si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Category: life

Hangi

A few weeks back I went to my first hangi (pronounced hung-ee). Considering how many years I’ve lived in New Zealand, it’s an odd thing to come all the way to London to experience, but life, she is a funny mistress, yes?

So anyway, nice and early one Saturday we headed out to the marae (mah-r-eye):

the marae – ha ha, not really

I jest, I jest. That’s not a marae. Hell no. That’s Clandon Hall, at Clandon Park, just outside London. The marae is here:

Clandon Hall, plus the marae

You can see it off to the right. It’s one of only three maraes outside of New Zealand. So, really quite a big deal. To give you some perspective – the New Zealand High Commissioner turned up for the hangi. So, really quite a big deal.

The start of the powhiri

Here’s the start of the powhiri (poe-fih-ree), where the locals welcome you onto the marae – but wait, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. The hangi (which, after all, is why we’re here) starts with one of these:

A fire. A BIG fire.

It’s a little hard to see – but when that fire started (several hours before the cooking kicked off) it was about five or six feet high.

The trick with the fire is this. You build a massive fire at about six am in the morning. In the middle of the fire you put big hunks of iron (eg chopped up bits of railway). So, the fire isn’t to cook the food, but rather, it just heats up the irons. Way back before railways, obviously they would have just used rocks, but iron holds the heat better.

After the fire has burnt down sufficiently, you rake the fire with long handled rakes, and pull out the irons.

raking the irons out of the fire

There’s a real art here – if you don’t let the fire burn long enough, the irons won’t be hot enough to cook the food properly. Luckily, the guy with the gray hair there has been doing hangis weekly for 13 or 14 years, so he has a ton of experience.

While the fire is burning, you dig a pit – about the size of a grave, although not quite as deep (you do, after all, want to be able to get the food out of it afterwards, unlike, uhh, graves).

these irons are HEAVY

It’s hot, tiring work.

Digging through the fire to get all the irons out

You can see the fire has been raked apart pretty thoroughly by this point. It’s still damn hot. Even at this stage you wouldn’t want to stand within 10 feet of it.

After the irons are put in the ground, the food is placed into baskets.

It’s a cage match! No, it’s not. These cages are quite peaceful. They’re about to be fed.

There’s a very specific order the pits are lined.

First of all the irons. Then pork, chicken, beef, vegetables (carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes), then layers of hessian (burlap) on top (to keep the dirt out).

The order is very simply so that the foods you have to be the most careful about cooking properly are the closest to the heat. Makes perfect sense.

So anyway, once the food is in there, the entire thing is covered over.

ha ha. Turn your back & we buried it. No food for youuu!

Yep, lunch is under there somewhere. This is what lead me to joke about the entire thing being “mud food” (although really, it tasted nothing like that – plus, hello, they’re not idiots, there’s exactly zero interaction between any dirt & the food itself).

While this was all sitting around under ground was happening, we headed back to the marae.

The way the powhiri works, it starts with a challenge. Essentially, the warriors from the marae come out and scare the shit out of you. The thing to remember is – they’re holding weapons that are designed to kill with a single strike. Those things do serious damage.

the challenge (my lil bro may be one of these extremely white warriors)

The whole thing is intentionally intimidating as all hell.

Interestingly, in terms of the people coming onto the marae, the women are in front. Now, I don’t speak Māori (moh-ree -sounds like ‘mouldy’, without the ‘d’) – but the tradeoff here seems to be – we offer our peaceful intentions by putting the most vulnerable people in the front (women & children) and they show they’re fully capable of protecting their marae.

Once the challenge is done, they put a small branch off a tree onto the ground as peace offering.

However, they’re still all business. Even as they’re stepping back to the marae, they keep eye contact:

note, weapons still in full attack position (covering all possible eventualities)

Did you figure out which one was my bro? Welllllll.. I wouldn’t want to embarrass him.

Ok, ok, I probably would:

Not so brown, but still kinda scary while he’s holding that thing.

Yes, he’s trained. No, I wouldn’t want to mess with him while he’s holding it.

