Jack in NZ: Screensaver

August 18, 2016

“Day, me say day, me say day, me say day

Me say day, me say day-o” – Harry Belafonte

“Excuse me while I kiss the sky” – Jimi Hendrix

“Nants ingonyama bagithi baba” – Tim Rice

“Tide goes in, tide goes out… you can’t explain that” – Bill ‘Papa Bear’ O’Reilly

I realize that posting a barely-edited 45-minute GoPro video instead of a blog might seem like a copout. In some sense it is. I didn’t have to work very hard on it. I just plunked a camera in the sand and enjoyed the view, no writing required.

But it’s better for both of us this way. I’m not sure I have the linguistic facility to adequately describe what you’re about to see. I didn’t have it after a few hours of tipsy sleep in the beachside cave Thursday night, and I can’t summon it now.

So rather than write a frilly, dramatic, dashed-off-at-the-last-minute description, I’m going spare you my “waking up with shorebirds” and “staring over Earth’s elegant curve at the sunbeams advancing over the horizon” and “utter inner peace” hippy nonsense and let you provide your own.

That being said, please enjoy last Friday’s sunrise at Long Beach:


Jack in NZ: It’s Always Sunny in Dunedin

August 9, 2016

“If we want to know what American normality is – what Americans want to regard as normal – we can trust television”—David Foster Wallace

“Let’s just plop them in front of the TV. I was raised in front of the TV and I turned out TV.” – Homer Simpson

“I don’t think I believe in ‘deep down’. I think that all you are is just the things that you do.” – Diane, Bojack Horseman

broadcast tower

Now I don’t recommend anyone drop out of school to join Netflix University (though tuition is considerably cheaper), but there’s a lot to be learned in a great deal of T.V. programming.

A few examples: Jon Stewart taught an entire generation of young adults that politics could be interesting, that it’s acceptable (even necessary) to call BS when it matters, and that relentless reason can prevail in the face of stupidity. Or consider The Wire: HBO’s crime drama used nuanced characters and a remarkable storyline to shed light on the personal side of drug prohibition and the relationship between police and the communities they serve. And what about Breaking Bad? Walter White forced us to examine our morals, he made us question what we would do if backed into a similar corner, and he ultimately reminded us to cherish our loved-ones.

I could go on.

The point is, when you plop down in a comfy chair to mainline a few hours of entertainment via the occipital lobe, you’re not just watching a bunch of colorful images flash by at 25 frames per second, you’re absorbing ideas, and the extent to which you do this is directly related to how closely you pay attention. If you want to really learn, you have to engage. You have to sit down and watch on a regular basis. You have to catch up when you miss segments.

This makes T.V. shows a lot like college courses.

And just as the first few episodes of a show give the viewer enough information to decide to keep their eyes glued to the boob tube or to log out of Netflix, the first few classes provide the college student with a decent impression of the course.

So here are my reviews of the University of Otago’s 2nd-semester programming:

Environmental Chemistry: This class belongs on HGTV. Very late at night. Guaranteed to bore all but the most enthusiastic viewer, sections of Environmental Chemistry are as about stimulating as watching beige paint dry. One can only hear ‘biogeochemical cycles’ so many times before tuning into a different program. The host is an inoffensive, well-dressed man who is primarily concerned with relaying PowerPoint information on the underlying chemical processes of the dispersal of various minerals in ocean water. I almost fell asleep writing the end of that sentence. That being said, the course is incredibly practical and is likely to impart fundamental information to the dedicated viewer, if they can stay awake through the entire 50-minute segment. Final verdict: Two thumbs way neutral. Enroll if you need it.

