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.



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