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.