Sunday, July 18, 2010


So, Emma told me I needed to write another blog post. She has a point. I haven’t written anything since late June. I’m sorry that I’ve disappointed my readers (all 12 of you) – I know how you wait with bated breath for my blog posts. So here’s what I’ve been up to:

The stuff that confirms that the Frank neurosis is immune to even New Zealand’s laidback approach to life: I spoke with this amazing vet who does conservation work in Africa. Basically he has what I consider to be a dream job. He asked me about my future plans and why I wanted to get a DVM, why I wanted to do a PhD, etc. I’ll spare you the “Hannah insanity” but basically I’ve never been more confused about what I want to do with my life as I am now. I need to make decisions about applications for next year but I can’t figure out what I want to do a PhD in or where I want to go. *heavy sarcasm* I love confusion. I was at lunch this afternoon with Julie and the family that hosted her for a bit when she was waiting to move into her original flat. I had just met her host dad and he asked me what I want to do after New Zealand. Took him all of 2 minutes to figure out that I actually have no idea. Love it.

Anyway, that makes it seem like my life is a lot more stressful than it actually is. (Most of the time I just ignore the vet school stuff. Yay procrastination.) So one highlight of the past few weeks: (I’ll post again tomorrow. Scout’s honor. – That still counts if I quit in 7th grade, right?)

I got to go sheep herding! I felt like a true Kiwi. One of my coworker/ advisor people at Vic has 11 sheep up on some land just north of Wellington. They were in a paddock across the street and down about 100 yards from their land and Sue needed to move them back to her land. Because of all of the potential wrong paths the sheep could take, she needed a lot of people to help her move them. It was so fun. I got to stand next to this bridge and make sure they ran onto the bridge instead of next to it. (They thought about trying to run past me but I was too scary.) After they were past me I chased them. There’s something very fun about running after livestock. Yes, I am 8 years old.

After we got them into the paddock, we needed to treat their feet. I helped by holding the sheep as Tom, Sue’s boyfriend of 18 years, trimmed their hooves. It was kind of like what I did at the vet clinic, only with sheep. I was even able to lend my professional advice about styptic powder. I felt special. Even better, Sue lent me a jumpsuit to put over my clothes. That made me feel really official. (I was also really cold. There was a lot of frost on the lawn when we initially got there in the morning. I thought I was going to freeze.) Unfortunately I stupidly charged my camera in preparation for the sheep and then left it on my bed. Sue’s invited me back to see the lambs in the spring and for any other visits to her land so I’ll get pics then. I’m so excited! I think they were pretty surprised that I was perfectly happy/ really excited to lie on the ground subduing a sheep. (Doesn’t really jive with that whole “cultural ambassador” image.)

It was also really fun spending time with Sue outside of the lab and getting to meet her partner and his family. (Side note: The word “partner” is very popular here and means any significant other that’s long term, regardless of sex or marital status. This confused my mom a lot. She spent a great deal of time convinced that the vast majority of the New Zealand population is gay.) Back to the sheep: I LOVED the sheep but it was also really fun just to hang out with a family. (Siblings, parents, nieces, etc.) I felt very privileged to be able to crash their family party. And Sue made carrot cake. I love carrot cake.

Sheep were not the only animals I hung out with that Sunday, either. (And I’m not counting the 3 girls under 10.) The former owner of Sue’s land still keeps her horse there and Raider and I became good friends. (Confession: I’m not quite sure if the horse’s name is “Raider” or “Radar.” They sound pretty much identical in the Kiwi accent and for the first time, I think, I was surrounded by only Kiwis.) I was standing in the paddock watching the sheep tending and this horse comes up to my shoulder. I started petting him and got to scratching his back. He did that funny thing where he stood really really still and held his head out at an odd angle. If you’ve ever hit the perfect spot on your dog’s back, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I half expected the horse to pick up its foot and start scratching the air the way my puppy does. When I did stop to go watch the sheep again, I was promptly driven into the fence by a head butt to the butt. He eventually gave up, sniffed my head a bit, chewed the fence and then walked away to be antisocial.

I was also a huge hit with the dog. And there were tons of kereru (large native bush pigeons – very pretty) feeding in the trees above the sheep. I had never seen so many in one place before. Add on that the weather was bright, sunny and crisp and it was a thoroughly perfect day. The valley we were in was gorgeous: one slope was covered in pines (a Californian species that is farmed here – nonnative but still pretty) and another was covered in native bush and almost glowed in the sunlight.

Despite all of the amazing things I just described, the highlight of the day was a brief moment on the way home. We had just pulled out of Sue’s land and had gone down the road about 70m when coming down the opposite side of the road is one of the fanciest Jaguars I’ve seen (and certainly the most “flash” – another Kiwi word – car I’ve seen while being here)… pulling a trailer with two sheep.

I love New Zealand.

- I’m crazy. But you knew that. And confused. But you knew that too.
- How many people does it take to move 12 sheep? Answer: 11 Kiwis, 1 Irishwoman and a crazy American.
- Even Fulbrights enjoy getting a little dirty (especially when it involves looking ridiculous by wearing 3 layers under a blue jumpsuit).
- I miss family gatherings so much I’m willing to go to them even when it’s not my own family.
- I’m tight with a horse whose name I don’t know. Language difficulties continue.
- Apparently Jags come outfitted with trailer hooks.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Congratulations and coughs

Ok, the alliteration in the title kind of sucks, but I couldn't think of a significantly better title.

The biggest news since I posted last is that we had our Fulbright mid-year report event. We got to meet all the US bound Kiwis and present about our research. This was mostly a lot of fun but also kind of an anxiety inducing kick in the pants. I realized I'm half done with my Fulbright and I feel like I've accomplished very little. I did not anticipate it would take me almost 2 months just to figure out what I was staring at under the microscope. This was amplified by the fact that I am now filling out veterinary school/ PhD apps and realized that I do not have any publications to my name. I guess I'll just have to get used to the constant nagging of publications. I am working on that toepad stuff with Luke; I'm excited to get some of my research out there.

It also made me want to get out and see more of the country. Julie and I tentatively have plans to go to the South Island. I also need to see more of the North Island. I did get out to Cape Palliser again, though, and saw lots of seals a couple weeks ago. It was gorgeous.

But as I said, the Fulbright event was mostly a ton of fun. The Kiwis headed to America are brilliant, hilarious and really kind. And exceedingly patient. They had to sit through 15 minute presentations by each of the Americans. I was told I managed to make my presentation quite funny; plus, everyone loves tuatara. It might also have helped that I "enhanced" all of my photos in MS paint (scarves on tuatara, angry faces on blood cell parasites, etc.) Last Wednesday there was a big ceremony at Parliament where all the Fulbrighters were presented with certificates by the NZ Minister of Science and Technology, pins by the US Ambassador to NZ (see pic of me and Ambassador Huebner -- with Mike, another US Fulbright peeking through) and a lei by the head of the Fulbright NZ board. The Fulbright woman gave me a lei that matched my outfit. I was pretty psyched. The graduate students (Americans and Kiwis) then went out to dinner and out for dancing and drinks. I'm sure some of you have seen my facebook pictures documenting the event. I'm just sad that the Kiwis aren't going to be around much longer to hang out with us. If anyone's still in the Cambridge area, I can introduce you to two awesome kids who'll be at Harvard next year.

On a completely different note, it's amazing I finished my presentation in 15 minutes since I had to stop to cough several times. I've had this cough for about 2.5 weeks now. I finally went to the doctor today (who turned out to be the husband of one of the Fulbright senior scholar people!). He told me I had a virus and the cough'll go away in 1-2 weeks but he also gave me an inhaler to help me stop coughing. My fate as the athletically inept, dweeby, weakling nerd is sealed.

Being sick sucks but it has had its funny moments. Two weeks ago I was woken up by a stomach ache and the sound of my chattering teeth. At 4am I finally decided to call my parents. (The benefits of being 5 hours "behind" the west coast.) My dad assured me that I was probably running a fever but before I took some tylenol I should take my temperature. 96 degrees F. Thank you, Wellington. I bought an electric blanket the next day.

- I now have a spiffy certificate to hang on my wall, along with pins and a lei.
- I am an expert with microsoft paint. If you think you'd look better in a picture with a drawn on scarf or possibly a third eye, I'm your gal.
- The Kiwis headed to the US are the best. Now if they would only stay in their country instead of fleeing to mine...
- I'm starting to understand the meaning of "publish or perish."
- Being sick sucks. Especially when it forces you to realize the persona you thought you ditched after 5th grade PE.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Aren't you bored of my life yet? If not, read on...

I don’t know that I knew the definition of the word “sleet” before. I know it now. I walked home in it. I’ll stop bitching about the weather eventually but know that I’m jealous of all of you who are currently enjoying summer! It’s been raining with the exception of one sunny day since May 22. (Yes, this is actually something that makes it into the newspaper. There is a formal definition of “decent spell of sunshine.” Who knew?) Also, as Julie pointed out, you can’t tell if it’s an earthquake or just the wind shaking our house. Yes, I’m cold again. It was 5 degrees all day. I’m actually coming down with a cold too. My first in New Zealand. I spent all of yesterday sitting in my flat (Monday off for the Queen’s birthday!) and didn’t make it out of my pajamas. (Well, technically I was only half in my pajamas since I did put on jeans before I got distracted.) I felt like a complete bum.

It was nice for one day, though, and we took full advantage of this to go visit Martinborough, the wine region that you might remember from my first couple weeks here. Julie braved the Rimutakas (many kilometers of winding road that’s cut into the side of a mountain) to get us there. She was driving at about half the speed limit and at one point we pulled over to let the other cars pass. There were 20 of them. We got a lot of appreciative honks for finally getting out of their way. Ah well, safety first, right? The Kiwis apparently have problems with traffic accidents and have very freaky ad campaigns to get people to be more careful. It’s worked on me. Speaking of driving, New Zealand has the best road signs, my favorite of which is simply “!”. Usually there’s another, smaller sign explaining what one should be cautious about, but often that sign is missing, so you’ll be driving down the road and hit an exclamation point. I’ve taken to making up my own (usually inaccurate) explanatory signs in my head, something like “flying sheep” or “giant moa crossing.”

In other news, just because we’re miles away from, well, anywhere, doesn’t mean New Zealand doesn’t get the latest movies. With all this rain, there hasn’t been a lot to do other than sit inside, so I’ve been watching a lot of movies. I went to see Iron Man II with some friends. I don’t even recall if there was a plot – I would watch Robert Downey Jr. eat a sandwich. I also went with some women from the school of biological sciences to see Sex and the City II. It was a lot of fun hanging out with the ladies outside of lab. As for the movie itself, I’m a little scared by Liza Minelli. And impressed. But mostly scared.

