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.

No comments:

Post a Comment