Sunday, May 24, 2015

Proposals Accepted and International Antarctic Centre

Academic Proposals Accepted

I have some good academic news: I have been fortunate to have three proposals accepted in the last few weeks! I will explain how the process works for those not in academia. Usually, journal editors and conference organizers put out a "call for proposals" or "call for papers" (CFP) several months in advance of the publication or conference date. This CFP gives the specifications of what they are looking for and what they want submitted. The standard is to ask for a brief abstract and bio. The interested scholar then submits an abstract which addresses the topic and shows their particular analysis of it. This saves them from having to write a full-length paper which then might not get accepted. A blind peer-review panel (blind means they don't receive your name or bio attached to the abstract so they can be impartial) then reads all of the submissions and chooses which ones it wants to accept.

So, my best news is that I submitted an abstract for a special issue of a U.S. academic journal issue on science fiction and fantasy and was accepted! I also was given the comments from the blind peer-review panel and they were very positive and said my proposal was well-written and sounded very interesting. Now I have a few months to take the short abstract that I wrote and turn it into an actual, full-length article of academic quality good enough for publication. It will be reviewed again by the editors and if they have any corrections or changes they want made, I will have a chance to fix them and resubmit. Publishing is the name of the game in academia, especially nowadays with so much competition for jobs, so having my first proposal accepted is really exciting! And it is on my research topic too, which is even better.

Of the other two proposals accepted, one was for a feminist conference being held in Dunedin, New Zealand, at the end of the year. I will be presenting on the gender imbalance of Wikipedia editors (mostly high-school-age white males) and how various groups are trying to encourage other women to edit and contribute to Wikipedia through events like Storming Wikipedia. Considering how many of us use Wikipedia as a go-to reference, it is a pressing issue.

My other proposal was for an exclusive new-scholars conference for postgrads and early career researchers before the main Digital Humanities Conference we are going to in Sydney in a couple months. We aren't presenting papers, but we will be brainstorming before the conference on our digital humanities projects and what we want to work on together. It is designed to be an opportunity for a small group of us to network and share ideas and resources. It also comes with a small chunk of funding which will help cover my expenses getting to Australia. Double win!

Tutoring Adventures Continue

With only two tutoring weeks left, the number of students is dwindling fast. Assuming they wouldn't have read or finished Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, I prepared for more general discussion topics. This last week we discussed single-sex education and some of the essentialist arguments for it (girls and boys have different learning styles and needs). Single-sex education is a lot more common in NZ, coming from the British system, than I am used to, and one young man in each class had actually gone to a single-sex school. One liked it and the other didn't. The students had quite strong feelings against single-sex education, and I hope I helped them think a little more critically about education and the decisions they might face if they end up in charge of sending a child to school.

In my tutoring at the tutoring center, I had to be observed by one of my bosses to see how I was doing (all of my peers did too). I don't remember the last time I was observed in a job situation, and it was a bit uncomfortable. She said I did fine but still had some things that I could do better. You definitely are a lot more aware of what you are saying when someone is taking notes.

We also had additional training on the differences between the students at the Education campus and the main campus (the School of Education only recently merged with the University for budget reasons, but their student demographics are noticeably different), as well as the different philosophies. The Education lecturers emphasize the bicultural aspects of New Zealand and use Maori words quite often in their assignments and lectures. Apparently, the government has a goal of a bicultural, bilingual country by 2040. I think the South Island will have more difficulty reaching this goal since there are significantly fewer Maori present.

International Antarctic Centre

Since our buy-one-get-one-free coupon to the famous International Antarctic Centre was about to expire, we finally visited it. It had a lot of interactive things and quite interesting information on all of the research going on down there, as well as the harsh living conditions. I froze in the simulated Antarctic storm, enjoyed the penguin feeding, rode on a Hagglunds all-terrain vehicle up hills at 26 degrees and through water that went halfway up my door, watched some of the HD film of the beautiful landscapes, and got splashed a lot in the 4-D movie experience.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Prince Harry, Demolition, and High School Education

Prince Harry visits the University

Harry's visit coincided with one of my tutorials, so attendance was even lower than usual! It was raining and hailing, but hundreds of students still turned out to see him. I snapped a photo on my way back to the postgrad room. Look for the red hair!