In the world of science, things are moving along. Luke, the graduate student I worked with at Harvard, put together a newsletter of papers about anoles which included a submission from me. We’re going to try to modify it into a real paper. I’ve finished my initial blood counts after having had to recount them. I’m not really sure there’s a pattern, but no pattern is still results right? Also, my lab is moving buildings tomorrow so I spent a bit of today helping pack chemicals. I realized, after looking at all the warning labels on the jars, that, in trying to find ways to cure cancer, we’re all going to get cancer. Guess we better work fast.

Other than that, I have actually started filling out my vet school apps. In a classic move to which facebook groups are dedicated, I stopped after filling in the name and address part and started cleaning my room. I haven’t seen this much of my floor in weeks and I put up enough pictures to make a dent in the otherwise unbroken stretch of fluorescent green.

- It’s cold! (…still.)
- Julie drives like an old lady. But in a good way.
- Kiwis have fun road signs, but they’re funnier in my head.
- Sequels are all the rage right now. Robert Downey Jr. is incredibly charming. Liza Minelli is just, um, yeah.
- My life is full of lizards, leukocytes and lead acetate.
- Classic procrastination techniques work in the Southern hemisphere as well as the Northern.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Pretty/Ugly: the Pretty/Ugly

The pretty:
- the weather. I know I was just bitching about it, but sometimes you actually can see the sun and it’s really nice. The sky is gorgeous. There’s an autumn crispness in the air. It’s lovely. Note: this is increasingly rare.
- the scenery: Michael, Julie and I went on a walk up to the top of Mt. Victoria one nice day and you could see all of Wellington. It was gorgeous. Also, there was a fun swing in this pretty forest, that I couldn’t resist. For all the Lord of the Rings fans, this is where they filmed the escape from the Nazgul in the inner Shire. Also, my mom and I saw some beautiful forests and tree ferns on our trip. One of the resorts we stayed at had the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen. Breathtaking. Another place we went had a beach completely covered in pink shells; you couldn’t even see the sand. Also, Julie, Dara and my road trip up the Kapiti coast was fabulous. The paddocks with the sheep were adorable, the beaches spectacular and the sunset divine.
- my mom: She looks a lot healthier and happier. We walked quite a bit and she’s getting a lot stronger. I even dragged her up the Wellington hills. She looks especially good with a tuatara in her hands.
- the autumn leaves in the botanical garden: turns out New Zealand does have fall. Um, sorry, autumn.
- my play-doh stegosaurus: I went to a quiz night with my officemates and one of the contests in between rounds was for the best play doh stegosaurus. I made a masterful blue stegosaurus, the right balance of cute, cartoon and scientific accuracy. Alas I did not win. I maintain I was robbed.

The ugly:
- my soccer skills: I have apologized literally every time I kicked the ball anywhere near anyone. It makes passing awkward.
- my rock climbing attempts: My awkwardness and clumsiness can’t possibly look better when viewed from the bottom. Nothing more glamorous than hanging sweaty and red from a harness while staring at a wall.
- rain, rain, rain, rain with a dash of Antarctic wind: The good news is we often can’t see this because every time we attempt to warm up our flat it immediately fogs up the windows.
- wild pig eradication: New Zealand has a thing about protecting its native fauna by killing the invasive fauna. This is most obvious in the popularity of hunting possum (an activity at both resorts my mom and I stayed at!) and possum fur accessories (stay warm while helping New Zealand!). NZ also has a problem with feral pigs that were released by Captain Cook himself. When my mom and I were horseback riding, our guide’s dog found and injured a piglet. Our guide put the piglet out of its misery (and later brought the meat home so it didn’t go to waste). This horrified my mother. She relayed this story to Sue, the senior technical officer in charge of tuatara at Vic, who owns a sheep farm. My mom was expecting Sue to be horrified; Sue was pleased that there was one fewer pig and that it was not going to waste. Guess I’m not the only American getting a cultural lesson.

- Oh, c’mon. You’re really reading this? The entire post is in bullet point form.
- New Zealand is a gorgeous place full of trees, ferns and beaches. And the sun occasionally shines.
- Unfortunately New Zealand has been burdened with an uncoordinated American out to make herself more sporty.

The Good, the Bad and the Pretty/Ugly: the Bad

Ok, so it’s not all tuataras and pretty mountains, there are bad sides to New Zealand. Admittedly, there are many fewer bad things than good things, that having been said, here they are:

The weather:
Question: What’s worse than reading on your friend’s gchat statuses “OMG it’s so hot.” Or “90 degrees in Boston!”
Answer: Reading those statuses when you’re in two sweatshirts, under two blankets, in your bedroom, at noon and you can’t feel your feet but you can see your breath.

Turns out the Kiwis don’t believe in insulation. That’s all fine and good except I’m from Southern California and windy Wellington ain’t nicknamed that for nothing. Especially fun are the Southerlies which are winds (last week up to 90km/hr) that come straight off Antarctica. I’ve been sleeping in 2 hoodies, 2 pairs of socks, under 2 comforters and a sleeping bag every night. I’m usually still cold. I’m starting to understand why everyone’s got a partner here. It’s just plain economical – warmth and no increased heating bills!

The landlord: I know. I know. This isn’t unique to New Zealand, but New Zealand certainly is not the exception. Our landlord is a special type of flake. The kind of flake whom you can’t reach via any known methods of modern communication, (No, I haven’t tried carrier pigeon quite yet.) who shows up unannounced at 9am when you’re in the bathroom (yes, that’s illegal – he’s required to give 48 hours notice), who still hasn’t filled out the tenancy forms so we can pay the bond (yes the papers required to be completed before we take up residence and filed within 2 weeks of us moving in), who comes in, makes a mess and then leaves muttering to himself only to appear at 10pm, 6 hours after he left asking to hang your curtains. He’s the kind of landlord that has to be reminded by his tenants that he’s required to put up smoke detectors in the house, who needs his tenants to explain to him how to insert the battery in a smoke detector but insists he can turn off the water and fix the laundry machine by himself, the kind of guy who thinks telling people “You see, it just comes down to the fact that I’m lazy” is an excuse for not doing anything. That’s Stephen.

Vet school/ figuring out my future: Ok, also, not a New Zealand problem. This is all me. I’m going to try to apply to vet school this coming fall. The problem is I still don’t really know what I want to do. Everyone tells you that at 23 you should be confused about your future and excited about a number of different things. For some reason, these same people don’t really seem to grasp how hard that makes figuring out one’s future – where, what, how, etc. I’m currently thinking of applying to DVM/PhD programs (combined veterinary medicine and PhD) or just plain DVM programs. Barring that, I’ll just continue to lose my mind with indecision and join the circus. … better start stretching now.

Bioterrorism: I guess this is really good news. I won’t have to deal with figuring out my future because I won’t have one. I went to a lecture by a Fulbright senior scholar last week and he was talking about how vulnerable we (as godless Americans) are to bioterrorism attacks, especially from “non-state agents” aka those guys with no rules, whom we can’t deter, who just want to inflict mass casualties. He also talked about how easy it is to make this stuff. Turns out even I can weaponize ebola. Yippee!! Off to buy my gas mask…

- There’s really only one bad thing about New Zealand and it’s really only bad because I don’t have a boyfriend … or an electric blanket.
- Landlords are the same everywhere. I can’t wait for more life in the real world.
- My neuroses caught up with me. Apparently they caught a boat over the Pacific so it took them a little longer than the rest of me, but they’re definitely here.
- Stock up on heavy duty antibiotics and pray. Alternatively, kiss your butt goodbye.

The Good, the Bad and the Pretty/ Ugly: The Good

Tuatara/ Science: On April 22, I got to go up the Kapiti coast (West coast of the Southern tip of the North island) with a grad student and Sue, the technical officer to get blood samples from tuatara at the Nga Manu nature reserve. I got to hold nine tuatara (!) including a Sam, the largest tuatara Sue’s ever seen (980 g) and a 2 year old toot named “Lucky.” The staff at Nga Manu found him around the enclosure as a baby; they didn’t even know the pair had laid an egg. He is named “Lucky” because tuatara don’t have any parental care and are visual hunters – basically they eat anything small that moves, often baby tuatara. In short, Lucky was lucky he wasn’t lunch. He’s also lucky because he features prominently in my facebook picture.

Other good stuff on the science front: I got to go up to Massey University in Palmerston North to talk with a vet there about my cells! I finally know what I’m counting and have whipped through the smears. I had a great meeting with my advisers yesterday and it looks like I’ll be doing some cool stuff. Also, we’re planning our two field trips to get blood from wild tuatara in November. I’m so excited!

Mom: This could be an entire blog post to itself but I’m going to keep it short. My mom came to visit me for a week and a half. It was amazing!!!!!! As most of you know, my mom has had some health troubles over the last year and a half so I was excited that she could get here at all (especially since she was ashed into London causing her trip to be postponed by a week). We went to a great resort near the Bay of Islands, which was gorgeous. We also went to a resort near Rotorua and went on lovely horseback ride around the property. They had a really beautiful waterfall with delicious spring water. I also took my mom on a little hike up to the top of this hill! I was SO SO proud of her for being able to walk up and down hills for 2 hours straight. :D Also in Rotorua we saw thermal hot springs, NZ falcons and a kiwi which was vocalizing!

My favorite part of Rotorua, though, was getting to chat with some of the people who work at the resort. I went with the chef, Eru, on a walk through the forest and he pointed out all the plants that the Maori use in their cooking including pikopiko, a young fern shoot; manuka (the plant which most of the NZ honey is made from); horopito, a peppery like leaf, kawakawa, a basily plant and this vine which tasted like asparagus. It was really interesting getting to chat with him about the different uses of the food and about his family and culture. Also, another guy who worked at the resort was so touched that I was working on tuatara conservation that he gave me a prayer in Maori from his iwi. I framed it and it sits beside my bed.

The best part of the trip, though was in Wellington. I got to introduce Mom to all of my friends and colleagues at the university and Sue showed us around so she got to see all the tuatara at Vic! She even got to hold Spike (the big male tuatara at Vic), see incubating eggs and see a week old hatchling! We also saw the botanical gardens, Te Papa and I took Mom to a rugby game. We agree, much more interesting than American football. Sorry, Dad. We also just watched a lot of “Firefly.” (Read: the entire series.)

