Monday, May 31, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Pretty/Ugly: the Pretty/Ugly

The pretty:
- the weather. I know I was just bitching about it, but sometimes you actually can see the sun and it’s really nice. The sky is gorgeous. There’s an autumn crispness in the air. It’s lovely. Note: this is increasingly rare.
- the scenery: Michael, Julie and I went on a walk up to the top of Mt. Victoria one nice day and you could see all of Wellington. It was gorgeous. Also, there was a fun swing in this pretty forest, that I couldn’t resist. For all the Lord of the Rings fans, this is where they filmed the escape from the Nazgul in the inner Shire. Also, my mom and I saw some beautiful forests and tree ferns on our trip. One of the resorts we stayed at had the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen. Breathtaking. Another place we went had a beach completely covered in pink shells; you couldn’t even see the sand. Also, Julie, Dara and my road trip up the Kapiti coast was fabulous. The paddocks with the sheep were adorable, the beaches spectacular and the sunset divine.
- my mom: She looks a lot healthier and happier. We walked quite a bit and she’s getting a lot stronger. I even dragged her up the Wellington hills. She looks especially good with a tuatara in her hands.
- the autumn leaves in the botanical garden: turns out New Zealand does have fall. Um, sorry, autumn.
- my play-doh stegosaurus: I went to a quiz night with my officemates and one of the contests in between rounds was for the best play doh stegosaurus. I made a masterful blue stegosaurus, the right balance of cute, cartoon and scientific accuracy. Alas I did not win. I maintain I was robbed.

The ugly:
- my soccer skills: I have apologized literally every time I kicked the ball anywhere near anyone. It makes passing awkward.
- my rock climbing attempts: My awkwardness and clumsiness can’t possibly look better when viewed from the bottom. Nothing more glamorous than hanging sweaty and red from a harness while staring at a wall.
- rain, rain, rain, rain with a dash of Antarctic wind: The good news is we often can’t see this because every time we attempt to warm up our flat it immediately fogs up the windows.
- wild pig eradication: New Zealand has a thing about protecting its native fauna by killing the invasive fauna. This is most obvious in the popularity of hunting possum (an activity at both resorts my mom and I stayed at!) and possum fur accessories (stay warm while helping New Zealand!). NZ also has a problem with feral pigs that were released by Captain Cook himself. When my mom and I were horseback riding, our guide’s dog found and injured a piglet. Our guide put the piglet out of its misery (and later brought the meat home so it didn’t go to waste). This horrified my mother. She relayed this story to Sue, the senior technical officer in charge of tuatara at Vic, who owns a sheep farm. My mom was expecting Sue to be horrified; Sue was pleased that there was one fewer pig and that it was not going to waste. Guess I’m not the only American getting a cultural lesson.

- Oh, c’mon. You’re really reading this? The entire post is in bullet point form.
- New Zealand is a gorgeous place full of trees, ferns and beaches. And the sun occasionally shines.
- Unfortunately New Zealand has been burdened with an uncoordinated American out to make herself more sporty.

The Good, the Bad and the Pretty/Ugly: the Bad

Ok, so it’s not all tuataras and pretty mountains, there are bad sides to New Zealand. Admittedly, there are many fewer bad things than good things, that having been said, here they are:

The weather:
Question: What’s worse than reading on your friend’s gchat statuses “OMG it’s so hot.” Or “90 degrees in Boston!”
Answer: Reading those statuses when you’re in two sweatshirts, under two blankets, in your bedroom, at noon and you can’t feel your feet but you can see your breath.

Turns out the Kiwis don’t believe in insulation. That’s all fine and good except I’m from Southern California and windy Wellington ain’t nicknamed that for nothing. Especially fun are the Southerlies which are winds (last week up to 90km/hr) that come straight off Antarctica. I’ve been sleeping in 2 hoodies, 2 pairs of socks, under 2 comforters and a sleeping bag every night. I’m usually still cold. I’m starting to understand why everyone’s got a partner here. It’s just plain economical – warmth and no increased heating bills!

The landlord: I know. I know. This isn’t unique to New Zealand, but New Zealand certainly is not the exception. Our landlord is a special type of flake. The kind of flake whom you can’t reach via any known methods of modern communication, (No, I haven’t tried carrier pigeon quite yet.) who shows up unannounced at 9am when you’re in the bathroom (yes, that’s illegal – he’s required to give 48 hours notice), who still hasn’t filled out the tenancy forms so we can pay the bond (yes the papers required to be completed before we take up residence and filed within 2 weeks of us moving in), who comes in, makes a mess and then leaves muttering to himself only to appear at 10pm, 6 hours after he left asking to hang your curtains. He’s the kind of landlord that has to be reminded by his tenants that he’s required to put up smoke detectors in the house, who needs his tenants to explain to him how to insert the battery in a smoke detector but insists he can turn off the water and fix the laundry machine by himself, the kind of guy who thinks telling people “You see, it just comes down to the fact that I’m lazy” is an excuse for not doing anything. That’s Stephen.

Vet school/ figuring out my future: Ok, also, not a New Zealand problem. This is all me. I’m going to try to apply to vet school this coming fall. The problem is I still don’t really know what I want to do. Everyone tells you that at 23 you should be confused about your future and excited about a number of different things. For some reason, these same people don’t really seem to grasp how hard that makes figuring out one’s future – where, what, how, etc. I’m currently thinking of applying to DVM/PhD programs (combined veterinary medicine and PhD) or just plain DVM programs. Barring that, I’ll just continue to lose my mind with indecision and join the circus. … better start stretching now.

