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.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Just some pics of crazy sevens costumes

Men in orange halter tops, jesters and Romans watching smurfs jump into the harbor (not pictured).

Another view of the crowd watching the swimming smurfs. The red guys are priests, behind them are some oompa loompas, etc.
Fruits and veggies, and a calendar tile?

For more pics:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Getting my bearings

Whew! It has been a long couple days in Wellington. Mostly my calves are killing me from walking up and down all the hills. This is what I get for never exercising, well, ever. Most of the walking has been a part of flat hunting. This is a perplexing and somewhat daunting endeavor. I have spent many hours scouring a number of flatmate listing websites and I've sent dozens of emails. (Yes, I know, I'm not a Kiwi. I'm saying "flat" not apartment because that's what everyone here calls it.) There seems to be some pressure to decide very quickly whether one likes the flat or not. I liked a flat today and found out 6 hours after I left that they'd given it to someone else. I'm seeing two more flats tomorrow and hopefully the one I liked yesterday will still be available. Fulbright won't let me be homeless, right?

Other than the mad flat search, I've been doing a fair amount of meeting people and exploring. I met with Anne, one of my advisers, yesterday. (I didn't know she'd be my adviser until yesterday but she seems lovely.) She's an immunologist. It seems like whatever I work on with Nicky, my original adviser, will be tied to the work of a graduate student working on salmonella infections in tuatara. (She invited me to collect samples on Monday but I'm in stupid Fulbright orientation.) The project seems like it could be very cool ... as soon as I/we figure out what it will be exactly. I need to do a ton of reading about tuatara but right now my brain is so fried from exhaustion and flat hunting, it's amazing I'm typing complete sentences. (Assuming I am.) Perhaps more exciting than meeting Anne, I saw my very first live tuatara!!! It was in an exhibit in one of the university buildings, but I was pretty excited. (pic at the top)

I'm also getting a crash course in Kiwi vocabulary and slang. After being perplexed for a day I finally figured out that "sweet as" is the complete phrase and I stopped waiting for the noun to follow "as." (It means something to the effect of "it's all good" or "no worries.") I also found out that "capsicum" is a bell pepper, "aubergine" an eggplant, a "paper" is a university course and that I just graduated from "uni" and not "college" which they use to mean high school. Although I'm beginning to master these phrases, I am still completely baffled by the Maori words that are frequently used in newspaper and magazine articles, usually without definition. I think we learn a bit of Maori at the Fulbright orientation; maybe that will help.

Perhaps the biggest event going on right now in Wellington is the 7s tournament. This is a tournament for the Rugby Sevens in which 7 member rugby teams play 14 minute long games. (Don't ask me anything else about the game. I know nothing.) Teams are here from all over the world (including the USA). Why is this relevant to a girl who knows nothing about rugby or sports in general? Because the entirety of Wellington has been overrun by drunken people in costumes. (Apparently it's a huge tradition to dress up in costumes for the 7s, especially in groups.) In my flat hunting and various other runnings about town I have passed: 20 men in black hotpants, tights, orange tank tops and orange wigs; all of the power rangers; Thomas the tank engine and friends; assorted fruits and vegetables -- inexplicably accompanied by a calendar; daisies; assorted men in drag; 4 people dressed in MC Hammer toting a boombox which played "Can't touch this"; a number of native Americans; priests; nuns (men and women) and my personal favorite: 5 grown men dressed as the spice girls. I still feel bad for the guy who had to be Ginger Spice (... though he really did rock the Union Jack dress). I was spared an event of last year: a picture in the paper of a man in a Borat mankini after 12 hours of partying. Other famous costumes include the 101 dalmations (there actually are 101 people moving in a pack all dressed as numbered dalmations) and the Marilyns (a herd of men dressed as Marilyn Monroe who attend every year or pass down their costume when they cannot attend). I was also escorted to a flat viewing by 3 drunk guys (one soldier and two martial artists) who discovered I was American. It's been fun. (Also, to my roommates or anyone who saw our costume Halloween 2008, I saw 4 guys dressed as the ninja turtles wearing nothing but painted tighty whiteys and body paint. I think we've been beaten.)