Miscellaneous: It was Julie’s birthday a couple weeks ago. We had a lot of fun making tons of cupcakes. They were delish. I am actually learning how to cook and bake. Who knew with my genetics that it was possible for me to make something edible, let alone yummy. To further this food knowledge, Julie took me to my very first food show. If you’re ever going to go to a food show, you should do it in a country that specializes in cheese, wine and olive oil. I’m still in heaven… On Julie’s birthday she bought a car, so the following week we took it up the Kapiti coast for a road trip. We saw some beautiful forests and beaches, and also ate nationally famous Kapiti ice cream. (Are you sensing the trend yet?) I am working off these calories though, hilariously, Julie and I play soccer every Tuesday with a group of people who work at the rock climbing/ kayak place. Suffice it to say, I’m certainly the least sporty person in the group.

- I have a plan for research!!!! Plus I’ve gotten to hold lots and lots of tuatara. My study organism is cuter than yours. And it comes in all different sizes.
- My mom loves me. New Zealand is gorgeous and I’m falling in love with Maori culture. Mom’s falling in love with Spike.
- Rugby >>>>> American football
- Be on the lookout for flying pigs: I’m cooking. And exercising.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Good the Bad and the Ugly/Pretty: An introduction

My apologies for not having posted on this blog in a very very long time. I know that you have all been dying without news of my adventures in Kiwi land. (Ok, one person commented to me that they were having trouble procrastinating without my epic blog posts. Glad to know that my Fulbright is leading to a decline in productivity in the States.)

In order to keep from writing an incredibly lengthy ridiculous blog post with an epic summary, I am giving you three blog posts. I realize the overall length can't be changed but at least it won't be a solid block -- more summaries for those of you with busy lives.

So here they are: the good; the bad; and the ugly/pretty.

- my blog is good for procrastination
- 3 blog posts instead of 1!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A swing with a view

Let me say first, I apologize about the emo-ness of the last post. A wise woman *cough* Emma (my college roommate) *cough* once told me never to send an email after she was asleep. I suppose the same could go for blog posting. My second apology is for the length of time that has lapsed between the last post and this one. So a little bit about my life…

Two weekends ago I returned to Cape Palliser, the Southern tip of the North island that has all the seals that I visited on my tour of the Southern North Island. I went with a few people from my office to celebrate one of my officemate’s completion of her masters thesis. It was a lot of fun. We saw a lot of seals, including baby ones which were playing on the rocks in this little cove. It was really cute, but kind of smelly. Seals smell bad. There were seals all over the sides of the roads. I got a few pics of them at sunset – very artsy; see the picasa links at the top of the blog. We also climbed up to the lighthouse at Cape Palliser, the one that I mentioned Microsoft used for its Vista ads. The lighthouse itself is really cute – red and white striped. We walked up 249 steps to get from the bottom of the hill up to the foot of the lighthouse. The OCD in me was screaming for someone to build just one more step. I know some of you guys can empathize. We camped near these rocks called the Pinnacles. These formations are stacks of small rocks that have remained because of large anchoring rocks on their top while the rest of the rocks have eroded around them. Hard to explain. Look at the pictures. They were really cool. And yes, this was yet another place where Peter Jackson filmed a LOTR sequence. Probably the road to some fortress or part of the endless wandering that goes on in the movies.

The research update: Things are still kind of stuck. I finally got in contact with this guy who’ll help me identify my cell types but he hasn’t emailed me back about what day I can come up to visit him. I was at a welcome party tonight hosted by the Fulbright NZ alumni association and a retired professor from my university was there. I started talking about my project and he looked extremely skeptical and basically told me (in a much nicer way) that he thought my project was ill conceived. Wasn’t really that encouraging, but I’m confident that my advisers won’t lead me astray and, to a certain extent, I’ve got to work with what I’ve got. This is also not my PhD so if it’s not the most brilliant work of my career, I’ll just have to forgive myself.

To distract myself from counting cells that I can’t even positively identify, Nicky, my primary adviser, has got me starting on permit requests/ research proposals to the Department of Conservation. As weird as it sounds, filling out these pieces of paper has been quite fun. It’s given me a chance to reconnect with how cool these animals are and why I’m excited about my project. I’ve also never had to write “I will be walking and talking” so much. “What consequences of your actions do you foresee for: Native plants? Um, I might step on them, but I’ll try really hard not to. …Historical sights? I’ll be walking around looking for tuatara.” … “What of your project will be visible? Me. I’ll be walking around looking for tuatara.” …“What noise will be produced? Human speech, at normal speaking volume.” You get the idea. I swear whoever reviews my application at DOC will think I’m slow. I’m kind of contemplating using (not entirely appropriate) synonyms for “walking” and “talking.” E.g. “I anticipate that in the process of traversing the island, I may cause disturbance to the animals with my orations.” I also spent yesterday and today frantically trying to cut down my thesis for an anole newsletter. I managed to get it from 44 pages to 11. I was pretty proud of myself. (Of course, single spacing helped a bit.)

The most exciting piece of lab news, however, is that I got to hold a tuatara!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! His name is Spike. Danielle, one of the grad students in my office, is looking for antibodies to salmonella in their blood and she and Sue, the woman who takes care of the tuatara (in addition to running field trips, etc. and being amazing) let me tag along. I was pretty stoked. I’m going to a nature reserve with them tomorrow when they’re bleeding more tuatara. I’m extremely excited. :D

Outside of research and work, life is good. I have discovered that New Zealand has swings with the most amazing views. There are few things I enjoy as much as swinging. It’s very relaxing just breathing in the fresh air and swinging back and forth. Last Monday after rock climbing, Julie and I stopped on this playground on the waterfront and played on the swings. There was a beautiful view of all the lights around the harbor, the water, and Te Papa (the national museum) which was lit up. It was also a nice warm night. I’ve been pretty happy here but that was a definite high point. Then Sunday, Julie and I took a walk around the botanical garden. Again we gravitated to the swings (although the zip line was also a blast. I’m a big fan of Wellington playgrounds.) This time the swings looked out onto a beautiful forested hill with lots of big trees. It was just nice and peaceful. (Everyone knows how much I love green. How could I not love it?)

Amazingly the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano has managed to affect my life, even here on the opposite side of the globe. My mom was supposed to be on a flight out of LAX 9 hours ago heading to New Zealand to visit me. Unfortunately she had made the decision to accompany my dad on a business trip to London first and they got stuck there. They managed to make it out today, which is very exciting. My mom had to postpone her trip a week but I still get to see her next week. I’m really excited!

I also had the experience of celebrating my birthday for the first time not in North America and on a different continent than my family and friends. I got homesick for the first time since my second day here, but the silver lining is that I’ve gotten two birthdays. Very few people worked out the time difference between here and the States, so I’ve gotten to enjoy my birthday all over again today with the onslaught of facebook messages and emails. Thank you to everyone. I also went out with my lab last night, which was nice. Everyone sang happy birthday to me; it made me feel loved, especially as I was missing my loved ones. The Kiwis are wonderful. I ended up going over to one of my labmates’ flat to play Cranium. Remind me to do my Victoria Beckham impression for you some time…

Finally, the Fulbright NZ alumni association had a welcome party tonight for the Fulbright grantees, which I mentioned above. The American ambassador was there with his partner. I’m pretty sure we’re besties now, the ambassador and me. I talked to him about the tuatara, explained that it was a reptile and then went on to explain what makes a mammal a mammal and the system of Linnean classification to him. (Which he then asked me to do in front of the entire group when we, the grantees, had to introduce ourselves. I swear he asked for it. I didn’t do all of this completely unprompted.) He’s also from LA. (His partner, Dwayne, and I were talking about my high school and our rival school, where their godsons went.) As soon as I told the ambassador where I was from he said he’d pegged me as a valley girl. Do I really sound that ditzy?

- Seals and lighthouses and OCD make for an interesting mix. A smelly mix with lots of counting.
- Research is stuck and possibly ill conceived anyway. But at least I got to hold a tuatara!!!
- I have rediscovered my love of playing on swing sets and New Zealand’s got some amazing ones.
- My mom’s coming to visit soon!
- David Huebner, the American ambassador and I are tiz-ight. Or, like, I mean, like, he, like thinks I’m like cool. Like, ok?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Quiz Nation

I know I normally post updates of what I've been doing, but this blog is equally about my observations of down under and I found this amusing.

One thing I've noticed since I got to New Zealand is that the New Zealanders love their quizzes. Nearly every restaurant/ bar I've been into has a weekly quiz night. I mentioned participating in one during Fulbright orientation. My officemates attend a quiz night every Tuesday and my landlord's wife mentioned meeting a guy I'd gone tramping with when he joined her quiz team at the pub. I've seen advertisment for quiz night fundraisers. Everyday at lunch, I and a large portion of the chemical genetics lab do the 5 minute quiz included in the newspaper. Quizzes are everywhere. A popular beer brand, Tui (named after an ubiquitous bird with an awesome vocal repertoire), has questions under its bottle caps that Marcus, my former flatmate, would always test me on.

However, despite all of this, I failed to notice just how much the Kiwis love their trivia until tonight. *If you were the giggling kid in 7th grade health class, you might want to skip this part.* I opened a pad and found the backing of the adhesive strip, instead of being plain or printed with a logo, was printed with trivia facts. I don't know who figured out that lettuce has been grown and cultivated for more than 2500 years, nor do I know why Barbie's being 25cm tall or Kermit having 11 points on his collar is noteworthy. But if I'm ever called upon to use that information, I'll have it at my disposal. Thanks, Libra pads.

*You can come back now.* In other news, we finally have our wireless network set up. For some reason this task fell to me, as the most technically proficient member of the flat. (We are in serious trouble.) I managed to get it working by *shock! horror!* reading and following the directions. Unfortunately I'm better at the direction following than the creative thought. When it came time to pick a network name, I thought, "I know. I'll call it 359A (our address)." Julie rejected that as boring; we ended up with "Lady Gaga" (my blindly typing in Julie's 8th suggestion -- at least I rejected "Brangelina").

The installation guide then instructed me to come up with a network key. It suggested something with punctuation and words not in the dictionary -- possibly a short phrase. Stupidly not realizing that this would be our password, I wrote a sentence that has 3 capital letters, several spaces and a word that few people can spell. It took my friend Ben 7 tries to enter the password and he knew what it was. Guess people won't be stealing our internet. Michael wasn't around for the set up. Upon arriving home and finding this out, he gave me a goal for the year, "Less book smarts, more street smarts." We'll see how it goes.

