Saturday, February 13, 2010


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.

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