American Treats

I made some white chocolate-covered pretzels with sprinkles and powdered-sugar-covered chocolate cereal bites for my fellow postgrads, and they really enjoyed them. I can't believe you could be on this earth for two decades and not have had these sugary treats. Despite the preponderance of sugary things here, they are really missing out on some of the best ones. 

Neighborhood Demolition

A second house in the last couple weeks was demolished in our neighborhood. The crews decided to start around 7:30am for good measure. It was strangely entrancing to watch this excavator scoop away parts of the house, mattresses tumbling down and brick walls collapsing with just a touch. Two days later, the whole lot was completely empty, as if nothing had been there before. I have no idea whether or not these lots will be filled with new houses.

New Zealand High School Education

Oftentimes, learning the history of something can help illuminate why current things are the way they are. This has been the case with my trying to discover what might be going on with the high levels of student apathy I've been encountering in my tutorials (and a general sense of it on campus).

It turns out, one of the doctoral students in my postgrad room is actually researching education and educational philosophies in New Zealand. I had heard from multiple students (both undergrad and postgrad) that the relatively new NCEA education system in high schools was not doing a good job of educating students, but he really pulled it all into perspective for me. Note that so far I have yet to do my own internet research on this topic, so everything I know I got from him and others. Basically, about ten years ago the NCEA education qualification system was implemented and meant that high school students were working toward completing credits to obtain a qualification (I'm not sure what system was in place before then -- my fellow postgrad says New Zealand had previously experimented with both British and U.S. models of education). So students take various assessments to earn credits, and then when they have enough credits, they are done with high school. He says that while they still have graduation ceremonies, the emphasis is more on completing the qualification than reaching a major life milestone. 

The part that I can't believe is how these various assessments have contributed to the fragmentation of the curriculum to the point that students are finishing high school without ever having written a full essay. I have heard from multiple sources that all they needed to do in terms of writing to pass the NCEA requirements was write paragraphs, never a complete essay. So they are shocked when they come to university and are expected to know how to write an essay. And this is the huge gap I have identified and that my friend acknowledged is definitely there: the high school curriculum is not designed to prepare students for college. It is designed at a rudimentary level for all students, including those who just want to go into the labor force after receiving the minimum qualification. 

Then, he told me that there are no standardized tests nor any mandatory curriculum content aside from some very general ones. Coming from the U.S. with constantly changing standards and tests, I couldn't believe how much freedom the state here gives to teachers. While freedom for teachers to teach can certainly be a very good thing, it seems like this means the students from the private schools -- which do have college prep and International Baccalaureate classes -- are miles ahead of the students who go anywhere else. 

Another interesting thing is that the push for "equality of opportunity" for New Zealanders has led to there being essentially no requirements for entry into New Zealand universities. I think students have to meet some of the NCEA requirements to get in. But even if they drop out of high school, after age 20 any New Zealander can be admitted to university. I told my friend, exasperatedly, that just because you let someone into college, that doesn't mean you are doing them a favor if they aren't at all prepared; you are setting them up to fail miserably and put them through a lot of anxiety. He knows, but he said that this ideal is more important to the country than actually making high schools more aligned with university standards so students are better prepared. 

Now, the lack of grammar, punctuation, and writing skills of the New Zealand students in my tutorials and at the skills center makes so much more sense. And because the bar has been set so low for many students throughout high school (what is the difference between a "meets expectation" and "exceeds expectations" if you receive the same NCEA credit regardless?), they are conditioned to meet the minimum standard and do no more. If attendance isn't required for a grade, it is just extra work. If a C will let them pass the class, striving for an A will just be more work. Some people will always want to do well because of internal motivation, but this system seems to make it very difficult for everyone else to put much effort into their education (and life? work?) since there is so little incentive. 

All of which leaves me wondering where to go in terms of teaching under these conditions. In some good news, I received a little Kudos award and chocolate bar from the skills center for my one-on-one tutoring with students. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Not-so-pleasant Aspects

After the two-week trip in the North Island, the time has come for some of the not-so-pleasant aspects of New Zealand. The speeding ticket from the first day of the roadtrip waiting in the mail did not help...