- Kiwis love their trivia. I knew there was a (or 200) reason(s) I love this country.
- We have a wireless network! You can't read its poker face, it'll follow you until you love it and it's harder to break into than Fort Knox.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sitting on the floor

I moved all my stuff to this flat a week ago yesterday. As I sit here in a completely unfurnished living room, listening to the sweet sounds of a sander, I am thinking that we should’ve waited. To any future Fulbrighters: it’s much easier to move into an established flat than to try to set one up for a year. But I’m still pretty sure that it’ll be awesome once it’s done. We’ve already leapt the hurdles of a leaking washing machine, a closet that was a boarded up chimney with the charred ashes coming out to prove it, truly nasty carpeting and an oven that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in 10 years. Oh wait. That’s because it hadn’t. Word’s still out on whether our dishwasher will ever work.

There were some interesting moments. I spent Saturday and Sunday night on Marcus’ couch (at my old flat) which weren’t my most restful nights of sleep. (I woke up at 4am on Monday to find the tv blaring, Marcus asleep on the other couch and all the lights on – including one I didn’t know how to turn off.) Monday night was a truly awkward sleepover in the living room with Michael – the Aussie creative writing masters student whom I still didn’t really know at the time. We were trying to avoid the paint fumes so we put our mattresses down in the living room. Apparently I talk in my sleep. A lot. Just the way I want to introduce myself to my new flatmate. (In case you’re wondering, among other things, my unconscious self would like you to “check the website.”) I also still don’t have curtains (which means interesting gymnastics behind my bed when getting dressed in the morning – my windows face out onto the street). Still it’s getting there slowly but surely and I’m sure it’ll be awesome. At least my room’s cheery. (See picture.)

At home I am one of the least religious people ever. Other than being a very knowledgable Jew at age 5, the result of going to a Jewish preschool, most of my experiences with religion have been academic or accompanying more devout friends to the occasional Passover seder or church service. I figure, why change that now I’m in New Zealand? So that’s exactly what I’m doing. Tuesday, Julie (my new flatmate and the other Fulbright) and I went to a Passover seder. It was probably the most fun seder I’ve ever been to. (Except of course, for the moment in one seder where my father – from whom I get my Jewish genes – when asked to read the story of Moses’ mother sending him down the river to avoid death, confidently declared that “She let the basket go, bearing the baby Jesus.” Um, Dad, wrong religion.) No one made any reference to Jesus during this seder but we did have a “lamb bone” made from brown paper and duct tape and an orange on the seder plate. (Supposedly some chauvinist rabbi in years past said that “women belong in synagogue as much as an orange belongs on a seder plate.”) Also, one person put bacon in the salad they brought. Whoops. Possibly most importantly for me, I finally, at age 22, for the first time in my life found the afikomen! (For those of you unfamiliar with Passover tradition, the afikomen is a piece of matzah hidden during the seder that has to be eaten at the end. Generally the children search for it and the one who finds it gets a prize – or gets to ransom its return.) This was huge for me. Yes, I may have run off to find it before anyone else thought to look and yes, I may be a decade too old for this sort of thing, but I was happy.
Today I explored my Christian side. Julie’s Catholic and her family’s really big on Easter. She anticipated getting homesick so I said I’d go to mass with her. It was very interesting and the music was awesome. Peter (Lifland) always liked being in church for the music. I can totally understand why. Perhaps more interesting to me than the mass is how big of a deal Easter is here. Everything was shut on Good Friday and you couldn’t drink at a restaurant or bar if you weren’t eating. Today again everything is shut for Easter Sunday. Also, schools get a holiday break for Easter. Even my university has a 5 day weekend. It’s crazy! (Not that I’m complaining about time off.)

Yesterday Julie, Michael and John (whom Julie and I had met at the seder) went to red rocks, this rock formation on the south coast of Wellington. The rocks are covered in an iron oxide that makes them turn red. Local Maori legend is that the rocks are red from the blood of a historic chief’s daughters. There were particularly rough seas and they were worried about their father so they beat their hands on the rocks. The walk itself was gorgeous (pic above) – we got there about 3 in the afternoon and were out at the point at sunset. Made the walk back a bit dark, but whatever. (Pictures on picasa soon.) Perhaps the most exciting thing, though, was we saw a fur seal! We’d heard there was one around on the rocks near the shore, so I was climbing down to the rocks when I saw what looked like a log… with a face. Seals are awesome. It woke up and started stretching, almost posing, which was awesome. If the wind wasn’t strong enough to lift me up (it was really hard to stand at some points) and the sun wasn’t going down, I could’ve stayed there for hours. (I’ve been well trained by the summers staring at anoles.)

In other news, I continue to wait by my email for word of what the tuatara cells I’m looking at actually are. Hopefully the guy will email me soon. Oh the joys of research. I’m going to start volunteering at the SPCA pretty soon. Julie and I had an orientation last Wednesday. I also played my first truly successful April fool’s joke. I managed to trick my dad, brother, Emma, Kyle, Zach, Hal, Sungmi and Will (basically, your standard mix of friends and family). All of them know my former flatmate smoked a lot of pot. I convinced them that I’d been at a party at my former flat; the police showed up to a noise complaint and found people smoking pot, took down my name and that had eventually filtered back to Fulbright. I then wrote a fake email from Fulbright that said because I’d been somewhere where people were breaking the law, I had to write a formal letter of apology to the US Embassy, Fulbright NZ and the New Zealand government in order to keep my Fulbright. It was awesome. Also a little unfair since I played the prank on them on April 1 here, which was March 31 there.

- moving sucks. But we’re so close! … Now to get our hands on some furniture.
- I’m attempting to catch up on 22 years devoid of religion in one week. Also, I found the afikomen. Finally. I am awesome.
- Oranges apparently belong on seder plates. Who knew?
- Seals are awesome. Seals at sunset in New Zealand are even awesomer. The wind in Wellington, not so awesome.
- I have finally successfully fooled someone (or 8 someones) on April Fool’s day. My life is complete.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Moving! ... sort of

Don't let anyone tell you that ability in the classroom directly correlates with being able to function in the real world. I may have mentioned that my first act in NZ (besides running through the Auckland airport with my bags at 5:30am and oohing and aahing at Wellington harbor) was to completely fry a power converter by trying to plug my laptop into it. (Flash, pop, smoke, the whole shebang.) My second act was to go out and buy an adapter for my laptop (which apparently has a built in converter anyway and fries external convertors) and all was happy again. Until last night. As I was packing to move, I found a little single outlet surge protector I had brought with me from the states. I figured now that I had an adapter that could handle its three prongs, maybe I should plug it in.

*Note to self: Never. Ever. Assume you know what you're doing with an electronic device.
*Note to others: I am completely inept with technology. If it has wires, don't trust me with it.

As soon as I plugged it in, I saw the familiar spark, smelled smoke, etc. Oh dear, another electronic fried. Thankfully for me, I'm fairly low maintenance when it comes to things that plug in and having figured out a way to charge my laptop, I shouldn't have a problem for the rest of the time here. (Because I've fried everything with a plug that I brought other than my laptop.) Then I realized that I couldn't get my lamp to turn on, and the internet had also turned off. On my last night in my flat (or so I thought -- read on), I had managed to knock out power to half the house. Normal people would have just gone to the circuit board and flipped a switch. I did not know to do this (and was too scared to touch anything once someone told me what to do) so I frantically called my flatmate and then sat and waited until he came home to flip the switch.

As I write this I am sitting in the bedroom that I have been living in for the past month and a half. The only things currently in the room are a desk and chair, an empty chest of drawers, a small overnight bag and my backpack.

Yesterday I moved all of my stuff out of my current flat into the flat I'll be living in from now until January. Julie, Michael (our new Aussie flatmate) and I rented a van and ran all over the Wellington area picking up beds and shifting all of our stuff to our new place. (Thankfully Michael was there and used to driving 1) large vans and 2) on the left side of the road. Julie and I would have gotten ourselves killed.)

After picking up both Julie's and Michael's new beds and doing a lot of shopping at The Warehouse (basically the NZ equivalent of Target), we arrived out our new flat. There we discovered that our landlord is painting all of the bedrooms in the flat (which he hadn't told us he'd do). Also, he is painting my bedroom bright green, the same color as the nail polish I'm wearing right now. I happen to love the color but you have to wonder what possesses a guy to pick highlighter green as a wall color without consulting the future tenant.

The downside of all this painting is that, even though he said we could move in yesterday, we can't really sleep there without inhaling paint fumes. This wasn't the biggest problem for Julie (who has her flat with her insane flatmate for another week) or Michael (who's staying with family friends). It was a slightly bigger issue for me whose bed is now sitting on its side in the living room of a half painted flat. I ended up sleeping on the couch of my current flat. So that is why I am sitting in this state of limbo: living out of a suitcase in my current, soon to be former flat, in an empty room that yesterday was mine.

- Never, ever let me near something with a cord unsupervised. Unless you like sparks.
- I've sort of moved! Except not really, but kind of.
- At least it'll be green when I get there.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bruised knees and impending madness

My quest to be more outdoorsy continues. At the expense of my knees, which now resemble nothing so much as plums.

Fruit digression: Like the ones I bought at the Sunday veggie market. Apparently my vegetable impulse buying continues as well. Last week's random purchase: kiwifruit. (One has to be very careful to call the fruit "kiwifruit" not a "kiwi." "Kiwis" are people or birds but never fuzzy green things.)

Back to the outdoors: I've started rock climbing! Actually, I guess, started climbing again is more like it. I have always liked climbing (especially the whole being roped in so you can't fall thing) but haven't done it in years. The tramping club took a bunch of us out to Baring Head, a rock formation at a beach about 40 minutes from Wellington. It was a lot of fun but I was really rusty. (And climbing in sneakers, which my friend who's much more knowledgeable about these things informs me is enough to make it pretty hard to climb. Yes, it was all the shoes and not my total lack of balance or upper body strength. -- And yes, I know I'm supposed to use my legs. See my comment about lack of balance.) Long story short, I banged my knees a lot as I fell off the rock (multiple times). One time I was climbing quite far to the side of where I was roped in and managed a George of the Jungle-esque swing around the side of the rockface over the head of the (kind of cute in an "Am I still allowed to find undergrads cute?") climbing officer of the tramping club's head. I think my subconscious thinks it's my job to keep belayers (the people keeping me from cracking my skull open) on their toes. All in all a fun day though.

And just to be extra sporty I went climbing with Julie at a rock gym in Wellington last night. I also managed some spectacular falls there but this time completely avoided hitting the heads of anyone, cute or not, and actually managed to get to the top of some of the climbs. Alas, I managed to hit my knee again, so now it looks like a plum with a bruise. (I probably shouldn't have worn shorts today but the laundry situation is dire. I guess some things don't change.)

