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:

1 comment:

  1. That cable car was so much more exciting before I saw a picture of it.