use of the Greyhound instead.

On the whole, however, driving an antique car across Canada seemed to have its upside. On the very first day, they're looking for a park so they can stop to see a car show but instead find their car adopted as an entrant in the show. All across Canada, people are very keen to swap stories about their old cars, and to help finding parts when they become necessary.

The best thing about this book is its central characters; they seem to have a great relationship. Because they're not into the same things, they have to trade their way across the country: it costs Karen a car show to persuade Ken to attend a dance performance, and another one when she insists that Ken actually get up and dance. As they travel, they collect all sorts of experiences - a visit to what was once the world's largest factory of disposable chopsticks (who'd have thought that that would be up near the Yukon?), a tale of a beard that sold for $10,000, visits to a couple of closed religious communities, a sighting of an actual flying saucer - for real! The Americans had convinced the Canadians to build something called an Avrocar, to be used as a military vehicle, but which was really an 8 year voyage into folly as on the one time they managed to get one flying, it only hit a height of a single metre! Good stuff.

Of course, being in Canada, it would be difficult to get by without any encounter with a bear or two. They try precautions, but pepper spray, they're told only works within 5 metres of a bear and only in 70% of cases - the rest, the bear just gets annoyed. That night, as they're camping, they do have an encounter with a bear: they wake to find signs that a bear has spent some of the night, sat on its butt, leaning against their car:
There are times when it's best to sit a while, make a thoughtful cup of cocoa and ponder life's little mysteries. Such as, if a bear had sat bhind us in the night why didn't he just smash the window and snack on our innards? What was he doing, flipping through recipes? Or eyeing up Steve's tent as a better bet? This was not one of those times. We leapt back in the car - which started, as always, magnificently - and spend away from dark spooky woods and vampire-ish morning chill sucking the life out of innocent campers, and things that sit on their fat furry rumps in the night.

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Fauteuils d'orchestre ("Orchestra Seats")

It is a very odd analogy, but as I was coming out of this movie I was thinking of the Wagyu steak (the one I didn't have when I went to Auckland) as a metaphor for this movie. To quote Wikipedia, the steak is known for its "marbling characteristics, increased eating quality through a naturally enhanced flavor, tenderness and juiciness". The film also had the "meat" of its story marbled, albeit by the various love stories rather than by fat.

The title refers to the scramble that people go to when they go to the orchestra: dissatisfied with the seat they're allocated, they spot a seat closer to the front, and then another to the point they're in the front row and so close they can't see anything. So, the theme of the movie is about finding a comfortable place and being satisfied with it. The metaphor of the chairs breaks down a little, as two of the main characters are actually on stage rather than merely trying to get close to it. Jean-Francis is a world class piano player, worried that by playing in an orchestra in a fancy theatre to a fancy music, the music has lost touch with any kind of reality. He'd far rather play in a forest, a hospital, to audiences who don't like classical music - so that he has some ability to show it is not all snooty and elitist. Catherine has the opposite problem: she plays to a populist crowd by being the central character in a very popular French soap. She also stars in a farce by Feydeau - a good choice of playwright since his plays were dismissed during his lifetime as being "light entertainment" - but what she really wants is to star in a serious movie, as Simone de Beauvoir, maybe.

A third character, Jacques, has been a man of industry, who has built up a massive art collection - each piece is a "twig" to create a sort of beaver nest against boredom - it has been endlessly entertaining for him, but he has reached that point in his life that he is more conscious of its end than its passing. It is time to dispose of his past.

Connecting them is Jessica - she's a young woman who has come in to the city, it isn't really clear why until right at the end. But she gets a trial period at a cafe which has never in its life hired a woman: it is in the course of this trial that she meets all the other characters, as the cafe is a sort of melting pot for the area. I'm pretty sure I'd have fired her: she has to deliver a snack to
Jean-Francis and, presumably, go back to work. Instead, she hears his confession and then tells him her life story, after warning it is a long one. She is able to work this magic with all the characters in the movie, except her boss in the cafe.