Saturday night was very interesting. I had the closest I'll probably ever come to a blind date/ the beginning of every Dateline story about children abducted by people they met on the internet. I went out to dinner and a play with a guy I'd never met and had only briefly emailed with. Long story short: I had emailed a guy upon first arriving about seeing his flat. His flatmate ended up showing me the place and I took a different flat so I never met the guy I was emailing with, an American who'd been in Wellington for a few years. He told me about an arts festival going on and invited me to a show. A few weeks later, after a couple emails about the dearth of Mexican food in Wellington, (Sidenote: it's bad. Do not take Felipe's, midnight taco trucks, Chipotle or even Taco Bell for granted.) we met. Suprisingly (it is me we're talking about) it wasn't particularly awkward and I gained a lot of good information. I have now been to the one decent Latin American (I say that because my dish had elements of food from all over Central and South America) restaurant in Wellington. Also the show we went to was FANTASTIC (especially for those of us who can still sing every lyric to every top 40 song of the 90s). It was a one man show about a boy band -- this guy managed to play an entire boy band and its manager by himself. It was incredibly impressive.

Research is going pretty well. I have hit a stumbling block, however. (Yay science!) I am looking for 5 different cell types in the blood, in smears from 1988 and 2008. I had taken tons of really beautiful pictures of tons of cells on the $80,000(!) microscope they let me play with. I thought I could consistently identify all 5 different cell types and was good to start my project. Then I realized that every eosinophil (don't worry about the name -- just a white blood cell type) I had found came from a 2008 sample and every heterophil from a 1988. Basically, I had identified everything wrong and needed to start again. The general consensus from everyone I've showed seems to be that they're cool looking, very different from mammals and incredibly confusing. My adviser told me yesterday that she thinks I'm going to go crazy. Little does she know I'm already a bit nuts. Should be interesting.

- Hannah : mountain goat :: anole on teflon : anole not on teflon. (Teflon is one of the few surfaces an anole can't stick on. Yeah, I know it's a lame analogy -- I've been staring at blood cells all day.)
- Hannah's knees : plums :: tuatara: lizard (I'm going to stop trying. I knew there was a reason the verbal section was my worst score on the GRE...)
- Say "no" to cannibalism. Eat kiwifruit, not kiwis.
- New Zealand has erased my paranoia about people I met on the internet but has not instilled in me a desire to do laundry.
- I never thought I'd say this, but I miss Taco Bell.
- There's a strong chance I'm going to go insane in the near future, or so say my advisers.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tramping is like herping

Oh dear. I keep telling myself I won’t write these epic posts that cover 2 weeks at a time. And I keep doing it. Maybe I’ll learn eventually. Maybe. So the highlights of my life:

Last weekend I went on my first “tramping” trip. For those of you who are unfamiliar with New Zealand slang, “to tramp” is to go on a multi day hiking/ backpacking trip. It has nothing to do with promiscuity. Geez, between “tramping” and “herping,” I’ve managed to make all of my outdoor adventures seem like adventures of a different kind.

The tramping: I joined the Victoria University Tramping Club last week. Last weekend was their “freshers” tramping trip, an easy 2 day, 2 night hike through Tararua Forest Park. When we left on Friday night, it was really windy and rainy but the weather was nice for the rest of the weekend. I was able to borrow a backpack and a sleeping pad from one of my office mates and off I went. I was in a group of 5 people: 3 American study abroad students and a Kiwi freshman guy led by a former member of the tramping club who was visiting from Norway and felt like leading a trip for old time’s sake. As the ovo-lacto vegetarian group, we were affectionately dubbed the “Octopussies” by the tramping club president, who after a few beers could only remember that the term “ovo-lacto” started with “o.” I didn’t mind the nickname that much but I’m not sure how fond Wilbur was of it.

The actual tramp was gorgeous. (As always, pics are on picasa and I finally figured out how to make sure I had the right links and they’re accessible. Links to each of my picasa albums are on the upper right hand of the blog.) When we got to the Tararuas on Friday night, we camped immediately. Even though it was intermittently stormy we still got some amazing views of the Milky Way and the Southern sky. Fun fact: Orion can be seen in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. I was excited about that. Another fun fact: Orion is the only constellation I can actually find. Fun fact 3: There are about 10 million “Southern Crosses” in the sky. I still don’t know which is the real one.

Saturday, we walked for 5ish hours from the carpark and over a suspension bridge (about 70m up! I was really proud of myself for getting across. The department of conservation had helpfully posted a sign about it being dangerous to cross in high winds b/c it sways so much. Thanks, DOC.) From there we walked through the forest, along a river and down to Totara Flats, a nice grassy area next to the river. I also went swimming in the river (if jumping and flailing in response to the near freezing temperatures counts as “swimming”) which was fun. Some brave people were jumping off a rock on the opposite bank into the river. Since I am afraid of heights (recall my standing on top of a rock on the senior class trip while everyone in the class jumped into the river twice before finally throwing myself off) and lack a blubber layer, I passed. That night I passed out at 9:30. I’ve never slept so well in my entire life. I did, however, keep sliding downhill in my sleeping bag only to find myself crushed into the fetal position against my backpack. My legs were also intensely sore and bugbitten. I can’t complain though – one of the girls in our group rolled her ankle 3 separate times on Saturday. She still beat me to the top of the hill though.  I’m the tortoise, not the hare. Yup, that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

Sunday we walked along the river and up a huge hill (400m elevation gain – roughly 170 bottles of beer on the wall, for those of you who are wondering) to descend the other side into the carpark and go home. (Yup. I said “carpark.” I’ve also completely organically started calling “French fries” “chips.”) We also walked across another, smaller suspension bridge that was supposed to be restricted to 1 person only. Fortunately for me, the person following me was Wilbur and being the delightfully immature 18 year old boy he is and despite my pleas that he stay off the bridge as I was afraid of heights, he decided to get on the bridge while I was walking across and jump on it. At least we know immaturity is an international phenomenon. The walk itself was really gorgeous. I kept feeling like I was walking through Middle Earth. It was the classic forest, with the liverworts and moss, really pretty roots and awesome tree ferns dotting the forest. It was also kind of painful. When we stood up after the 2 hour bus ride, I almost couldn’t walk. My knees and butt have never actually been asked to pull my weight and they were very shocked that I had demanded so much of them.

I’m going rock climbing with the tramping club tomorrow. That should be fun as well.

In lab things are going well. I test stained a couple of blood smears and they came out well! I emailed one of the technicians here at the university asking for her advice on which stain to use. She told me the name of the stain and suggested that I “stain it as soon as the blood smear is dry. Don’t leave it overnight.” Which was helpful. But kind of irrelevant – the majority of my samples have been sitting unstained for over 22 years now. My “fresh” samples are 2 years old. But they worked! I was pretty excited. I’ve put a picture to show you what tuatara blood cells look like. They’re weird (for a number of reasons but mostly) because their erythrocytes or red blood cells are nucleated! Mammalian red blood cells don’t have a nucleus. That makes the tuatara blood more visually interesting but also harder to find leukocytes (white blood cells) in. However, the staining is going well, so I’m pretty stoked. It is annoying though because it takes 7minutes for me to stain 2 slides and I have definitely 50 and up to 160 slides to stain. Not to mention I still have to figure out what these little blobs actually are. A problem for next week. 

Probably the biggest news I have right now is that I’m moving! I am moving into a 3 bedroom flat with Julie (another Fulbrighter; labor attorney). Her roommate is completely nuts and she was looking for a new flat. She found one but needed two roommates and I decided to be one of them. It’s pretty close to the university and we’ll be living with this nice Australian guy doing his masters in creative writing. I actually decided to move into the flat (still haven’t seen it) a couple hours before leaving on my tramping trip. I came back from a weekend without cell reception to find out we’d gotten the flat and Julie’d already found our third flatmate. Pretty sweet. I only foresee one problem with this: Julie is half Italian, loves to feed people and is trying to gain weight.

I’m a little sad to be leaving my current flat. I really like my current flatmate and the flat; it just made more sense to live with Julie, whom I eat dinner with at least twice a week anyway. I’m hoping Marcus and I will stay good friends though. We’ve had some funny adventures. Ask me about them.

Other than that, nothing much to report. A couple days ago there was a lunchtime Fulbright lecture at the American embassy on the attitudes and perspectives of New Zealand and American scientists and to some extent the interaction of scientists and public policy. (How they feel about their jobs, what’s working, what’s not, etc.) It was a very interesting lecture although I think the more interesting part might have been trying to get into the embassy. We were not allowed to take pictures of any part of the embassy and upon entering the embassy were required to leave anything electronic in the guardhouse. Will someone please explain to me how I am going to bring down the embassy (of the government that is funding my stay here) with an ipod shuffle, a USB key and a computer charger. (I brought my laptop to work but hadn’t had to plug it in yet.) Side note: the rules don’t change if you “really love America.” Julie tried that tactic.

Hope all’s well with you. It’s starting to get cold here. Sometimes. Wellington faces directly South to Antarctica and when those Southerlies start blowing, it’s crazy. I thought I was going to fall over walking home from work one day. As Marcus told me, never leave home without your jacket, no matter how nice it looks.

- Tramping is awesome and, like herping, has nothing to do with sex.
- I’m in bad shape. My body has decided to punish me for that.
- I’m afraid of heights and the department of conservation isn’t helping.
- But I’m coming back for more. I’m so sporty.
- Tuatara blood is awesome! And confusing. But mostly awesome. And really really old.
- I’m moving! Julie and I are officially attached at the hip more so than we were before. If I start talking about “The Man” or the benefits of unions, it’ll be evidence that we share a brain too. I may also not be able to fit through doors in a short while.
- No one likes America and I’m off to google ways of using USB keys as offensive weapons.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tiny tsunamis and jumping on hills

More fun in Wellington. Two Fridays ago, my lab instituted a “mandatory pub night,” which consisted of us and some other members of the school of biological sciences going to the staff club for drinks at 4:30pm. (We were really eager to stop working. This may have largely been the result of a seminar on productivity that 4 of the 7 office mates attended the previous day. Ever since from 8 to 10am they are not allowed to do anything but sit at their desk and write. Apparently the first day, Friday, was particularly difficult.) The staff club is a bar that is only for postgraduate students and staff and sits on top of the main library. As many of you know, my roommates and I love our libraries (more so my roommates – I can’t really sit still. Sorry, Em.), but I never thought I’d be drinking basically inside one. The view was amazing, though. The university is on top of a huge hill and the library is quite tall so from the staff club you can see a lot of Wellington and the harbor. Pretty awesome. It was also nice to hang out with my office mates and get to chat.

