Sunday, October 25, 2015

NDF Conference in Wellington and Education Seminars

The National Digital Forum Conference up in Wellington was surprisingly very good. It was mostly surrounding what is going on in digital projects by the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) sector, which I normally view as being stale. It actually has some really interesting things going on, even in New Zealand! Before one meeting, a guy at my table was on the subject of  how cats were ruining the native wildlife and birds here, and I said there was an easy solution: just have indoor cats like we do in the U.S. He seemed to have never thought of this before. One fun part of meeting new people is meeting Dune fans and trying to convert others. I convinced two women who are science fiction fans but hadn't read it yet (mostly because its length is intimidating) to add it to their list. I’m pretty much a Dune ambassador at this point. 

I checked out the National Library's little exhibit on the 1975 Maori Land March while I was there. In short, a large group of Maori led by a 79-year-old woman, Whina Cooper, marched the length of the North Island south to the capital, Wellington, to protest the loss of Maori land. Petitions of support were circulated, and I thought how real and concrete these seem in contrast to today's online petitions.

There were some interesting seminars at the university. One was a Digital Humanities seminar on the issues surrounding preserving, storing, digitizing, and dealing with copyright for all of the old university radio shows and music still stored on cassette tapes. Two others were on the Education Campus and featured Professor Antonia Darder from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles . She spoke on decolonizing the body in education and how we are doing a disservice to young people by enforcing the mind/body split and pretending that education is only about their cognitive abilities and not the rest of their physical selves. Immobilizing them in rows of hard desks and viewing teachers as technicians rather than pedagogical leaders is hampering a development of empathy and whole selves. I had never heard of Paulo Freire before, but I am interested in now checking out his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Professor Darder also was the keynote presenter at an Education Symposium where she elaborated on her notion of what is needed for critical leadership for social justice and community empowerment in today's world. She ended with reminding us that the Western mentality is a conquest mentality, making everyone believe that everything has to be big to be worthwhile. But she said local, small acts can have great impact and translate bigger. She was a really passionate and inspiring speaker, and I'm glad I had the chance to hear about different ways of thinking about education.
Dr. Antonia Darder in her lecture on decolonizing the body in education

In other news, we were invited for dinner at someone's house where we tried some new foods: parsnip and leeks. We brought American-style buttermilk biscuits which were happily scooped up. They taught us how to play Mahjongg, which was great because we had just bought the game at a garage sale that morning and I have been wanting to learn so I can play with my Chinese friends. Apparently it is so addicting that it is banned in Chinese universities so the students don't get distracted.
leaving the South Island

my 6:40am flight was mostly businesspeople (men) in suits

view of downtown Wellington - weather stayed mostly nice

one conference presenter had a Dune reference on his slide - sweet!

sighting 1 of neighborhood cat in Wellington

sighting 2 of neighborhood cat in Wellington

sighting 3 of neighborhood cat in Wellington

Parliament building in Wellington is called The Beehive

Wellington airport has lots of Lord of the Rings stuff hanging

I beg to differ: insulation here stinks

leaving Wellington at 8:00pm

returning to Christchurch

Monday, October 12, 2015

China, High School, and Democracy in Disasters

I had some interesting conversations with some Chinese students about food and displays of affection. They had no idea about kids' menus in restaurants and picky eaters, so I told them about the problem of "latchkey" kids who come home to an empty house and pretty much make their own dinner and take care of themselves. This leads to them growing up on frozen food and things they can easily make on their own, like mac n cheese and spaghettios and breaded chicken nuggets. Or they get fast food several times a week and don't tolerate anything not on that kind of menu. The conversation arose as I was asking what kind of food a young Chinese child was being introduced to and she said it was the same things the parents were eating, like rice and such. I showed her some examples of kids' menus online so she could see what I was talking about. I also learned that the words tea and tofu originated in China. Regarding displays of affection, apparently it is not common for parents to hug/kiss their kids. The society is a lot more conservative than others, and the students said that they find it unusual how much affection is shown between families on Western tv and movies. As I reflect more on it, what is on tv and movies isn't necessarily the norm for a lot of Western families either, but it is the image we project to the rest of the world and how they think we all behave.

I spent two mornings as a tutor for high school students who were attending a week-long school camp at a nice resort called Living Springs over the Port Hills from Christchurch. It was very disappointing discovering that everything I've learned about the NCEA education system was largely true, with predigested assignments given to students without context or connection and no incentives for doing any better than the bare minimum to pass. Most of them could not even articulate basic ideas like what subjects they enjoy or do more than give plot summaries. I enjoyed teaching the 5-paragraph essay structure and helping out with talking through assignment guidelines and arguments. What was ridiculous was that the NCEA worksheets (which should be given to teachers, not students, because it has hard-to-decipher learning outcomes and policy things like the number of credits all printed right on the front) had errors themselves. You really shouldn't give students examples of things that have spelling and punctuation errors on them. Who created these materials anyway?

