Although working at home can be great, it can also be a curse and let time blob into expanses where seemingly nothing gets done. The postgrad seminars recommended trying to make a distinction between study and leisure time to let yourself not feel guilty all the time and to help keep the internet surfing at bay. So we went to school every day this week as if it were a regular work week and it seemed to work out pretty well. Once you're at your desk at your computer with all of your books surrounding you, it's harder to ignore the fact that you need to be working. Therefore, I felt very productive this week getting all of my quotes and notes entered in and catching up on a lot of admin things online. My to-do list is now enormous, but at least it's written out and able to be tackled. I also finished my first "old-school" SF book, one of the classics, Isaac Asimov's Foundation.
On Wednesday, a distinguished Cambridge professor, Dr. Anthony Hopkins, gave a lecture on the American Empire and argued that the U.S. did indeed have an empire much like the other European nations and that it is not right that historians, and especially U.S. historians, neglect discussing and analyzing the period 1898 to World War II as a period of American empire. It was a quite interesting argument and certainly shows how what Americans learn about their country is skewed in favor of the "independence and freedom" master narrative. He said that, contrary to the U.S. being extraordinary, it was a colony like other colonies and took about 100 years to shake off its colonial past, and only after that could it really be called independent and able to start amassing territory for itself (like the Philippines and Puerto Rico). Among other things, he also said that it was a mistake to keep referring to an American Empire today, because despite U.S. military might and cultural influence, the U.S. does not know how to effectively use that power globally (via wars, diplomacy, etc.) and it cannot claim to have the same power that, say, the British Empire once had in the world. It was well-argued (though perhaps hard to take it all in) and I wouldn't mind reading his final published book when it comes out.
After the lecture, we went out to dinner with the professor, host lecturer, and several students. It was our first time in a Vietnamese restaurant but ended up being very similar to Chinese food. Everyone else was going to get a set menu for $30 a person, but we said we would prefer to order our own meals so the table got the set menu of $26 a person and D ordered crispy chicken ($8) and I ordered beef fried rice ($12). Our dishes were plenty of food and affordable, although the set menu price would have been the minimum at a typical non-Asian restaurant here. The only reason we can see that restaurant prices are so high is that minimum wage is so much more than we are used to (and probably food costs). Yet Asian restaurants are the most affordable. It is uncomfortable to have to discuss in front of everyone that you don't want to pay $30 for a meal because a) you can't afford it (or even if you could, you would rather spend it on something else) and b) you wouldn't eat most of the things anyway. But you do what you have to do and so we had an enjoyable evening and the professor and I complained about everything wrong with the U.S. and it was so refreshing to discuss politics with an intelligent British person.
I had my first ripe strawberry from my plant (after the actual first one was eaten by something else) and it was good! Can't wait for more. I also bought a bag of golden kiwis from a farmer's market and can't believe I never knew how delicious they are. I also bought green kiwis and they are good but not as good as the golden ones (plus, you can eat the skin of the golden ones). Highly recommend!
Word of warning about tomato sauce here: I bought a can of tomato sauce to use in a recipe, and it turns out that their tomato sauce is almost identical to ketchup. My food tasted way too sweet and we looked it up and found that you have to buy tomato paste instead. Bummer.
I know, I know - we haven't been enjoying New Zealand's outdoors like we should. So I insisted we do a hike this weekend and start getting into the routine. We went on the Rapaki Track in the Port Hills for about an hour and a half round-trip. It was all uphill until we turned around, but it's lambing season so we saw lots of sheep and lambs and heard them bleating to one another. Some cows watched us lazily from the other side of the fence.