Last weekend was pretty calm. On Saturday I saw the dragon boat races in Wellington harbor. Dragon boats, from what I understand, are basically just large canoes powered by 20 person teams. The teams were from all over (including Australia!) and consisted of work groups, school groups and just random groups of friends. It was pretty fun and it was cool to see everyone lined up along the waterfront. It was also my flatmate’s birthday. We held a party for him on Saturday. It was fun to meet all his friends. I think I have found the only group of Kiwis that actually hug. (Although there are also a fair number of Americans, Canadians and Brits mixed in with Marcus’ friends.) Sunday I spent basically the entire day in the flat because all of New Zealand had a tsunami warning due to the Chilean earthquake. After having been up until 4am cleaning up from Marcus’ party, I was woken up by two separate phone calls warning me about the tsunami… while I was in bed, on a hill 12 stories above sea level. The tsunami that hit New Zealand turned out to be 2ft tall but I stayed on the hill all day just to humor everyone.

I’m still pretty much in the planning stages of my project – lots of reading and brainstorming. I went through the blood smears we have from the population of tuatara I’m researching to figure out what I can look at. They’re stored in this locked, unmarked room in the bio building that houses the incubators for the tuatara eggs. The door’s alarmed and only a few people have keys – we have to call security every time we go in or out. It’s crazy. I got to see some of the incubating eggs and I’ll be here when they hatch! I’m excited for baby tuatara! It’s also kind of fun because there are 2 incubators, each at a different temperature. Tuatara have temperature dependent sex determination so by sticking an egg in a 20 degree or 23 degree Celcius incubator you can get a girl or a boy, respectively.

The nice thing about still being in the planning stages/ not having official classes is no homework! I’ve used this to great advantage, hanging out with people or doing something almost every night last week. Tuesday Julie and I intended to go rock climbing but instead ended up eating pasta and ice cream, watching Sex and the City and painting our nails. Clearly I’m making up for any time lost to homework during my adolescence. Wednesday, the international office at Vic (my uni – short for university, meaning university or college in the American sense; “college” here means “high school”) arranged a welcome party. It was quite fun; I didn’t meet quite as many people as I’d like but the food was good (even if they didn’t have very much of it) and they had some Samoan students perform traditional dance, which was really cool. They also had a quiz competition and a costume competition for the person with the best representation of their “national dress.” I wore a Red Sox t-shirt and jeans. I don’t think anyone thought it was a costume. The winner was a man in lederhosen, who had earlier in the evening done the haka to win a rugby ball. Needless to say, I doubt I’ll ever see that again.

(For those of you who are unfamiliar with the haka, it’s a Maori war chant done by the All Blacks, the national rugby team, to intimidate their opponents before each game. Further side note: According to our guide at Te Papa during orientation, the haka that the All Blacks do was written by a warrior who was running from some people who were trying to kill him. An old woman hid him by having him jump in a hole that she then covered with her skirt while she pointed his pursuers in the wrong direction. She was not wearing anything under her skirts and the view that the warrior saw in looking up inspired his haka. Not really the sort of thing one would expect to be shouted at a rugby game.)

This weekend was a lot of fun. Saturday Brad, Julie, Elizabeth and I (4 of the 5 Wellington Fulbrighters) went on a hike in the hills near Wellington. The suburbs of Wellington spread out from the CBD up the hills away from the harbor. They’re all really beautiful, green suburbs with a lot of public parks and a lot of nature preserves. We walked past the huge fenced nature reserve in Karori and almost to Otari-Wilton’s bush, the bush preserve. We then cut through a little valley of replanted native brush along a stream, up a hill past an old (but beautiful) cemetery and then up and along a ridge line in the hills above Wellington. We passed through pine forest which felt a lot like Southern California, except that every once in a while there’d be these huge tree ferns sticking out. Felt like being in a combination of Jurassic park, Costa Rica and Big Bear (2 hours northeast of LA). Also, ironically the Monterey pine is flourishing in NZ along with some other CA pines which are declining in CA.

We hiked through some fields that house cows occasionally. The difference between the vegetation on the two sides of the fence separating the grazing field from the native brush was striking. It’s clear what an impact livestock can have. From the top of the hills we could see water on both sides of the ridgeline (Wellington’s in a sheltered harbor on one side of a piece of jutting land), wind farms, pastures and all of Wellington and its suburbs. It was pretty awesome. It was also exceedingly windy. There happened to be a man up at the top whom we stopped to take our picture. He then proceeded to describe seemingly everything he knew about Americans while we stood in a little dip in the hill with the wind whipping through. (For those of you who don’t know, our friend informed us that getting elected president of the US is easy – you just have to win California and Texas. Simple.) When we got to the highest point of the hills, we had a ridiculous photoshoot – jumping, cartwheeling, headstands, etc. – if you’d like to see what America’s promising youths are up to, the pics are on facebook. We’ll blame it on the fact that the air was thinner up there. Yeah, that’s it… Also I’m wearing my typically ridiculous outdoors gear – between my dorky hat, hiking boots, zip off pants, my binoculars and my pigtails, Elizabeth said she could turn me into an explorer doll.

Afterwards I somehow managed to summon up the energy to attend a birthday party across town for someone in the school of biological sciences. (Two nights out in a row – I’m a party animal!) This morning I went to a farmer’s market outside Te Papa. The tsunami thwarted my plans to go last week and somehow I never made it to the grocery store so I was craving fresh fruits and veggies. Also, Wellington as a general rule is quite expensive, so I went a little crazy with the cheap produce. Still I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to eat that much stuff, let alone figure out how to cook it. I’m probably one of the few people to impulse buy corn. If you have any suggestions for meals involving spinach, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, garlic, apples, watermelon, potatoes, bell pepper or corn, let me know. Other than a large block of butter and a block of cheddar cheese, that’s all I have to eat. (Still haven’t gotten to the grocery store…) I also went bird watching in the botanical garden this afternoon with a grad student at Vic. I finally saw my first tui (a native bird with a white bib that is a very good mimic and makes a ton of calls; it also is the mascot for a brand of beer here. I knew what to look for by looking at beer bottles – who needs field guides when there’s Saturday night?) Also saw a native NZ pigeon (a bit larger than our normal street pigeons with a white body and iridescent green feathers on its head down to its chest). All in all a great but exhausting weekend. And now I’m off to bed.

- I should blog more often because these posts are getting epic.
- Studying in a library is fun. Drinking in a library with a beautiful view is better.
- Tsunamis are real. But in this case really really small.
- Not having homework is awesome. It allows you to spend time reliving 7th grade sleepovers and watching Bavarian men chant in Maori about unpleasant views of old women’s legs.
- I got to see a tuatara egg and in a couple months I’ll get to see it hatch!
- Wellington is super gorgeous and it’s even better when viewed for the top. And even even better when you attempt handstands, cartwheels and jumps at the top of hills. And even^3 better if you’re dressed like Dora the explorer.
- I’m in for a lot of vegetable eating. Almost solely vegetable eating, unless I need a beer to help me with my birding.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Life in Wellington: hills, uni, rugby and ketchup

So I’ve finally settled down into life in Wellington. I moved into my flat (everyone calls it a “flat” – don’t look at me like that) two weeks ago (the 15th). I had another adventure on trademe (basically the NZ equivalent of Craigslist) and my first foray into online auctions. I can see how someone would get addicted to such things. It was amazing the animosity I felt towards the other people bidding on beds. I might have actually cussed out “houlahan53.” I was also astonished by the fury of bidding that goes on in the last 2 minutes. Anyway, long story short, I got a bed! And it was cheap and it was delivered on the day I moved in, which was fantastic. I even managed to get bedding that same day and wash it in time to have a fully made bed that night. I felt so productive.

A note about shopping: it’s a major pain in the butt to try and furnish a room when you live at the top of a huge hill and you don’t have a car. I cannot count the weird looks I got as I walked across downtown Wellington lugging a duvet, sheets, trashcan, etc. Frankly, I’m surprised I made it at all. Full disclosure: there’s a cable car that goes up from the bottom of the hill in the CBD (central business district) to the top of the hill in the botanical garden. From there I can walk 3 blocks down the hill to my flat. It has saved my butt (literally) on a number of occasions, especially post grocery shopping. Pic above.

More about the flat: It’s very close to the botanical gardens, which makes me really happy. It’s about a 10 minute walk from campus (and it’s minimally hilly which is miraculous). It’s very bright and has a beautiful view of a bunch of trees. When I walk back from campus, I can see the harbor. I live there with a 24 year old engineering student named Marcus. He’s a Kiwi and has been introducing me to Kiwi phrases and his “mates.” I’ve met a couple, all of whom were very nice. Marcus has also introduced me to the truly freaky driving ads they have on NZ TV. My favorite is a series of ads featuring a freaky balding man that looks like the bastard child of an Amish man and a circus sideshow act. He sits at intersections with a huge carnival wheel which he spins to determine whether the person at the intersection (who’s usually making a poor choice, like darting into the intersection against the light) is going to have a “near miss”, “miracle”, “death”, etc. And if the wheel shows “death,” they actually show the crash! And then it just ends with “Intersections. It’s your call.” And my call is not to drive in New Zealand. Supposedly the drunk driving ads are worse (but I don’t stay up late enough to see them – I truly am pathetic).

I also had my university orientation last week. That was an interesting experience. I was at the international orientation which was actually quite fun. I met a lot of nice German people (lots of Germans in NZ) and a British guy, Ben, who couldn’t find any other Brits so he came over to Julie and me because of our American accents. The actual orientation was fine; it was the enrollment process after that was a pain in the butt. The enrollment process is set up in 5 consecutive steps and at each step the person only knows their step and where to go for the next step. Since I’m the only person in the university doing a Fulbright but not a degree, this meant that I had a code no one recognized and at every step I had to see 2-3 people (including the associate dean of students in the science faculty). After 10 lines, and two days, I am finally enrolled… as a second year masters student, which I certainly am not. Oh well. As long as I’m in the system. The guy at the international desk who was helping direct enrollment gave me a congratulatory candy when I finally got enrolled. I am also technically both a student and staff member. I also have 4 insurance policies through various things; my life is all about redundancy.