Ok, so I do have his permission to post this. Actual conversation:

me: Doing a blog post about the hangi. You ok if I post a pic of you in full gear, face paint, grass skirt etc?

him: Why not, it’s not like I have any manliness left, anyway.

me: Dude. You’re holding a stick capable of killing someone with a single blow. AND you know how to use it. That’s fucking manly.

him: Tell that to the Scots. They’ve been accused of wearing dresses for centuries.

me: They’ve also been head butting anyone who gave them shit, for centuries.

(As an ironic side note, he’s Scottish, but you can see why I love him so).

Three UK based brothers, plus stick through the face – traditional Maori pose (no, really not)

After the challenge and retreat, there are a bunch of speeches, songs and even poetry. It’s all very cool, very welcoming, and really quite entertaining. There was also a bunch of demonstrations of the Māori martial art my brother trains in.

Eventually, after four hours or so – again, utterly guessed by the guy running the hangi (get it wrong & you’ll find either raw or dried out food – and you can’t bury it again once you do, all the heat escapes), they dig it up from under the ground:

notice how the layer of hessian you can see is spotless – not an accident, that’s careful planning

More hot, sweaty work – but utterly fascinating to watch.

Oh and look, here are those irons I was telling you about:

Super hot. Super heavy.

Once the baskets are brought up on long poles, they’re loaded into a van:

van full of deliciousness!

After all – it’s that or carry these super heavy baskets for half a kilometre to where everybody is waiting. Might as well use some modern conveniences (For example, I’m a big fan – as were the guys running the hangi – of beer-in-a-can).

The baskets themselves still required some manly heaving to get to their desired location:

Heave-ho! Only real blokes need apply

I helped with a couple of the baskets. Ho ho, no, really. Here’s the proof:

oh, I really am quite filthy.

Those are my hands. Honest! Look, it’s even my jacket. Ohhh, ok, fine, believe whatever you want.

So after all this digging, burning, heating, covering, uncovering and carrying, what did we end up with? This:

Delicious, delicious food

The chicken was a little (but not ridiculously) dry – I’ve certainly had much worse. The pork was utterly delicious, as was the potato, carrot and stuffing. The whole thing was quite scrumptiously smokey.

Oh, and that seemingly small pit in the ground? Fed about 150 people, with plenty for all.

A perfectly delicous ending to a thoroughly educational day.

 

 

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    Shame

    This is without a doubt the scariest post I’ve ever written.

    I’ve tried to make this blog as useful as possible. With the exception of the odd frivolous entry, I’ve tried to give practical advice, stuff I’ve found helpful. What’s helped me that might help you. This means talking about things only after I’ve figured them out, after I’ve learned how to best get through them.

    This is not one of those entries.

    I’ve been reading I thought it was just me by Brene Brown, which is about shame.

    After a decade of studying it, she defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed & therefore unworthy of acceptance & belonging.

    The key bits here:

    1. It’s painful
    2. It’s a perceived external judgement (ie, about how we think other people view us)
    3. It’s isolating – makes us feel we’re alone
    4. It’s about something we feel we are (as opposed to something we’ve done)
    5. It’s about wanting acceptance

    There are many other emotions that swirl around this, but what differentiates shame is that it’s about external judgement, combined with being about us (not our actions).

    • We feel guilt about things we do, but shame about who we are.
    • We feel embarrassment about events that are temporary, fleeting and eventually even funny.
    • Humiliation we don’t believe we deserve (eg it’s unfair), but shame we believe we do.

    Other people can cause shame in us (criticizing who we are or what we’ve done – only if we interpret that as a personal flaw), but as always, we are our own worst enemy. Most shame is self-inflicted.

    This is where the isolation comes in. Nobody likes to talk about shame. Nobody likes to admit it and that silence is, I suspect, the worst part of the problem.

    Notice how people will only talk about rags-to-riches stories when they’re successful again (and thus distanced from it)? That nobody talks about riches-to-rags stories, unless they’re talking about someone else? That’s shame.

    See the gradual realisation that Facebook is depressing us? (“Everyone else’s life is better than mine”) That’s shame.