My first experience with the New Zealand healthcare system was not enjoyable. The law only allows pharmacies to dispense 3 months' worth of prescription drugs at a time. You have to go back in for a doctor's appointment every 3 months to get a refill (contraception is the exception - it is every 6 months). For people on a medication for years that does not require close monitoring, this is ridiculous. The international student insurance of course doesn't cover the appointment or the prescriptions, so this could quickly become a signficant cost. Some other students have said that it is sometimes possible to get a cheaper nurse's appointment for refills, but I have not tried this yet. (Also, even over-the-counter drugs from a pharmacist can only be given out in 1-month supply.)


We have found that toilets here don't flush well, regardless of whether or not they are in rich people's houses or nice business establishments. It is nice that most of them have the dual-flush option to save water, but they don't get enough power to actually get the water clean. I finally looked up the difference and found an Australian company trying to show that their way is superior to the North American way: 
"North American toilets most commonly utilize siphon jet technology. Most of the water in the tank is used to create a vacuum or siphon effect in the trapway of the toilet bowl, which then pulls the waste out after the water. [...] Washdown toilets do not use this flushing mechanism. When flushed, the water is released very quickly from the tank and into the bowl through an open rim bowl design" ( 
Sorry, but the washdown toilets just don't do the job. It's not saving water if you have to flush several times. 

Power outlets are not installed in most bathrooms, at least not in older places. If they are, they are in inconvenient locations and not usable for things that need to rest, like electric toothbrush charging stations. I'm not sure where people who use electric appliances (hairdryer, hair curler, etc.) get ready in the mornings. There is also a general lack of power outlets in hallways or rooms; often there is only one or two for a whole room. Power strips are the norm here.

I think I've already mentioned the absurdity of the sub-standard housing and lack of central heating, but now that colder weather is here again (52 degrees F in the house this morning), it is very frustrating. Just using the heat pump for a little bit in the morning and evening and heating blankets has shot the electricity bill up a lot. It will easily be over $300 a month for electricity this winter. Also, I downloaded the manual for the heat pump which is technically an air conditioner to try to figure out how the timer works so the kitchen won't be an ice box in the morning. I had to laugh out loud:
"Heating Performance: The air conditioner operates on the heat-pump principle, absorbing heat from outdoor air and transferring that heat indoors. As a result, the operating performance is reduced as outdoor air temperature drops. If you feel that insufficient heating performance is being produced, we recommend you use this air conditioner in conjunction with another kind of heating appliance."
So...the main source of heating in most New Zealand houses is not really designed to work well when it's cold outside. Great... Guess it's good I have three space heaters, three heating blankets...

Part of the reason we study at school is because most of the buildings are heated (who knows how much that costs). But it is unclear who is in charge of the heating. Sometimes if the weather outside warms up, it actually becoems too hot in the room and students start opening windows to get a breeze. Having heaters on and windows open is so wasteful. 

We started using our clothes dryer and discovered that because it doesn't have a vent on the back, all of the moisture in the clothes shoots out through the front vent and soaks the laundry room floor in front of it. I'm not sure who designed it this way or why there isn't at least a warning that you will have a puddle to contend with when you use the appliance.

"Morning tea" is basically snack-time at 11:00am, and last week I went to one as part of a staff meeting. As in the past, there were napkins but no paper plates or utensils for eating some of the food. All of the food is not finger food, and yet they still do not provide a non-messy way of eating them. This has happened with fruit before, but this time there were full sponge cake and carrot cake pieces. I picked up a piece of the chocolate and raspberry sponge cake with my bare hand and it oozed raspberry jam and whipped cream all over. I put it in a napkin to hold it, but this still involved sacrificing one hand to become entirely messy. I cannot understand how anyone thinks this kind of food can be eaten without a plate and fork. 