In other university news, I spent all of last week and most of this week reading tons and tons of papers about tuatara genetics and immunology. I find it amusing that I am doing this project given my nonexistent background in immunology, but I’m excited. I met with my advisors yesterday and I think I have a project laid out? I think. I’m still a little unclear on what I can accomplish in the time given so it’s possible I’ve laid out a PhD’s worth of work. *About to get boring and sciency* Right now I’m thinking of looking at the different numbers of various types of white blood cells in blood smears taken from a population that is not very genetically diverse. I’ll then compare the counts with counts from a genetically identical but more resource rich population, compare counts within that population seasonally and examine the correlation between counts and genetic diversity of immune genes (MHC heterozygosity). That should help me figure out what’s affecting the immunity of this population, whether it’s genetics, resource limitation or season. We’ll see how it goes. I’m a little confused about how to proceed from here…

*I’ve stopped the science stuff.* On Saturday, Ben and I went to the botanical garden. (My first time up the cable car without heaps of bags – I just said “heaps,” oh God, I’m assimilating.) We happened upon a cricket game and Ben tried to explain it to me. I’m still quite confused. Basically, this is what I remember about the game: There are two versions, one where you have each team go once and one that goes on for 5 days (and then there’s no guarantee of a winner). There are no strikes or balls. The ball can bounce before you hit it. If someone hits it, the two batters cross. You can’t bend your arm when bowling. Not a whole lot happens, especially early in the game when it seems like the batters can stand indefinitely and just watch the bowler tire himself out. Somehow “wickets” and “overs” are involved. I take back my previous statement. Rugby is easy. Cricket is bizarre.

Speaking of rugby, I went to my first rugby game! I actually really enjoyed it. Again, Ben (himself a rugby player) had to explain everything to me, Julie and Brad, another Fulbright. I have come to the conclusion that it is more fun to watch than American football for the following reasons: a 90 minute game actually lasts 90 minutes because they don’t stop every second; everyone plays all the time; every time someone kicks/ throws the ball out of bounds there’s a “lineout” where teams will lift up the tallest member of the team to catch the ball (kind of a mix of football and ballet); when someone tackles someone else, the game doesn’t stop – someone gets the ball out of the pile up, runs it a bit and then there’s another pile up. It leads to this kind of funny traveling pile effect. The rugby players are also seriously hardcore – they don’t really wear padding and they get patched up right on the field. One guy was injured, kept playing, got hit again and came off the field for 5 minutes to get his head stitched up before returning to the game. It’s probably just as exhausting being the medic as a player with all the running on and off the field they do. After the rugby game we went out. In other news, I have discovered that climbing the huge hill to my flat is a lot easier after a drink or two.

I also went to the beach for the first time since being in NZ. It was beautiful and windy – pics on picasa and facebook. After that Julie, Ben and I went out for sushi. Sushi is actually quite cheap and very good in Wellington. Except at the place we went. We ended up getting Dominoes and watching “He’s Just Not That Into You” to salvage the night at Julie’s place.

And now I’m going to introduce a new section: American – Kiwi differences. This post’s edition: food. As I said above, there’s a lot of great cheap sushi around. I was really shocked when I realized the good, cheap food option was sushi. In general there’s a lot of great Asian restaurants (and a serious dearth of Mexican). There also seems to be a lot of focus on gluten free food here. Menus and restaurants all over advertise their gluten free food. I’ve never seen a culture so conscientious about people with celiac disease. Butter: I can’t find a small block of it anywhere and it’s hard to find unsalted butter. (I found this out when shopping for ingredients for chocolate chip cookies. Also, all the measurements on the package are in grams, should make these cookies interesting.) And finally, the most frustrating food difference, they eat “tomato sauce” which is decidedly different in all but look from ketchup. You think it’s ketchup and then it turns out to be this sweet imposter! I told one of Marcus’ friends about my frustration and she helpfully suggested that you could get “proper ketchup” at the grocery store, “sold here by a brand called ‘Heinz’? I think.” I got some immediately.

- I’m moved into my lovely flat, close to the university. I also have bedding and groceries and my butt isn’t incredibly sore.
- My flatmate is awesome. New Zealand TV is scary. Like really scary.
- After two days of running around, I’m finally enrolled in university. …as a second year masters student in conservation biology. Close enough. I’m also the most over insured person on the planet.
- I now know as many Europeans as kiwis (especially if you count the Irish guy and the German girl in my office).
- Rugby >>>> football >>>>>>>>>>> cricket. I take back my previous summary statement. I like rugby. I do not understand cricket. Also, cricket never ends. Ever.
- Wellington is windy everywhere, especially the beach.
- If you’re coming to New Zealand, bring ketchup.
- picasa link:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Exploring the Southern North Island

To those of you who suggested that I go on a tour of Lord of the Rings filming sites, I have followed your advice. Although not intentionally. Amanda, Julie and I were trying to figure out something to do for today (Sunday and also Amanda’s last day in Wellington). We were thinking of going a little outside of Wellington to Martinborough in the Waiparapa Valley, one of the North Island’s best wine regions. We weren’t sure how to get there, though, since none of us really felt comfortable driving on the left side of the road and the public transportation options to get there are terrible. We ended up deciding to take a tour. The tour wasn’t running because not enough people wanted to go and so we ended up taking a different (and much better) tour. We got to see a number of LOTR filming sites, seals, countryside and one winery. It was awesome! This truly is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

So, details… the pics are on my picasa site:
Be forewarned that I didn’t edit my pics before tossing them up there so some of them are likely quite bad. I’ll label them when I can.

Lord of the Rings sites: Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is basically nothing left of the LOTR movie sets. (They did shoot 10 years ago, after all.) Turns out the cast, crew and production staff were very conscientious about not damaging or permanently altering their filming locations. We saw four major locations that were used in the filming. The first is actually just a quarry on the side of the highway leading North out of Wellington in the Hutt Valley. It’s not much to look at but this is where they built Helm’s deep and also some of the stone courtyards of Minas Tirith. According to our tour guide, there was a 6m high fence in front of the quarry during shooting so sometimes people on the hill on the other side of the valley would gather on their decks to try to spy over. Also, the Hutt River, along which the highway runs, is where they filmed a lot of the canoeing scenes, including the scene where the elven boats set out in front of a cliff. (Said “cliff” is a rock face that’s about 30m high, above which there are a bunch of houses and powerlines.)

We also went to Harcourt park, home to the entrance to Isengard. They put in a gravel path which they replanted when they were done. Supposedly you could tell the location for a little bit because the grass on the strip was a slightly different color. The park was also home to the orc tree scene. There’s a scene in the movie in which the orcs are cutting down trees to feed their fire to make weapons. It was filmed in the middle of this pretty neighborhood park. In order to not cut down any trees in the park and be able to film the scene multiple times, the production staff actually transported two huge trees from another location, roots and all. They then “replanted” them, disassembled them and labeled the location of every branch and reassembled them so they could be “cut down” and put back up multiple times. Also the trees didn’t have enough leaves so the crew added some. On a completely unrelated note, a huge seismic fault runs through the middle of the park. There are signs about former riverbeds that are now part of the park since they were raised by seismic activity. There’s also a huge suspension bridge that spans the Hutt river which leads to some really nice views (up on picasa).

The last LOTR site we saw was Rivendell. This is in the middle of a regional park and is the only LOTR site that’s marked. Something like 30 crew members came months in advance to build Rivendell around the trees along this (very steep) river bank. They built all the buildings 6ft off the ground so they wouldn’t damage the small plants. There’s a sign at the site that shows a pic of the half built set, including the power line that lies on the ridge across the river. I also stood next to the tree where Legolas was guarding Rivendell. Probably as close as I’ll ever get to Orlando Bloom.

In coming up from the Hutt Valley we drove along the Rimutaka mountain range along a very twisty road with an extremely steep drop off. (Someone actually drove off the side fairly recently, fell 600ft and managed to survive!) I was very glad that we did not attempt to drive. Especially since we were driving to wine country. In the Waiparapa valley we saw a lot of farmland including some of the 6 million cattle in NZ and many many sheep. (It’s true. New Zealand has a lot of sheep.) A lot of the area is still owned by the descendants of the original settlers of that land. (They gave the government a bush reserve so they could keep the land.)

We then followed the road out towards the beach. According to our guide, the area was being surveyed when in 1855 there was a huge earthquake. Since the surveyors had already done really detailed measurements of the area before the earthquake, they were able to give one of the best accounts of seismic activity there’s ever been. (I think it raised the entire area about 20 ft out of the sea.) The seismic activity in the area is very apparent. Entire sections of the road we were driving on have only been there for 15 years. The original road is lying to the side, perfectly horizontal and 20ft below the current road where it slipped in the last major earthquake. There are also periodic signs for tsunami escape routes up the hills. Kind of insane.

We then went to Palliser Bay. On the road there, we encountered a small town which has a really rough black sand/ pebble beach. All the trailers to haul boats out of the ocean there are bulldozers so that they can handle the rough conditions of the beach. (Someone painted their bulldozer bright pink.) There’s a really pretty lighthouse at one end of the bay and it was so picturesque that Microsoft took the same pic that the touring company uses to sell Vista. I was interested in Palliser Bay mainly because it’s home to probably the only seal breeding colony on the North Island. Technically we need a permit to view marine mammals, but whatever. We saw some baby seals. They were adorable! We also saw a lot of beautiful adult seals. Palliser Bay also has rocks that are red because of the ferric oxide. (Maori legend says they’re red because the chief killed two guards by smashing their heads on the rocks after they fell asleep when they were supposed to be protecting his daughter from being kidnapped.)

After Palliser Bay it was on to Martinborough, the small town that has become the capital of the wine region (built in the shape of a Union Jack b/c John Martin was that loyal to the crown). There are a lot of vineyards, olive trees and lavender planted in the area, making it very beautiful. We did a wine tasting at one of the wineries in the area. There was a huge rooster that was hanging around the wine tasting. He was very pretty and a little intimidating. It was fun smelling and tasting all the different wines and especially helpful to have a guide sheet. I wish I had actually taken the wine seminar at Kirkland because I knew nothing. I especially didn’t know that I probably shouldn’t have swallowed all the wine they gave us. Made the 80 min drive down the windy road interesting… The other people on the tour taught me the rules of rugby on the way back to Wellington. We didn’t attempt to tackle cricket.