But love, in its various manifestations, is a major motif
in the movie. The whole action of the movie is caused by Jessica's love for her grandmother, who could never afford luxury so pushed her way in to work in it. When Jean-Francis wants to give away his fame, the question of whether his wife loves him or just his position in the world comes to the fore. Jacques has only had one love story - with his deceased wife - but the love we see rejuvenated in the movie is between him and his son, a cranky university professor (who must be doing something right, as he bids 4 million Euro on an art work).

The action takes place over just a couple of days; the climax is the simultaneous premiere of Catherine's play,
Jean-Francis' performance and auction of Jacques' art. It is a very French movie - of course, the accordian music at the beginning and the many shots of Paris make this clear, but in addition, it seemed to have a very French style to it.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Long Time Between Gigs

They haven't played much recently, a three song set at the Arc a couple of years ago (when I missed the first song), a proper gig before I moved to Dunedin. Of course, their various components have been busy - I've seen Robert Scott in various incarnations, had a drink with his sister, have seen David Kilgour do solo shows and shows with the Heavy 8's, not really sure I've seen Hamish Kilgour do anything.

But still I dithered over going to see the Clean at the Penguin Club - "its a school night", "I haven't eaten", "I have to be ready for tomorrow", "will they have tickets", "is it really tonight that it's on?" and "surely I can see them in the Regent on Friday". But all in about the space of about two minutes, my work was complete, my desire for a seated 30 minute set went out the window, and I was out to my car and off to Oamaru.

The guy at the door was all "we never turn anyone away" - helpful to know if you have a party of 900 with nowhere to go. I was just one, so slipped in and up to the front. Some old dude was playing, he seemed a bit funny, a bit of a lack of continuity in his singing. But I started to listen, and liked what I heard. I noticed a piece of paper on a music stand - this was Bill Direen. Funny coincidence - just the night before, I'd seen him on utube, from 20 years ago.

And then the Clean came on, and they were fantastic. None of this 30 minute set for them - I was a bit confused by the Oamaru clock, but I think they played for a couple of hours, including two encores. Lots of fun for band and audience alike.
Hamish was wearing a pirate hat picked up on the road trip up from Dunedin - they all seemed to think it was talk like a pirate day for a while but that didn't last, thankfully. No Beatniks, but most of their other familiar songs, plus a few I didn't really recognise and one they claimed was so new, it had no name. Towards the end of their first encore, it was time for Tally Ho: only then did memories of an earlier gig seep into my consciousness, a gig in Auckland, probably in the Gluepot, maybe in the Powerstation.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Wrong Way Home by Peter Moore

My reading seems to have taken on a travel writing theme at the moment - I think I am hiding from Mark Z Danielewski's Only Revolutions.

Peter Moore is an Australian copywriter who, after doing his OE in London, decided to return home to Sydney without flying. This was in 1994, before there was much (any?) talk of global warming and no talk at all of carbon footprints. In his opening chapter, he poses the question of why he did it - apparently this is asked of him quite a lot, but for once he has answers. The first is simply to see if it can be done, in the face of being told it will be impossible. After all, he has to come through what was Yugoslavia (in 1994, when matters were still rather tumultuous), get across the border from Nepal into China (a border which, when I was there in 1999, was one which you could never tell from one day to the next would be open) and back through Laos (still almost completely closed to tourists) and then across from Indonesia to Australia. To add a further element of perversity, he also decides to pop into Afghanistan.