    We only want other people to see the best parts of our lives, and it’s a lie.

    • Every family is screwed up (in some way or other).
    • Everybody struggles – with addiction, depression, trauma, physical ailments, parenthood, self-comparison, work-life-balance, at least once in their life if not constantly.
    • Nobody is perfect – and by that I don’t mean “hair is sexily ruffled at 3am” I mean “is fucked in the head about something or other”

    Because nobody talks about it, we think we’re alone, which only makes it worse.

    So here’s where I’m at. Here’s my life, right now.

    To give some perspective, I need to scroll back a few years. A while back, maybe half a decade ago I owned several properties (let’s just say, more than three). I flitted around the world whenever the whim took me. Stayed in $1200/night hotels. Didn’t think much of making $100k decisions based on a two minute phonecall (batting average on those? About 50%). I’ve dropped 50k in half an hour, and slept soundly that night. Made as much on a single deal with zero effort and thought “that’s nice.” Financially, at least, life was pretty sweet.

    On a side note, I was pretty unhappy with who I was as a person (in a few ways), which is what lead to the spiritual journey I’ve been on since then – which this blog (mostly) chronicles.

    About the time I started on this journey, my finances started taking a serious downswing. So, over the last few years, I’ve gone from the above situation to about a hundred grand in debt, with zero assets (nothing of any resaleable value).

    I’ve been evicted twice in the space of two years. I’ve been taken to court. Threatened with debtors prison. Been forced to sell everything I owned to pay debts (& given the rest away because I couldn’t afford a moving truck). I owe significant money to a large number of people (friends & family alike).

    I’ve had two girlfriends dump me because of it. I’ve watched my friends get tired of asking “are you making any money yet?” and slowly drift away. Several of them no longer talk to me (or reply with the barest of politenesses). This isn’t a criticism of them, they’ve been beyond patient – I can barely explain the situation to myself, I don’t expect them to understand.

    I’m now 41 and living at home with my parents – the only place left that I could go. I’ve been here for a year (give or take), and (externally at least) still nothing has changed.

    So where’s the happily-ever-after? There isn’t one – at least, not yet. And that’s exactly the point.

    I’d been hoping I would eventually pop out the other end of things, so I could write a “Here’s what I’ve learned… now my life is all wonderful & shiny again” post. It hasn’t happened.

    I haven’t written about this because it’s so shameful (and embarrassing, and humiliating).

    If there’s something appealing about a 41 year old guy who is so incapable of looking after himself that he’s forced to bludge off his parents, I haven’t found it yet.

    Is there any of the above I’d recommend? Well, getting rid of all your stuff; it’s challenging but ultimately freeing. Other than that, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Stressful doesn’t begin to describe it.

    Is it an awful situation? Yeah, kinda. Have the last few years been awful? Yeah, pretty much.

    Oddly (or perhaps not), I’m the happiest, most peaceful and most loving I’ve ever been in my life. I can thank all the healing (as I’ve been describing here) for that. That part of the journey I wouldn’t give back for anything.

    So what have I been doing all this time?

    Well, a ton of healing (as you know), which has been super helpful. Without that, I probably would be dead. No, correction, I definitely would be dead.

    I started a company, in late 2009. That was doing ok until early 2010 when two things happened. One, Twitter had loving-but-stern words with me about the way I was doing things (which involved a complete code rewrite) and two, Paypal shut down my account – temporarily – due to one of their apparently-common “security reviews”. Short version: something I did (or didn’t do) flagged some obscure setting in their software. I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong, it was just a temporary hiccup on their end.

    Still, something about the confluence of these setbacks really kicked me… somewhere, and I still haven’t managed to even start charging people for the service again, let alone be able to pay bills or start making decent money again.

    The bigger story is this: I’m an entrepreneur. My first job was when I started a company at 14, selling technical drawing paper to my schoolmates. I’ve always, always had side businesses on the go, no matter what I’ve been doing elsewhere.

    However, there’s been a strong underlying pattern. I write amazing code, or build amazing things, but I rarely if ever make money.