- I saw where they made (parts of) the Lord of the Rings trilogy! There’s nothing left but at least I can say I’ve been there. Also, Orlando Bloom and I are probably besties now.
- Cattle and sheep and seals, oh my! People weren’t lying. There are a lot of sheep in New Zealand. And cows.
- And bulldozers to drag boats up the beach. Including bright pink ones.
- And grapes. And wine bottles. And a very large rooster.
- I may never understand rugby.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Weekend in Windy Wellington

I love alliteration, but seriously... Wellington is very windy. I’d been warned about this fact but I don’t think I truly understood it until today. I was walking with two of the slighter Fulbrights (Julie and Amanda) and I seriously wondered if they were going to be able to remain standing. We went over to the Pasifika festival, a big outdoor festival celebrating Pacific culture, only to find out that the event had been “blown out.” That was a new one for me. We then wandered over to the waterfront for lunch at this cute cafĂ© Julie (one of the other Wellington Fulbrights) discovered upon first coming here. A note about Wellington and money: most things are quite expensive but the prices that are listed include tax and there is no tip. It’s nice not to have to do the mental math to figure out how much you’re going to pay. Also, usually you pay at the bar, which initially led to some awkwardly long periods waiting for the check.

Perhaps the most exciting thing I did today was move some of my stuff into my flat. I finally got a hold of the guy. :) I’m still in the hotel through the weekend b/c I couldn’t cancel it on short notice. Also I don’t have a bed in my flat yet. Something to work on… I have a sleeping bag though, so Monday I’ll be in there for good. Wish me luck. Having never lived outside of my parents’ house or a Harvard dorm, it should be interesting.

We spent the rest of the evening kind of bumming around. I met up with Julie and Amanda in the rose garden of the Wellington Botanical Gardens. (I entered the botanical garden on a hill and walked to the top only to find a sign informing me that the rose garden was at the end of the path I had just come up. Logically.) Amanda and I then walked back to our hotel, stopping to do a bit of window shopping on the way. Now we’re sitting in our hotel room watching “The Avengers” on a Saturday night. Yup. We’re that cool. Actually, we’re going on an all day tour of the southern part of the island tomorrow, so we’re resting up. Yup. That’s our excuse.

- Wellington is windy enough to cause event cancellations. Yikes. Hopefully I won’t blow off the hill.
- I’ve partially moved into my flat! (But I still don’t have a bed. Yay for sleeping bags!)
- Apparently I’m just as lame in the Southern hemisphere as the Northern.


Whew! What a week. I’m going to apologize in advance because this is going to be a long post. I guess I’ll just go day by day. You totally have my permission to skip straight to the summary. I’m at a hotel that charges internet usage by the megabyte so I’ll upload pics at a different time.

Sunday: You guessed it… Flat hunting! My calves are going to be so strong by the end of this year. Guess if Hannah won’t go to the gym, the gym will come to her. I looked at 3 places. I really liked one of them but it was farther away than I wanted to live. Also met a really nice guy at the third flat that I saw (also nice but so much interest there was no way I was going to get it). He teaches salsa on Tuesday nights and I got his information. I’m making friends! (And hopefully will become a more competent salsa dancer.) I decided to go with a flat that I saw on Friday and I’m going to move in. (The people have been very bad about communicating with me about my proposed move in day, which as you probably guessed is driving me nuts. All part of the experience, I guess. We were told to savor the exhilarating and frustrating as part of the experience.)

Monday: Today we met all the different Fulbright fellows (me and 11 other grad student types ranging from ’09 college grads to PhD students to a girl who just passed the NY bar – Yay Julie! – to someone who’s been working at an international bank for the past few years), Fulbright senior scholars (profs visiting to work and teach) and Axford fellows (public policy fellows). They’ve all been great. I’m currently rooming with one of the Auckland based fellows and it’s been a blast. Monday we were greeted by the Fulbright staff where Mele, the director of Fulbright NZ gave us the sage advice to savor everything. She also told us to break out of our thoroughly American habit of checking email every 5 minutes. I did say I wanted to come here to relax. Let’s see if I can do it.

We also had a lecture by a man about the Maori language, pronunciation and Maori customs. It was fascinating. I can now (at least in theory) correctly pronounce most Maori words. (Including the word “Maori” itself which I’m ashamed to say I’d mispronounced for a while. I am not going to attempt to explain here.) It also made me a lot more comfortable with looking at the Maori words which will come in handy here in Aotearoa (New Zealand).

We then went to the Waiwhetu marae, a Maori cultural and spiritual center of sorts. There we went through powhiri (a traditional Maori welcome ceremony). It started with karanga, a woman calling to welcome us, followed by tangi, the remembrance of the dead. I was incredibly impressed with how much Maori culture (and many other cultures of the Pacific) remember, revere, connect with and identify themselves with relation to their ancestors. As someone with relatively little knowledge of my family beyond my great grandparents’ generation it was amazing to hear about and from people who could trace their families back generations upon generations. The ceremony then proceeded with the hangi, a handshake and pressing of the noses. When we practiced it at Fulbright it was incredibly awkward (and way more intimate than I was used to – talk about personal space bubble invasions). Somehow in the context of the marae, though, it wasn’t awkward at all. It felt very appropriate and, for lack of a better word, sweet. (Despite the fact that I managed to do more of a forehead bump than a nose press with the first man and the fact that I most certainly butchered the formal greeting, tena koe.) Both groups then gave speeches and sang songs. (I had no idea what the Maori meant but it’s very pretty to listen to.) The new US ambassador to NZ and Samoa gave one of the speeches for our group. Finally after all the more formal elements, we eat kai, food. This is an integral part of the powhiri because as newcomers to the marae we have “tapu,” a sacredness that separates us from the rest of the marae members, which is removed by eating cooked food. It was really interesting to be part of the ceremony.

We were at the marae until Tuesday afternoon. We went to the surrounding facilities and saw their medical center and a gallery of some Maori art. There were two huge canoes with these really beautiful elaborately carved paddles. I’ll post photos later. There’s also a lot of beautiful jade jewelry mostly symbolizing new life (the koru, a fern around here), eternal friendship (a loop) or strength (a fish hook). Also the wharenui or meeting house, in which we stayed is covered in carvings and paintings evoking the ancestors of the iwi (basically the particular Maori group) and sea respectively. We also saw some beautiful cloaks woven from flax (a 6’x 8’ swath takes a person 8 months working full time!) and a woman who had gotten a Fulbright a few years ago to go to the US showed us how she makes the material. It was really cool! We also heard from one of the leaders of the community there who talked about his ancestors’ role in peaceful resistance movements in NZ. Also a talk from a Maori man about the Treaty of Waitangi, the 1840 treaty between the Maori and British which was largely ignored between 1860 (when the British got stronger than the Maori) and 1980. It was very interesting to get his perspective.

Tuesday: After the marae, we went to Te Papa, the national museum. Among other things, the museum houses the first European artifact left in NZ, an anchor that broke off a French ship in the late 1760s. They also have specimens of a bunch of native animals along with exhibits on their conservation. They also have the most intact example of a giant squid. Its mantle was probably 15 ft long and it’s not even one of the largest out there (they can tell by beak size). The museum also has a variety of Maori artifacts, exhibits on the European migration to NZ and items from other Pacific cultures. If you’re ever in Wellington, I’d recommend going.

That night a bunch of the other Fulbright fellows (grad students) went out to dinner at this restaurant near our hotel. It happened to be trivia night. You’d think that 9 well educated, intelligent people with interests in many fields would be good at such a thing. Turns out we don’t know that much about NZ geography, NZ sports or much of anything other than cartoon characters, animals, television and music.

Wednesday: More talks, this time about NZ’s flora and fauna and the peopling of the Pacific. Turns out that most people think NZ was colonized from the East by people originally from southeast Asia who then swept across the Pacific all the way to Easter Island and South America before getting back to NZ. The Maori didn’t even arrive in NZ until around 800 CE. It was interesting to hear different origin stories from different cultures. In Maori legend, the sky father and earth mother were joined together and their son pushed them apart to make way for the light.

We also went to Otari-Wilton’s bush, a piece of land that was saved as a reserve by the original owner back when the New Zealand company was selling 100 hectare plots to settlers. They have a lot of interesting New Zealand plants and it’s interesting to see what NZ would have looked like when the Maori came here (or even when the British came here). It’s gorgeous but a lot more wooded than I had thought it would be. Not exactly the rolling pastures up to mountains that you see in the Lord of the Rings movies. (I’ll post pics shortly.)

Finally, all the Fulbright people had dinner at a local restaurant. It was a lot of fun to see everyone in a non-lecture context. Again, we stumbled onto a competition, this time giant jenga. I’m embarrassed to say that I lost the game for our team. However, everyone said it was a miracle I was able to get the piece out. (I toppled the tower trying to put the block on top.)

Thursday: Last day of orientation. We started the morning with a lecture on NZ’s culture and politics which gave a good overview of the Maori’s arrival here, the European settlement and the transition of NZ from a land of rugged, warrior men to a peaceful, progressive state. (The first to give women the right to vote in 1893!) We also went to parliament where we heard a bit about NZ’s political system. They have a unicameral house and the have two types of members of Parliament (MPs), ones who are elected to represent a district and ones that come off a party list. The number of list members from a given party is proportional to the percentage of the total votes that were for that party as long as that party gets >5% vote. (i.e. if 40% of the people want the National party to rule, then 40% of the list MPs are from the National party.) That’s how NZ is able to have 7 political parties. Also the Prime Minister and the cabinet are derived from within the Parliament. We actually met an MP who told us about his daily life and then we went on a tour. Parliament has a ton of art that has been given to it by various people and it was fun to see some of it.

Friday: Orientation was over and it was back to trying to figure out my daily life here in Wellington. I finally met Nicky, my adviser! We discussed my project a bit and then she gave me a ton of references to look through and find relevant papers, my assignment for next week when she’s in the field. I won’t have a problem filling time. I’ll let you guys know when my project is firmed up (for those of you who care).

In the mean time, I’m moving in to my flat today (if I can get a hold of this guy). Grr… Amanda, an Auckland based Fulbright, Julie (another Wellington Fulbright) and I might go to this Pasifika festival celebrating cultures from across the Pacific islands if the rain holds off. I thought by arriving in summer I’d get at least a few weeks of good weather. Guess not. J

Thanks for bearing with me. And the summary…

- Flat hunting is over. Yet the minor frustrations continue. All part of the experience.
- I now know so much more about Maori culture than I ever thought I would. I suck at nose pressing.
- I also know a lot more about the Pacific and NZ than I thought I ever would and I think it’ll be useful as I run around here. If only we had had a lecture on the meanings of myriad kiwi phrases (sweet as, basically “all good”; good value – as in “He’s good value”; heaps meaning “a lot”, this doesn’t necessarily have to refer to a physical thing or anything that can be heaped; you can have “heaps of work”)
- Fulbrighters suck at bar games. Like really suck.
- If you need to reach me, I’ll be sitting in front of my computer all next week reading as much as I can about tuatara.