The Living Springs camp is nestled up in these hills

The view from Living Springs

The view coming down the road to go home
I substituted as a note-taker in a class on New Zealand politics, and it was really interesting to hear about the lack of democracy in disaster areas. Basically, politicians and governments use disasters to enact emergency powers and shut down discussion and debate. We watched a clip from Naomi Klein about her idea of "shock doctrine", where politicians quickly pass legislation that might be unpopular while people are still recovering from the shock of a disaster, either human-caused or natural. In Christchurch, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) was created after the 2011 earthquake to handle the recovery process, and it has a lot of power and is not elected, so people here are still living in an area with a suspended democracy. It was supposed to return power within a certain timeframe, but that seems to keep getting delayed.

There was an interesting lecture on China as a Great Polar Power, but it is based on unpublished research so we aren't allowed to discuss it. Suffice it to say, I didn't know about the recent Chinese movements near the Aleutian Islands and we might want to be concerned.

I can't understand why people are okay with sausages being served in white bread slices instead of buns. It's just not the same.

There were massive winds unlike even the worst ones we've experienced so far. Weather reports said there were gusts of 150-160 km/hr (90-100 m/hr). The glass in the window panes was shaking and it sounded like a massive storm. All kinds of things were blowing down the street.

We prepared and planted the garden with new seeds and are hoping for another successful year. I bought more strawberry plants to add to the existing bed, but everything else is starting from seed.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Garden Update

A year later, it is probably time for an update on the garden experiment in New Zealand. It was a big learning experience, especially for someone who was largely ignorant about food cultivation. Admittedly, it was enjoyable taking care of the plants and harvesting the fruits and vegetables. I never thought I would like this activity, but I am looking forward to doing it all over again in the upcoming season!
garden all planted with the raspberry seedling and existing rhubarb in the corner

the garden earlier in the season

the garden near the end of the season

We discovered that there is a large sink at one end of the garden bed, so what happened was some of the carefully placed seeds migrated from their neat rectangular patches and grew in what was supposed to be the walking path. And the weeds loved the fresh soil and fertilizer; it was a constant battle most weekends to keep them under control. I kept it organic so no weed killer.

The rhubarb that had been left by the previous occupants grew fast with mega leaves that had to be cut back often so as not to literally overshadow that whole corner. I couldn’t see much use for it in cooking besides making something sugary, so I left it alone. Plus, I am always worried about this plant because of its poisonous nature.

The silverbeet that must have been grown by previous occupants grew up all over the patch and did very well, although again, I didn’t want it and gave it away. It is a kind of bitter green leafy plant and why people pay for it in the stores, I’m not sure! Lettuce is much pleasanter.

The strawberry plants along the fence that I found from the previous occupants did pretty well for such little things, probably each giving out 5-10 berries. When berries are so expensive, it was great to have some free fruit!

Seeds We Planted:
Peas, corn, lettuce, cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, watermelon, pumpkin, spinach, carrots, cucumber, and chili peppers.


The butter lettuce grew fast and I enjoyed being able to pick leaves for fresh salads on the spot.

The spinach also grew fast and tall and we had to put up spikes to hold it. At first there were large leaves, but then they became small and harder to use.

The zucchini was probably the best producer of all, with dozens of zucchini (some really large) over the season. Too much zucchini!

The potatoes had huge growth above ground (probably because they were in the sink and receiving lots of washed-down nutrients and water). We got several small potatoes out of the ground.

The corn grew several tall stalks, taller than me, and produced a few yummy yellow corn cobs. Other cobs were only partially developed.

The tomato plants were late starters but produced dozens of little tomatoes that fell off the vine at a touch when they turned red. These plants had to be staked and attached to the trellis as well, they got so big.

The chili pepper plant chugged out a few slim green peppers that we used in salsas. It faced constant pressure from the sprawling tomato plants.


The raspberry seedling stayed alive but never produced any fruit. Hopefully it will this next season.

The cucumber area was overrun by weeds, but since I didn’t know that they were weeds and not the cucumber plants, I let them grow huge before asking a neighbor if they were weeds. Only one cucumber managed to grow afterwards, and it was a sad, small, spiky one.

There was a plentiful number of carrots and the green tops were quite cute. However, the orange parts were so small with so many ridges where dirt clumped that it was difficult to clean them, cut them, and have any edible area left.

The peas took off but the pods were very small and suddenly the plants all started dying so I only had a chance to eat a couple. They later came back with tons of pods but they stayed small and never finished ripening.

The broccoli never produced so I don’t know what happened there. The other plants might have crowded it out too much.

The pumpkin plant grew rapidly and tried to take over the garden; it had to be cut back frequently. There were several pumpkins but they froze before we could figure out what to do with them.

The watermelon didn’t make much progress above ground before the pumpkin quickly took over its area. 

The cauliflower only started growing at the end of the season and produced a couple small heads, but they got really dirty and didn’t have much edible portion once I cut away the brown parts.

Outside the Garden:

The parsley, basil, and mint made more than we could possibly use. The jalapeƱo pepper plants produced a couple dozen small and medium peppers, which made for tasty Mexican dishes and super-spicy hot sauce. We are planning on growing a much larger batch this season because they are expensive to buy and usually only available canned at the grocery store.

Overall, gardening was a success as a learning experience and for giving us something to do outside away from the computers. I would listen to TV shows or TedTalks or music, and it gave me a reason to spend time in the sunshine. The best part is seeing the transformation of little sprouts into full plants with food to eat! The miracle of nature...