    When I invest (property, stocks, whatever), I generally make out like a bandit, but businesses I’ve started (and there’s been a lot), no.

    This is a pattern I want to break.

    I don’t want to spend the rest of my life starting businesses, working hard, and getting nowhere. That’s stupid. It’s neither loving nor helpful to myself.

    Of course, whatever is going on is just something emotional. I’ve created it, and I very definitely have the tools to break it.

    I just haven’t been able to do so yet.

    If I don’t, eg if I follow most of my friends’ well-meaning but misguided advice to “go get a job”, well, this issue will just continue to re-manifest for the rest of my life. I’ll keep recreating it in new and exciting ways. This is exactly what I’ve already seen happen several times, so it’s time for it to stop.

    Making the time to sort this issue, even if it means abject poverty for a couple of years, is worth it for the pay-off over the next hundred.

    Logically, there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be rolling in cash. I’m male, white, well educated, have a broad experience in a bunch of high value fields, hard working, skilled, motivated. All these things work in my favour. I fully realise how blessed I’ve been to be born into the situation I was. Whatever’s going on here has nothing to do with the obvious.

    The thing is – I can tell myself all this. How counter-intuitive it is, how unlikely, and how necessary to sort it out.

    It doesn’t make the situation any less shameful.

    It’s not an accident I’ve been single for almost three years. How do you ask a girl out on a date if buying a coffee is something that will most likely take a month to budget for? What about a second date, wait another month? Awkward.

    Plus, of course, shame is always accompanied by powerful feelings of “Not good enough.”

    Statistically, most people work for others (as employees), whereas I’ve had a very non-standard career. This makes it difficult for most people I know to relate, let alone understand (isolating).

    In Silicon Valley maybe, running a startup would be understood. Even there though, when a startup gets funding (from a VC, typically), that’s considered “success.” Until that point (or an IPO) they’re not generally considered successful. Even bootstrapped (ie, no external funding) startups are considered a bit weird, interesting, but not-as-successful.

    Where my parents live is over an hour by bus from the nearest city. There are wild chickens that live closer to it than I do. It’s where I grew up and while it has its charms, this is the most provincial I’ve lived since I left home, 24 years ago. This is no accident. I thrive on the bustle of cities, and even telling people where I’m currently living is mildly embarrassing.

    All these things – they’re all my perception of how other people will view me.

    None of these things I’ve wanted to talk about with anyone (except my family, whom I love dearly). Even writing this is scaring the shit out of me.

    To be clear. I’m not posting this because I’m looking for sympathy. Or solutions. Or even empathy (although generally that is the ideal response to someone talking about something shameful). I’m posting it because we all have things we feel shame about, and not talking is worse than the discomfort of admitting them.

    Yes, I am aware that once this is on the internet, it will exist forever, and be indelibly connected to my name.

    Again, shame. And again, this is exactly why this should be posted.

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      Native Bush

      I was recently asked what bush looks like around here.

      Well, today I went for a walk.

      I'm a sucker for a stylish suspension bridge

      Many of the interesting walks around here start with this wonderful bridge. Apologies the sky isn’t bluer, but on the upside, less sunburn risk. Good walking weather.

      The shade of these gorgeous trees is visible from miles away

       

      walking in the bush

      waaaaalking

      waaaaaaaaaaaalking

      Lots of walking.. but then, that’s the fun of it, right?

      Part way along is this segmented swing bridge, which shakes like crazy - great for terrorising nephews. Uhh, not that I would. No. Of course not. Not shown: upset nephews.

      There's a bubbling brook which runs alongside the path.. interspersed with the occasional waterfall

      What is it about water? So incredibly soothing. The Japanese definitely know a thing or two, with their garden design.

      and if you ever wondered what New Zealand hills look like, pretty much like this (foreground left is a shrubbery, not a hill)

      There’s a very particular shade to the greenery in New Zealand. The light is quite silvery. It’s especially noticeable if you’ve travelled to Australia (where the light is more golden). So, many of the trees here have that rich, dark green shade. Once you know it, you can pick it anywhere (eg, a single frame from the middle of Lord of the Rings).