Bioterrorism: I guess this is really good news. I won’t have to deal with figuring out my future because I won’t have one. I went to a lecture by a Fulbright senior scholar last week and he was talking about how vulnerable we (as godless Americans) are to bioterrorism attacks, especially from “non-state agents” aka those guys with no rules, whom we can’t deter, who just want to inflict mass casualties. He also talked about how easy it is to make this stuff. Turns out even I can weaponize ebola. Yippee!! Off to buy my gas mask…

- There’s really only one bad thing about New Zealand and it’s really only bad because I don’t have a boyfriend … or an electric blanket.
- Landlords are the same everywhere. I can’t wait for more life in the real world.
- My neuroses caught up with me. Apparently they caught a boat over the Pacific so it took them a little longer than the rest of me, but they’re definitely here.
- Stock up on heavy duty antibiotics and pray. Alternatively, kiss your butt goodbye.

The Good, the Bad and the Pretty/ Ugly: The Good

Tuatara/ Science: On April 22, I got to go up the Kapiti coast (West coast of the Southern tip of the North island) with a grad student and Sue, the technical officer to get blood samples from tuatara at the Nga Manu nature reserve. I got to hold nine tuatara (!) including a Sam, the largest tuatara Sue’s ever seen (980 g) and a 2 year old toot named “Lucky.” The staff at Nga Manu found him around the enclosure as a baby; they didn’t even know the pair had laid an egg. He is named “Lucky” because tuatara don’t have any parental care and are visual hunters – basically they eat anything small that moves, often baby tuatara. In short, Lucky was lucky he wasn’t lunch. He’s also lucky because he features prominently in my facebook picture.

Other good stuff on the science front: I got to go up to Massey University in Palmerston North to talk with a vet there about my cells! I finally know what I’m counting and have whipped through the smears. I had a great meeting with my advisers yesterday and it looks like I’ll be doing some cool stuff. Also, we’re planning our two field trips to get blood from wild tuatara in November. I’m so excited!

Mom: This could be an entire blog post to itself but I’m going to keep it short. My mom came to visit me for a week and a half. It was amazing!!!!!! As most of you know, my mom has had some health troubles over the last year and a half so I was excited that she could get here at all (especially since she was ashed into London causing her trip to be postponed by a week). We went to a great resort near the Bay of Islands, which was gorgeous. We also went to a resort near Rotorua and went on lovely horseback ride around the property. They had a really beautiful waterfall with delicious spring water. I also took my mom on a little hike up to the top of this hill! I was SO SO proud of her for being able to walk up and down hills for 2 hours straight. :D Also in Rotorua we saw thermal hot springs, NZ falcons and a kiwi which was vocalizing!

My favorite part of Rotorua, though, was getting to chat with some of the people who work at the resort. I went with the chef, Eru, on a walk through the forest and he pointed out all the plants that the Maori use in their cooking including pikopiko, a young fern shoot; manuka (the plant which most of the NZ honey is made from); horopito, a peppery like leaf, kawakawa, a basily plant and this vine which tasted like asparagus. It was really interesting getting to chat with him about the different uses of the food and about his family and culture. Also, another guy who worked at the resort was so touched that I was working on tuatara conservation that he gave me a prayer in Maori from his iwi. I framed it and it sits beside my bed.

The best part of the trip, though was in Wellington. I got to introduce Mom to all of my friends and colleagues at the university and Sue showed us around so she got to see all the tuatara at Vic! She even got to hold Spike (the big male tuatara at Vic), see incubating eggs and see a week old hatchling! We also saw the botanical gardens, Te Papa and I took Mom to a rugby game. We agree, much more interesting than American football. Sorry, Dad. We also just watched a lot of “Firefly.” (Read: the entire series.)

Miscellaneous: It was Julie’s birthday a couple weeks ago. We had a lot of fun making tons of cupcakes. They were delish. I am actually learning how to cook and bake. Who knew with my genetics that it was possible for me to make something edible, let alone yummy. To further this food knowledge, Julie took me to my very first food show. If you’re ever going to go to a food show, you should do it in a country that specializes in cheese, wine and olive oil. I’m still in heaven… On Julie’s birthday she bought a car, so the following week we took it up the Kapiti coast for a road trip. We saw some beautiful forests and beaches, and also ate nationally famous Kapiti ice cream. (Are you sensing the trend yet?) I am working off these calories though, hilariously, Julie and I play soccer every Tuesday with a group of people who work at the rock climbing/ kayak place. Suffice it to say, I’m certainly the least sporty person in the group.

- I have a plan for research!!!! Plus I’ve gotten to hold lots and lots of tuatara. My study organism is cuter than yours. And it comes in all different sizes.
- My mom loves me. New Zealand is gorgeous and I’m falling in love with Maori culture. Mom’s falling in love with Spike.
- Rugby >>>>> American football
- Be on the lookout for flying pigs: I’m cooking. And exercising.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Good the Bad and the Ugly/Pretty: An introduction

My apologies for not having posted on this blog in a very very long time. I know that you have all been dying without news of my adventures in Kiwi land. (Ok, one person commented to me that they were having trouble procrastinating without my epic blog posts. Glad to know that my Fulbright is leading to a decline in productivity in the States.)

In order to keep from writing an incredibly lengthy ridiculous blog post with an epic summary, I am giving you three blog posts. I realize the overall length can't be changed but at least it won't be a solid block -- more summaries for those of you with busy lives.

So here they are: the good; the bad; and the ugly/pretty.

- my blog is good for procrastination
- 3 blog posts instead of 1!