Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Godley Head, Stargazing, and Easter treats

We've had a few nice experiences outside, trying to take advantage of the decent weather before winter sweeps in again. We went for a drive to the Godley Head area past Sumner on a beautiful, sunny day. There are some military buildings left over from World War II while the country was on the lookout for enemy ships or submarines. 

We also went to South New Brighton and walked for a bit on the beach. There were some horseback riders behind us which was cool to see. I have yet to go riding on the beach but have always wanted to.

For Easter, we went to a friend's family's house about 45 minutes north of the city. When it got dark out, he brought out his telescope and we looked at Jupiter and its moons, Orion, nebulae, stars, and star clusters which was a new and fun experience. It was a clear night so you could see the Milky Way pretty clearly too. 

At school, there was a Canterbury Historical Association lecture by Patrick Evans, who discussed the different receptions he has gotten from his history books vs historical fiction books. He had some interesting points about writing fiction and how even history is really a fiction from a specific perspective. We also heard from Abbas Nazari on being a child refugee who made it from Afghanistan to New Zealand and has been successful despite previous hardships. He played a clip from a video essay called "The End of the Line: The Refugee Crisis and the Fate of the West" which posed some challenging questions about the West blaming refugees for the loss of their way of life. I want to watch the rest of it now.

We couldn't resist going to Warehouse for some clearance Easter candy, and ever since last year, we have been waiting to get the chocolate Biggy Piggy (for sharing!), so we bought it this year - only $15! The other big one is for a friend.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Pavlova Paradise and Chinese Lantern Festival

I've been having several spurts of entrepreneurial activity and thinking and trying to pass it along to others whom it might help, and it really is infectious. I don't think the students who hole up in their rooms or in the library and don't interact much with anyone else quite understand that they are missing out on all kinds of valuable learning experiences. To me, going to university is about so much more than studying and writing papers and passing tests: it is one of the only times you will be in an environment packed with learning opportunities (visiting professors and businesspeople, like-minded and un-like-minded peers) where you have the time and energy to do deep thinking and wrestle out ideas with others, to have people disagree with you and force you to defend yourself or change to adapt to new information. Plodding along is certainly one way of going to college, but such a poor experience and value for your money compared to really taking advantage of so many resources in one place.

On that note, several of us attended a public lecture by Austin Mitchell, who is famous for writing The Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise in 1972, which is a satirical look at New Zealand culture, and then a sequel called Pavlova Paradise Revisited in 2002. It was so heartening to see the lecture theater packed out. I arrived late because of getting off work late and had to sit in the sound booth room at the back crushed with a bunch of other latecomers. Mitchell is British but spent some time in New Zealand as a lecturer in history and sociology. He had a great character and captivated the audience. After discussing some of the disturbing trends since the 1980s deregulation and privatization, he ended by saying that New Zealand should use its small size to its advantage, not to be anti-intellectual but to push for using things like television and documentaries to educate its populace and make positive change. He inspired me to want to read his books, and it was heartening to hear that New Zealand used to be better even if it has declined since the mid 20th century. He challenged academics to get out in the public eye and not just write articles that few will read, which is something I have been thinking a lot about, especially with Digital Humanities' call for open access rather than pay-walled content available only to the privileged. Afterward, there was a hang-out where they gave everyone free pavlova (like an airier angel food cake) and we continued the intellectual discussion with our friends. To me, that evening was the stuff universities should be made of and encouraging. 

At the university's clubs day, I met several American students here on exchange, and it was fun talking about U.S. politics (more commiserating) and explaining some things about New Zealand. I like the immediate sense of camaraderie I can establish with most other American students here. You already have something in common and can launch into almost any topic without hesitation. It makes me feel old hat since I've been here for over a year. I also met a Canadian recently and we got along immediately.

We gave up on trying to mow the lawn ourselves and paid a lawn-mowing guy who left his business card in our mailbox to decimate it and trim around all of the overgrown edges. One of the best uses of $30 I've spent. It was done so fast and saved us a bunch of time and back-breaking work. I can't believe how much time, energy, and money people who have lawns spend to maintain them. When the water supply goes, I hope lawns will too. Xeriscaping is easier for everyone!