His other reason is the "pure, unadulterated hippy envy" he has: in 1967, it was possible to take off on a "long, laidback odyssey", but the world has tightened up so much that such things are no longer possible. Or are they? He sets the tone (friendly, a touch comic, slightly deprecatory of others with only the occasional didactic passage) with his opening words:
My journey back to Sydney began at London's Victoria Coach Station in the company of people with Billy Ray Cyrus haircuts. I hadn't planned it that way. I hadn't even imagined it could possibly be that way. But circumstances - well, OK, a severe lack of funds - meant that I would be catching a bus stright through from London to Prague. These very same circumstances meant that the coach would be an Eastern European one.
His bus doesn't get that far: they're still about two suburbs away from their departure and the driver has rammed the car in front of them and done a runner. Luckily the conductress appears willing to learn on the job. His voyage takes him through:
  • Prague, where his expectations of being met by hordes of little old ladies offering rooms for virtually no money are not met; instead he has to stay in a grotty hole out in the suburbs. He has a whole week of dodging American Street performers and Italian street performers, but finds car dealers selling howitzers, tanks and fighter jets;
  • Budapest, which he likes because of a grubby authenticity to the place. He stays at the More Than Ways hostel because of the publicity shots of cute leggy blonds. Instead he finds
    The place looked like a front for every vice imaginable and a few I'm sure had never even been thought of. Sleazy guys with dark heavy features sat in the foyer drinking and playing cards, occasionally turning from their game to feel up the odd slapper ambling by. Travellers stumbled by drunk or stoned or both, drawn like moths to the sqeals and the 'thump, thump, thump' coming from the bar at the bottom of the stairs below.
  • Croatia (mainly because of the lovely Emese: "she had long hair, long legs and the sort of accent that mesmerises men and convinces them to invade neighbouring countries) - the country was actually at war while he was there, but he makes Zagreb sound like a very cool place to visit and manages to have a great time in Dubrovnik;
  • Bosnia - this turned to be third "really foolish" thing he had done in his life: "the bullet hole in the window next to my seat was perhaps the first indication that I had made a mistake". he finds himself in Mostar, which is almost totally demolished, and with his bus not leaving till the next day. Worse, he finds himself put up with a trio of drug dealers he just happened to meet on the street;
  • Albania (which has turned the mausoleum of its former dictator, Hoxha, into a giant (and expensive) disco
  • Sofia;
  • Istanbul;
  • Iran - he is the third person I have read of recently who has gone to Iran with all sorts of pre-conceptions, only to find themselves completely seduced by the place: Moore thinks that Esfahan is one of his favourite places in the world, although I suspect this had something to do with the amount of time he spent in a chaykhune
    a place where men go to escape the heat and to drink tea or suck on a hubble-bubble pipe. The bricked walls were decorated with pictures beaten out of brass and copper, exactly like the ones you see in Greek or Turkish restaurants back home, and had hookah pipes (and other weird attachments and accessories that aid the art of hubble-bubble) hanging from the roof. A canary sat in a gilded cage, singing, beside an old man who took the money and gave out change from a roll of filthy notes he kept in a pouch under his fat belly. It was like stepping back a thousand years and into The Arabian Nights.
  • Pakistan, where buying a gun is as routine as buying a carpet in Istanbul;
  • Afghanistan, ostensibly off limits but he is able to charm the immigration officials into putting him touch with the local warlords to ensure his safe-conduct (here, his travels got just a little too aggressively adventurous for my tastes);
  • India (Amritsar, Delhi and Varanasi - curiously, I went through northern India myself, but avoided all these places by cutting through Nepal);
  • Kathmandu - apart from London, this is the first place he's writing about that I have actually been to, although by the time I was there the Freak Street that he recalls from previous visits was long gone. He runs into the same problem I did - the food is addictive!
  • China, which he finds to be particularly hard work, although he does travel an enormous distance through it: Lhasa - Chengdu - Kunming
  • Laos - before the border from China to Laos was opened, but he tells a long tale about being afraid to fly and he's in! He loves Luang Prabang for much the same reason I did - it is so quiet (and was probably a lot quieter when he was there than when I was) and backwards that he spots a Holden Belmont (made in Australia in the 1960's). His account of the boat trip to Luang Prabang makes me so glad I didn't go for it. The boat
    was long and slender, with a chunky engine that took up most of the boat, leaving room for only four passengers. We weren't allowed to board until we had donned a life jacket and crash helmet, and I soon knew why. After letting the boat drift out to the middle of the river, the engine burbling like a senior citizen eating custard, our driver gunned the boat with such ferocity that my head snapped back and hit the guy sitting behind me. It felt like we'd been sucked into a Nintendo 54 game called Mutant Mekong River Racers, and our driver was determined to get the highest score.
  • Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia - the plan being to get some sort of boat across to Darwin and thus home.
I think the one annoying thing about him is that, while his opening chapter makes it clear he's not averse to spending a fair a mount of time getting drunk with his compatriots, when he's out on the road he does tend to look down on his fellow travellers a bit for essentially doing the same thing (and living in ways that are probably not that far removed from the hippies he professes to be emulating). That grizzle aside, he is for the most part a companionable sort of fellow, using a chatty style for us readers and for those he encounters in his travels, which works to his advantage a surprising number of times when encountering officialdom: they seem to like inviting him home for lunch. The result is that he accumulates lots of stories which make for a very entertaining read. Particularly charming were his references to phoning his mum, particularly the several times he thinks it best not to phone because he's about to go to or is in some especially dangerous territory.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Not Exactly Evil Knievel