      Many of the hills are also covered in gorse (an introduced pest), which are covered in SPIDERS! These are Nursery Web McMansions. When the spiders are ready, out pop thouuuuusands of baby spiders. Exciting!

      Lunchtime we found a gorgeous stand of pines to lie under and eat

      Peaceful. Gorgeous. No doubt pining for the fjords. Also surprisingly comfortable.

      and look! Fud! (also, coffee. Extra yum!)

      Even on an overcast day, the hills are pretty damn beautiful

      The path back treks through a picturesque stand of macrocarpas

      In case you’re curious about macrocarpas (I know you secretly are). They’re also really good for making fake swords and whacking your friends with. So I’ve been told.

      Mum also weeded pretty much the whole hill on the way down, removing introduced pests (in this case ragwort. Not related to regular warts)

      There are massive stands of ferns everywhere

      When they're tiny, oh boy, they're like a flurry of grass

      and when they grow up, they can take over entire hillsides

      To see just how red those leaves are, check this contrast

      back to civilization!

      You may recognise this park.

      The view south from that same initial bridge

      Even on an overcast day the beauty around here takes my breath away.

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        It’s All My Fault

        I grew up on a faultline.

        This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since New Zealand only exists because two tectonic plates decided to get together and have a rub-yourself-up-against-each-other party. To the West we have the Indo-Australian plate, to the East the Pacific Plate. Which I guess actually made it something of a “bring your own plate” party. Ohhh, I’ll be here all week, try the veal.

        More specifically though, the actual faultline was about 50 metres (160ft) from my house.

        What’s it like growing up in this kind of environment? Well, let’s just say, anything under a 5.0 on the Richter scale you might lift your coffee off the table while you assess it & check your nearest safe zone (table, doorway, etc), but other than that you more or less ignore it.

        You become blasé surprisingly quickly.

        A more interesting question is: what the hell does a faultline actually look like?

        Well, my folks have moved since I was a kid, so I’m now living much farther away. About 50 metres farther.

        To get there I have to cross this most excellent bridge:

        Awesome bridge

        I do like well considered architecture (and blues skies).

        I also have to pass this rather interesting (non earthquake related) tree:

        Because we're on the other side of the world, the sun goes in circles, confusing plant growth patterns

        Definitely an odd tree – there’s only one of them.. ahh!

        Anyway, just past that, you get to this rather innocuous looking bank:

        Innocuous Bank

        Just like any old golf course really. Except for those weird blue poles. What’s up with them?

        Well, if you sight along them, they look like this:

        Two poles. Perfectly aligned

        Notice how they’re perpendicular to the bank. That’s not an accident.

        These poles were put in by the government white coats to track plate movement.

        That innocent looking bank above? It keeps going in both directions… and there’s an identical looking bank on the other side of the river. That’s the faultline. Twenty years ago that ground was bulldozed flat.

        So why do the poles line up, if there’s been all that movement?

        Because we’re standing too close. Here are three poles:

        Uh oh, someone stuck one of those poles in the wrong place. Yeah, that's it.

        Notice how the two on the other side of the fault are angled off to the right of the viewer (ie, the most distant pole is to the left of the central pole).

        That is very, very much out of alignment.

        When they were put in, they all lined up perfectly. It would have been done with one of these. Theodolites are great, love me a theodolite. If you’ve never used one, I highly recommend it.

        So let’s step even further back:

        Oh dear.

        Remember how the most distant one is slightly to the left?

        So you can see that drawing a straight line between the two most distant poles goes off to our right. A straight line between the two poles on this side of the fault goes screaming off to the left of the furthest two.

        Not only has there been significant vertical movement, but a ton of lateral motion too.

        So here’s the odd thing: There’s been no major earthquakes here, certainly nothing like Christchurch.

        What’s happening is something that scientists have only really been able to track since about 2002 – slow earthquakes. These are tricky to spot, since they occur over hours or months, and don’t typically register on seismographs (the scientists use GPS to track them instead).