Other than that, I've met the other Fulbrighters in Wellington now. They all seem very nice and interesting. It's also nice to have someone to talk to/ not have to sit at a restaurant by yourself. More about them later. Wellington continues to be exceedingly beautiful. I wandered around the botanical gardens today and stumbled upon a small hillside completely covered by hydrangeas of all colors in full bloom. It was gorgeous.

- My calves are about to revolt any second now. Hopefully I'll have an apartment to show for it.
- After 18 months of talking about them, I have finally seen my first real live tuatara!!!! (It didn't move and it was behind glass, but I'm taking it!) And I also have provided photographic evidence that they are really cute!
- Wellington is overrun with drunk people. Turns out it has something to do with this rugby tournament. And here I was thinking that people usually wear extensive body paint, dress up as characters from avatar, Alices in Wonderland, crayons and lollipops. At least I know that Secret Santa is not a fluke; men everywhere love drag.
- Oh yeah, it's still really pretty. And summer.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kia ora!

That means roughly "hi" in Maori.

I'm in New Zealand! It's kind of hard to believe, but I made it! The flight from LAX to Auckland was actually quite painless. Air New Zealand is an amazing airline -- lots of great movies, tv and music to entertain you (and the free wine doesn't hurt either -- until you realize air travel is already dehydrating). I was incredibly grateful that the baby sitting 2 rows ahead of me was quiet the entire flight.

A note about New Zealand security -- they care deeply about whether you've declared the trail mix in your bag and how clean your boots are, not so much about liquids, what's in your shoes or how much access you've had to your bags. I was delayed for 15 minutes as the "biosafety" department cleaned my hiking boots. This made me late enough that I had to take my checked baggage the 900m to the domestic terminal myself with 40 minutes until my flight took off. I made it in time but I was glowing when I got there.

Ok, you guys aren't hear to read about my adventures on my uneventful flights. The good stuff: Wellington is GORGEOUS. There are trees everywhere so it kind of looks like someone sprinkled houses along the hills surrounding the harbor. The harbor itself is spectacular. Today was an absolutely beautiful day -- a slight breeze but nothing like the wind that gives the city its nickname as the "windy city." (Unlike Chicago, this has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the Southerlies from Antarctica which can knock you sideways. ) There's a walkway that runs along the harbor connecting the national museum, Te Papa, the civic square (which has a museum whose front has been covered in polka dots for a current exhibit), rock climbing gyms and tons of public art.

I arrived in Wellington at 8am and was met by a lovely woman from Fulbright. We took my bags to the hotel I'm staying at and then she gave me a walking tour of the city as we went to the Fulbright office. I got to use their internet and had morning tea with all the people in the office. Must be that famous Kiwi friendliness.

The city center is very small and very walkable. After my computer battery died, I walked the city for a couple of hours waiting until check in time. There are tons of cafes here everywhere and they're all adorable. Also, it turns out strangers really are friendlier here: I was looking at a map and a girl walked right up to me to give me directions.

Of course, the day was not without its minor hiccups: I managed to make my converter emit smoke, which I'm pretty sure means it's dead. Turns out you shouldn't use a converter for your computer, just an adaptor. (Which I got at a nearby store -- yay walkable cities.) I also managed to, in my sleep deprivation, fall prey to an internet scam which necessitated my canceling one of my two credit cards. Oy vey. At least all my bags made it. Everything is better with clean underwear.

Now the task of the day is finding an apartment. I've spent the better part of 4 hours on the functional equivalent of craigslist emailing people about flats. I suspect this will get easier once I have a phone. (Side note: Skype is a brilliant brilliant invention and if any of you would like to talk to me on said brilliant invention, I'd love to hear from you.)

For now it's off to bed. At 9:38pm it is finally dark. At 8pm I would've sworn it was late afternoon. It's summer here and we're pretty far south (41 degrees S), but it was still a shock. I hope all of you are well. I'll post a pic tomorrow.

- I'm in New Zealand!
- It's absolutely gorgeous here: trees, lots of water, friendly people.
- Still there is much to do (apartment hunting, sleep).
- I cannot be trusted with things that plug in or connect to the internet. This does not bode well for my future.
- At least I have clean underwear.