While I was travelling around Asia, I was thinking how cool it would be to have a little motorbike, so that I could get a bit off the beaten track and make my own pace around the place. Millions of others were riding one, so why not me? I didn't actually rent one, because the only places I stayed long enough to have the time for a motorbike were huge cities where (a) I could walk or bus everywhere and (b) the traffic scared me to death.

Coming home, I started to justify a purchase to myself - it would be good for the planet, cheap on my pocket and an ideal way to zip in to work. I started looking on trademe for possible bikes, and just so happened to find an Auckland-based motorcycle training school with online bookings, with a spot available for the Sunday morning while I was there. So I booked.

Upon arrival at the carpark which had been set up with a number of cones in various compositions, I was presented with a motorbike which looked a lot like this:
The idea was that there were six tasks we (me and the other fellow who had signed on) would have to do - we would be trained on each and then tested at the end, to see if we qualified for the certificate of basic handling skills. Some of the tasks were really easy - riding around a curve, stopping on the curve, riding the slalom. The two tasks I found really hard were riding very slowly in a straight line, and stopping with the wheel in a particular spot (I very cleverly tried combining this task with the rapid stop task and managed to fall off!). I was so bad at the riding in a straight line that the tutor gave up on me, and left me to my own devices to master it.

But come testing time, I had (I went through in 10.01 seconds against a minimum of 10 seconds). I had also mastered the stopping on a spot task. The slaloms were no trouble. The quick stop was no trouble. I don't imagine the stopping on a curve would have been a problem. But I found that when I was being tested, I couldn't ride round a curve! To be fair to myself, I could really, just not the same curve as the tutor had in mind. He had set up some cones to mark out the curved "road", I had been through once and was doing the reverse trip when my mind started playing tricks - I couldn't decide if I was to go to the left or the right of the last cone. As soon as I was committed to going left, I knew it was to the right I should have been going, but by then it was too late. And so, that was an automatic fail with no re-take possible, unlike any of the other tasks because, really, do we want people on the road who can't ride round curves?

I'm not sure I'll try again - maybe I should go back to Asia or Rarotonga and just ride some, to get my basic skills up.


Where Steak is 50 Cents a Gram

I am pretty sure that New Zealand is not flooded with places that sell steak at 50 cents a gram, even more sure that there are very few places which would require one to purchase at least 200 grams of said steak. So, I must naturally be talking about Auckland - thanks to the new bargain way to buy random flights on Air New Zealand, I had a four day weekend there last week, ex Queenstown. One of my key plans was to visit the Jervois Steak House, after reading a review in Cuisine. I've been wanting a steakhouse experience ever since I went to Canada a couple of years ago, and the desire has recently been rekindled by an article in the NY Times about them. Technically, I did go to a steakhouse in Niagara Falls, but it was a Dinseyfied, McDonaldised version.