I know a lot of U.S. college teachers still take attendance in their classes and count it as part of your grade. Here, taking attendance is not the norm (although I've heard some teachers do it). Sometimes lecture halls are full; other times they are visibly missing most of the students. My tutorial attendance has been steadily dropping and I know I have neither carrot nor stick to hold over them. Fewer students are actually completing the weekly reading as well, making it difficult to have discussions when no one has read. The whole system seems to be based on the ideal notion that students are there to learn, rather than complete the assignments, pass the classes, and earn a degree that can then help them get a job. There are some good students, of course, but you have to wonder what the rest of them are doing with their time since most classes don't have homework and just have a couple essays or tests for the entire grade. 

I also just finished grading their first round of essays and encountered an astonishingly high number of grammar and punctuation errors. From asking around the staff and other postgrads, I have learned that the New Zealand education system is not very good and if you don't go to a good school or have a good English teacher, you probably won't learn grammar or how to write an essay.  

Another interesting thing is that the school allows time clashes, so a student can be enrolled in two classes that have lectures at the same time and not go to one of them but complete the assignments and get credit for it. Some of my students are unable to attend my tutorials because of time clashes. There are also three-week-long study breaks with exams at the end. We never had that long to study for our exams; plus, we had homework throughout the semester! I believe these breaks are a legacy of the British system.


D learned in one of his law classes that there has been boilerplate language regarding acts of God (like earthquakes) in mortgage agreements for decades, and people signed them without any consideration that their homes could be repossessed and demolished by the bank if it deemed earthquake damage irreparable. So technically, if a homeowner didn't have earthquake insurance, they wouldn't be entitled to receive any compensation in the event of an earthquake. Yet because the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes caused so much damage to the city as a whole, public pressure ended up turning against the enforcement of these clauses. The situation raises interesting questions about whether it's fair to the people who prepared and bought earthquake insurance that people who didn't pay for it ended up getting bailed out because of the disaster. Four years later, people are still waiting for insurance claims to be settled and a couple houses in our neighborhood are in the process of being demolished. 

Also, earthquakes are getting to be a pretty common occurence for me here, though I am still scared when they happen. We experienced our first one while at school on April 24th. Since we were several floors up, the shaking was gentle. It lasted for about 20 seconds.

A lot of roads are poorly marked. In the U.S. there are Botts' Dots and reflective markers so you can clearly see the lanes. In the dark, it is hard to tell where lanes are, and it is dangerous when it's raining and you can't see where you're supposed to be driving. In construction areas especially, you sometimes have to guess where the lane dividers are. 


I think that is the bulk of it for now. It will be interesting to compare Australia in a few months with New Zealand and the U.S. It should hopefully be a bit warmer there!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Baby Fur Seals at Ohau and Kaikoura

It was a long drive from Picton to Christchurch, with rain for the last half. We stopped to see the baby fur seals in the waterfall of the Ohau Stream Walk and on the shore of Ohau Point. Everyone's been recommending this to us, and it was definitely worth checking out. After an easy 7-minute walk up to a waterfall, we enjoyed seeing a bunch of baby fur seals playing and leaping around in the pool. They jumped out of the water like dolphins and stuck their heads under the waterfall. Very cute!

We also got close to a baby fur seal with huge brown eyes on the peninsula outside of Kaikoura. Adult seals were totally crashed nearby, enjoying a snooze despite the rain. It was a nice wildlife end to the trip.

It had recently snowed on the Southern Alps. Love these!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hutt Valley and Ferry Back to Picton

On the drive from Napier to the ferry terminal in Wellington, we enountered a sign for a model railroad and cheese shop. We took the exit and traveled down a road to someone's family farm. A lady came out of the house and gave us some samples of Cwmglyn Farmhouse Cheese, which turned out to be award-winners at some London cheese event and were also served to Prince William and Kate and their little boy, George, when they were in New Zealand. We bought a $20 block of the full cream cheddar which was very tasty and were on our way.

In the Hutt Valley, we stopped at some Lord of the Rings sites, including the first one that has been marked -- Rivendell. They left a smaller-scale stone arch to commemorate the time spent filming there. We stood on the spot Legolas had gotten his promo photos for the movies. It was well worn!

Rivendell was set up here.