        Many of these slow earthquakes are huge though (R7-9) and they’re radically altering New Zealand’s shape. This isn’t a terrible thing though, NZ’s a weird shape to start with, a bit of a haircut might do us some good.

        Why can’t we be an elegant, tastefully shaped country, like Italy’s boot?

        Update

        I found this brilliant overhead view which shows the faultline perfectly:

        the overhead view

        The middle arrow is about where I was standing when I took the last four pics above.

        The view is stolen from this thoroughly informative page on the subbject. Kudos to them!

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          Nice Night For a Walk

          It’s just turned New Year, 2012.

          Generally for New Year’s Eve I prefer to do something contemplative. Meditate on the past year (or years). Feel my way to a better direction for the coming year. Assess and makes choices that will guide me positively forward.

          With that in mind, around 10pm I took off up a nearby hill (it’s only 345m high at the peak). It was a 45 minute hike in the dark to the lookout point I was aiming for. I chose to use no lights, partly as a more interesting challenge and partly so I could see the glow-worms on the way up.

          Oh boy, they didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, photos just don’t do those bright little bundles any justice.

          I was right about it being an interesting walk. For a start, it’s been raining like crazy the last few days, so everything in the bush is soaking wet. Combine heavy cloud cover with only a quarter new moon, and it wasn’t exactly clear where I was supposed to be walking either. The path was (theoretically) fairly light, except so were the ferns on either side, oh, and the rocks… and the puddles… and the grass. Also, that light coloured path? It was covered in various dark coloured flora, tree branches, grass, leaves, stiles, animals, dead bodies, burning cars, zombies*.

          * some of these items may be a complete lie.

          Mostly it wasn’t too bad though. My eyes adjusted pretty quick and I only slipped over a couple of times.

          I got to the top around 11, but had wildly underestimated how warm it would be trekking up the hill, so promptly stripped down to let my shirt dry out a little. If there were any ghosts up there, I’m sure I scared them off with my stunning whiteness (it’s a sight to behold, I assure you).

          I then spent the next hour meditating, absorbing the essence of the previous year and sipping the delicious coffee I’d taken up with me.

          I also got treated to lightning on the far off ridges and fireworks up and down the valley. Theoretically fireworks are illegal in New Zealand outside of Guy Fawkes‘ week (the week before Nov 5) but people still store them up for New Year’s. I’m happy they do, it makes New Year’s a lot more festive than just a bunch of yahoos yahooing.

          Surprisingly, the march back down the hill was significantly more dangerous than up. My eyes had adjusted so I could see better, but even with that I hit a lot of unexpected drops in terrain. I ended up walking most of the way down in a half crouch. Imagine you’re sitting in an upright chair. Now take the chair away. Yeah, like that. An odd posture, but effective and a lot safer than walking normally (which had left me unharmed but on my arse a couple of times). When I got back closer to civilization, I also had to shield my eyes from the street lights just to see where I was going. It’s hard to comprehend just how much light pollution there is until you’re walking back into it from the pitch black.

          I did end up soaked to the skin up to my knees – it’s hard to see invisible wet grass – but it was totally worth it. Walking down in the dark, brooks burbling by the track, the glow of the worms, giant trees majestic against the skyline, it was an utterly beautiful experience.

          And proof you can take the boy out of Scouts, but never take the Scout out of the boy; other than what I wore, I also took with me and used:

          • hat
          • gloves
          • scarf
          • camera
          • blanket (my Grandma gave it to me over 20 years ago; it’s the only thing I have left connected to her)
          • thermos of coffee

          but took and didn’t use:

          • three torches
          • phone
          • bottle of water
          • fabric tape
          • plastic bag
          • leatherman

          I figured if I accidentally walked off a bank & broke a leg (a reasonable risk) I might as well take enough to be comfortable & safe until morning.

          Turns out I didn’t need most of it, but it was worth it without the added excitement. Partly for the peace & calmness that comes from occasionally detaching completely from the world. Partly for this:

          Here’s to a gorgeous 2012.

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          • Shame
          • Native Bush
          • It’s All My Fault
          • Nice Night For a Walk
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