I don't think they quite got the aesthetic right with the Jervois - it is a green and white old-Ponsonby style villa still comprised of several small rooms, white table cloths and sharply dressed wait staff, looking for all the world like a fine dining establishment. But their menu is predominantly steak in its various cuts - I couldn't quite justify the $100 Wagyu, so went for a large Prime Rib (roast for 10 hours at 60 degrees) with a candied Kumera side while my friend branched out and had elk. She liked it on the basis that it didn't taste of much! But it wasn't until we were at the Himalaya Nepalese Restaurant in Parnell the next night that I could formulate my opinion about the Jervois Steak House - it was very nice, the service was very good (even if they did have a habit of materialising behind me without my noticing) but ultimately it was just steak, nicer than many I have eaten sure, but not a transcendant experience by any means.

In fact, one of my best eating experiences in Auckland was also my cheapest - we popped into Dida's cafe because we were a bit early for our steak reservation, and they had this wonderful babycake (a tiny sponge) with the most vividly flavoured passionfruit icing. But it was nice to have a companion who enjoys going to good places and spending a little money on food (down here, I tend to go to the budget food places) and so I took full advantage of it, making another visit to Wagamama for their take on modern asian food and to the Sunshine Chinese Restaurant for Yum Char as well as the Himalaya for dinner on the Sunday night. There I was re-acquainted with the delicious puffed rice used in Nepalese cooking. My main wasn't so hot - my friend had already ordered the dish I'd had my heart set on (Sekuwa - a chargrilled meat dish) and the only other one to catch my eye had been a bean and potato concoction. The waiter was very good - he told me it contained gundruk (basically a dried and fermented saag, used by the Nepalese to ensure a green vegetable in the winter) which people tended to love or hate. Of course, I was neutral in my reaction - I wouldn't not eat it again, but I wouldn't go out of my way to have more of it - it introduced a very earthy flavour to what was essentially soup.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

New Food

Well before I left on my trip, there were signs of an interesting food development in the Meridian Food Court in Dunedin. Where the old Flames had been, there was a blank wall, on which someone had affixed a sign with nice clean colours and font saying "Coming Soon - Lemongrass Malaysian and Thai cuisine". Of course, this was of great interest to me, as it picked up two of my favourite cuisines. And being in a food court didn't mean it would be bad. So, I made arrangements for some friends and I to have some sort of farewell lunch there before I went on holiday. It was not open in time - which I thought augured well in terms of the care being taken to get things right.

Returning home in January, it appeared that no progress had been made. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed the light in the drinks fridge was on, which helped me think the project had not been abandoned. Last week, there were drinks in the fridge: a sure sign of imminent opening.

Last night, it was open. There was a significant queue of people waiting to be served, but that was true of all places in the food court. I was a little dismayed to see that there were no "cook while you wait" dishes; more so to see it was a smorgasbord. Nonetheless, I piled my plate high so that I could try everything. The soup was inedible - a thick milky white tastelessness in which some mushroom floated. Being chicken soup, I suppose there was some chicken in the depths. The food itself was decidedly average by food court standards and poor by any other standard: even the chinese place is better (thanks in part to being run by the people who used to provide my favourite dish in Dunedin, chilli beef and beans).

A much better thing to happen foodwise is the running of the Circadian Rhythm kitchen by the good folk who used to have the Indian vegetarian restaurant. That was always a bit too pricey for every day eating, but when the price is $8.50 for all you can eat (and they really mean that - I was restrained from leaving by an insistence on the part of the staff that I go back for more) it is a bargain. And right next door is Saigon, Dunedin's first Vietnamese cafe. Things are looking up.