Fords of Isen

Where Gandalf and Saruman were walking in the Gardens of Isengard
After passing so many dairies which almost all have signs for CookieTime cookies, I finally looked up their company history online and discovered that the founder essentially pirated the Nestle Toll House cookie recipe from his time spent in the U.S. and marketed it to New Zealanders. This explains why one of my students asked me how I got my chocolate chip cookies to taste just like the CookieTime ones!! It's a little upsetting that people think these are a uniquely New Zealand cookie. The guy just cut the chocolate pieces into large chunks so they're "chocolate chunk". (It is hard to find actual chocolate chips here also.)
not my picture - I have yet to try one of these
The ferry was a bit rockier this time, but it made better time and arrived over half an hour early. We checked into Picton's Villa Backpackers Lodge hostel, which as promised online served us warm apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It's hard to beat that kind of hospitality.
Last look at Wellington before boarding the ferry

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Gisborne and Napier

Gisborne was just a stopping point on the journey from Tauranga to Napier. The weather cleared up as we were leaving, so we took some photos with the famous Cook statues on the waterfront and headed out.
This is Cook's crew boy who first spotted New Zealand land.
Gisborne waterfront on a nice day
Napier is known for being an art-deco city since it was rebuilt in the 1930s after an earthquake devastated it. It definitely felt like something out of The Great Gatsby with the fonts and styles. We first visited the National Aquarium which was small but allowed us to get our first real sighting of a kiwi!! They switch its day and night (since it's a noctural bird) so visitors can see it out and about. No flash allowed, so my best photo is more like a Loch Ness sighting! Everyone was crowding the glass trying to get a photo of it, so I decided to enjoy seeing it with my own eyes. I doubt anyone but professionals gets a good shot of them. But it was a very strange creature, like something out of the Alice in Wonderland movie, poking its long beak around in the dirt and sort of waddling around in a funny way. I can see why it has trouble surviving in a world of mammal predators.

We also saw the little blue penguins New Zealand is famous for. They were all rescues and very cute. The color is more of a greenish tint.

One thing Napier was definitely lacking was many places to eat for dinner. By the time we had left the aquarium in the late afternoon, there was nothing open downtown. We couldn't find anything good at Pak N Save, so we finally had to settle for Domino's pizza and eat it in a park.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tauranga and Mount Maunganui

On our one day in Tauranga, it decided to downpour. One of my tutorial students lives near the popular beach on the north side of the city, and we had planned to meet up for breakfast and go for a walk around the scenic Mount Maunganui which is on the end of a small peninsula. We had breakfast and I again encountered the weird custom of them serving the pancakes with a big scoop of plain yogurt. I assumed it was whipped cream and made it through about half of it before realizing there was no sugar in there, just tartness. I still don't understand what the obsession with putting tart yogurt with sweet things is. They also didn't provide any syrup. Three pancakes with berry compote and a scoop of yogurt for $16. Sigh. D encountered the thing picky eaters worldwide can't stand -- when a menu lists supposedly all the ingredients, but then leaves off a bunch of them for no apparent reason. He ordered a breakfast burrito without mushrooms or tomatoes, and it still arrived with unlisted spinach and a mystery orangish sauce. Also $16. My student ordered an omelette, but I didn't pay attention to what it had on it. We were too busy talking. 

After a long while, we decided to walk around the mount despite the rain because it seemed to be letting up. There were sheep undisturbed by the rain and some pretty rocks in the water. Soon into the walk, it started downpouring. We plowed ahead anyway and ended up soaked with puddles in our shoes after about 45 minutes. We drove her home and went back to our Airbnb place to change and eat lunch before driving to Gisborne. I have no pictures from Tauranga because of the rain, but everyone kept telling us it was beautiful when sunny!
Here's a picture of Mount Maunganui on a sunny day which we did not get.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Coromandel Peninsula