The Chinese Lantern Festival in Hagley Park turned out to be way more popular than the organizers anticipated. It was the most crowded event we've been to here, and a later newspaper article said it had 30,000-50,000 people (anticipated 20,000) over the two nights it ran. We met up with our Chinese friends and I suggested some business ideas they might want to look into beyond fighting for the few spots in academia, which excited them. It was hard to see the stage from the way back where we were, but we could hear the drums and the famous Chinese rock band, and then there were fireworks at the end. The lanterns in and around the trees were cool, too.



Valentine's Day Earthquake and Aftershocks

Although there is not much in the way of "New Zealand cuisine" to serve visitors, we have taken to buying a few products that we have found to be unique to New Zealand, or at least tastier versions of what you would normally buy in the U.S. Unfortunately, a lot of them are full of sugar!
  • L&P soda, a lemon-y kind of ginger ale
  • Fresh Belgian chocolate milk (like drinking a luscious chocolate bar)
  • Honey (most famous is manuka, but other flavors are unique because of the trees in the area)
  • Hokey pokey ice cream (hokey pokey is just caramelized sugar pieces, but it is so good)
  • Whittaker's chocolate (amazingly good chocolate with no additives)
  • General dairy items like full fat cheese, milk, and cream
  • Gold kiwis (sweeter and much easier to eat than green kiwi fruit)

Our car failed its recent Warrant of Fitness (WOF) test so had to be taken in for repairs. We opted to go to a AA shop this time (similar to AAA) and I felt a lot better than some of the other places we've taken it to. Unfortunately, while attending the Asian Noodle Market and Sparks fireworks in Hagley Park, someone(s) decided to break into our car parked in a residential area and steal the new Bluetooth speaker in the glove box. Thankfully, I had taken everything else out before our trip to Australia, so that's all the jerks found. A lot of the police were managing the park, so I assume people thought it was a prime time to go around to all of the hundreds of cars parked around the area. I reported it to the police for statistical purposes, but since our car's speakers finally gave out, now we have no means of playing music or audiobooks in the car.

There have been a few summer days hot enough for us to turn on the A/C for the first time since we've been here (the heat pump is also an A/C). Since it isn't terribly expensive to have it on for a few hours, we have chosen not to suffer when the house gets up to 26-28 C (79-82 F) and turn it on occasionally. What can I say? Americans like their comfort.

I stumbled upon an expat migrant website for New Zealand where people who used to live here detail their negative experiences and warn others that NZ isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's nice to know you're not alone, but we still have a ways left here, so I don't think I'll dwell on that site. I also went to a training session at school where a Pasifika woman gave a presentation on how different island cultures look at the world differently, and that this often impacts how they can fit into a society and university built on an independent, autonomous, and individualistic way of operating. She said that their cultures value interdependence and caring about others before yourself, and that studying for an exam alone and having to push aside concern for anything currently happening with your friends or family just isn't right to them. It was a lot of food for thought and made me think what a loss it is that these kinds of worldviews are considered less than and not shared with the dominant culture, which could use more compassion and empathy in many of its relationships, from business to family ones.

Valentine's Day Earthquakes

But the big news around here has been the Valentine's Day earthquake and aftershocks. The first one hit around 1:30pm and was a 5.8 off the coast of Christchurch and shook the house for quite a while (in quake terms, I'd say it was about 10-15 seconds). We had been in the kitchen cleaning out the pantry and our cat bolted into the bedroom and went under the bed, staying there all day. Then there were aftershocks, then lulls about every hour. There was even one while I was just falling asleep. Can’t escape them! I was quite scared and just when I would be settling down, another one would come. Most were off the coast which is not far from where we live in the east, so we really felt them. I just don’t feel safe in this country with their poor infrastructure. The earthquake was big enough to hit international news. The cliffs in Sumner had some falling sides and kicked up a ton of dust, so of course that was what made the news. There were 83 quakes on Valentine's Day alone.

Earthquake knocked second layer of books off shelf
The rest of the week we had aftershocks that we could feel at least once a day. While we were at an open-air Shakespeare play of Hamlet, there was another one, and it was the first time I had been sitting on grass during an earthquake. Admittedly, it was a lot less scary because you're outside and it feels like a rumble but you don't have a creaky house making all sorts of noises to put you in panic mode. But just as the aftershocks had finally stopped for a few days, there was another big one (4.3) that woke most of the city up at 3:30am on February 29th. It's hard to get back to sleep when your adrenaline kicks in. I can definitely see why people left the city and were tired of putting up with all of the commotion.
Open-air performance of Hamlet