Since we were so close to the Coromandel Peninsula and I wasn't sure when we would next be near there with a car, we drove up it a fair distance to go to the Driving Creek Railway, a miniature railroad that was highly praised online and mentioned in Lonely Planet. The background is pretty neat. The owner, Barry Brickell, bought some land for a pottery studio in the 1970s and started building a narrow-gauge (15-inch) railroad to help haul the high-quality clay in the hills down to the studio. He engineered and built the whole thing himself and eventually decided to make it legal for passengers to bring in some more income. Our guide said that it has been very popular and successful (running several times a day) and that most of the ticket money goes to fund conservation. Barry is a firm believer in conservation and has overseen the planting of over 9,000 kauri trees, the very slow-growing native forest trees that the British settlers bladed to turn New Zealand into farmland. He also donated a part of the adjacent land to turn into a wildlife sanctuary with a predator-proof fence so native birds and creatures can flourish. This project shows me that engineering, art, and conservation do not have to be at odds with each other.

Next we drove to Cathedral Cove, one of the most popular natural attractions in New Zealand. It was full of tourists and the weather was cloudy, so the pictures don't come anywhere near the postcards. And the hike to get from the carpark in the cliffs to the beach is steep. But it was still a beautiful spot. We treated ourselves to ice cream in the shop in town, and they offered surprisingly huge portions at a very reasonable price. I got hokey pokey and caramel Oreo flavors, and D got an orange chocolate chip thickshake.

Overall, the drive on the Coromandel Peninsula is through a lot of windy, steep roads with tight curves. We were fortunate to have a day without rain to enjoy the scenery which reminded us of California.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology

It was a mid-trip laundry and schoolwork day, with a visit to Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in the afternoon. It was inexpensive and well worth it, with a hangar filled with aircraft on one site, an electric trolley ride to the second site, and lots of little exhibits at the second site. I learned about Jean Batten, a famous New Zealand aviator, who made several record-breaking flights, including the first solo flight from Britain to New Zealand. Apparently she funded a lot of her flying career through getting money from men who wanted to marry her. Interesting move!

There was a room with a miniature train display built in 1980 of some of the New Zealand railway line. Sheep used to (maybe still do?) ride in special smaller containers stacked two high to fit more of them on the train cars. Trains had such a short heyday as the main mode of transportation in and between cities. I wonder what the next century will bring in terms of transit -- will we give up on the one-person-per-car method of travel that is so popular?...
this cute kiwi was on one of the planes in the hangar

first car to get crushed under 2012 law targeted at stopping street racing

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Auckland's Rangitoto Island

It was a long day out to Rangitoto Island, a volcanic island that is now a predator-free, scenic nature reserve about half-an-hour ferry ride from Auckland.

Downtown Auckland is not very good at advertising its parking garages. After braving the traffic and finally finding the garage closest to the ferry terminal, we found out that the 10:30am ferry to the island had been cancelled because of alleged bad weather. It was sunny and clear out, so it was a bit fishy, but we bought tickets for the 12:15pm crossing and had to find something to do for a bit.

We opted for the free Auckland Art Gallery several blocks away. The downtown felt like any other big city, with virtually no indications that it was in New Zealand. Every time I go into a modern art gallery or museum, I am reminded that modern art is really hit and miss for me. Sometimes, like with the corrugated art at the Rotorua Museum, I really like it. A lot of times, though, I just can't see how it can be considered art by anyone except the artist. If anyone could make it, it's hard for me to see the skill involved. Like the piece of graph paper with a triangle colored in and half of a circle drawn -- this looks like geometry homework. I guess I really prefer the classic stuff.

Once we returned to the ferry terminal and were on the boat headed out to the island, the captain announced that because of "bad weather" we would have to go to the further dock on the island. Unfortunately, this meant that the hike to the summit (the main one that everyone does) was up a wide dirt road instead of a trail. We encountered only a couple tui and a fantail bird and saw and heard little else. By this point in our trip, we were getting exhausted faster and had heavy packs since there are no food or water facilities on the island. The views at the top were nice but perhaps not worth the $30 ferry ride and long journey. A storm cloud was coming in so we took pictures just before the rain started up. We happily returned to catch the ferry home, eagerly anticipating dinner. We opted for Denny's since it's reliable and treated ourselves to a snow ball, which is deep-fried ice cream just like at some Mexican restaurants back home.