rainy view

Conservation Biology Lab: A nature-themed mockumentary set on an Otago peninsula overlook, this lab features the will-they-or-wont-they relationship between an American yellow-eyed penguin researcher, a local Department of Conservation ranger, and the 20 endangered birds they watch over. This week’s episode featured the daring repair of a penguin leg wound by our DoC ranger, and the consequent swooning of the researcher. In addition to awkward, hyper-realistic dialogue, the program treats viewers to wide-angle mountain shots, footage of craggy beaches, and effortless steady-cam recordings through sheep farms (the camera work is so immersive you can almost smell the sheep crap!). The cinematography and hilarious script make the 45 minutes of bus seat reel on either end of programming worth sitting through. Two thumbs way up, take this class!

night time view

Conservation Biology: This class is on too early in the morning for any young adult to watch consistently. Fortunately, episode summaries are available online and give morning-averse enrollees the basic gist. Dedicated fans that tune in regularly are rewarded with compelling (if incredibly depressing) plots about the condition of the environment. Taught by a rotating cast of knowledgeable hosts, this class is Otago’s NOVA: if more people could be bothered to watch it, the world would be a better place. However, this reviewer believes it would be a breach of journalistic ethics to pass judgment on a program he’s only seen twice. Review: N/A.

view from the roof

Creative Non-Fiction Tutorial: an eccentric host and diverse cast of contestants make this tutorial fit for Bravo. The earnest performance and genuine humor of host Paul Tankard make seemingly-dull program segments like ‘Let’s Outline All the Different Sources Consulted in Chapter 11 of Stiff by Marry Roach, I Found 25, See How Many You Find’ (or as some refer to it: LOATDSCIC11OSBMRIF25SHMYF) shine. This show promises to build toward an exciting climax as each student completes different challenges each week while working toward a final project. The only thing that could spice up CN-FT would be a weekly elimination round. Two thumbs way up, take this class!

melting snow

Creative Non-fiction: Long-winded dramatic monologs and Spartan use of technology make this class a treat for the writing aficionado. The verbose and enthusiastic Australian lead performs for an enrapt audience, providing advice for budding writers with sprinklings of endearing anecdotes from his bushy-bearded mouth. The Joy of Painting meets Hamlet. Take this class.

Environmental Chemistry lab: Fear not University of Otago Masochist Society, have we got a show for you! If you love the sound of a clock endlessly ticking amid keyboard clickclackery, the incessant flare of fluorescent lighting and computer screens, and the belaboring of basic statistics to the point of insanity, you will love 204 labs! To boot, it’s only on during Friday afternoons from 2-6! And get this: You get to watch other people driving home to have fun out of the meager classroom window while you clickclack away in Microsoft excel! Perhaps this is some sort of edgy, artistic, post-Lynchian program designed to make the viewer uncomfortable, to push their buttons, and to anger and confuse. If that’s the case, it succeeds on all fronts. Alas, it’s mandatory! Going to this lab feels like that one scene from A Clockwork Orange. Without any Beethoven. Two thumbs way down.

from the clouds

Overall, the University of Otago network offers great programming in a style totally different from its American counterparts, and if you keep your eyes glued to the screen, you’ll certainly learn something.

Just make sure to go outside and play in between shows.


Jack in NZ: Email

August 1, 2016

“I had had an adventure, tasted forbidden fruit, and everything that followed in my life – the food, the long and often stupid and self-destructive chase for the next thing, whether it was drugs or sex or some other new sensation – would all stem from this moment.” – Anthony Bourdain on eating his first oyster

“We’re the first culture in the world that puts 1,500 miles on average under each morsel of food” – Joel Salatin

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” – Proust

“’I do work,’ said Frederick ‘I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.’” – Frederick by Leo Lionni

“Drink your tea” – Eastern Towhee

To: Parents

Cc: Sister

Subject: Re: Feeling like a Kiwi yet?

Message:

Unfortunately the weather this week is pretty lame, so I’m staying around Dunedin. I’m planning on doing a local hike and catching up on work and reading/writing.

So Much to See

Penguin colony was pretty neat, saw about 20 birds (~1% of the world’s population, pretty crazy), and the surrounding area was beautiful. It was a secluded spot, protected by farmland on all sides, difficult to get to without some sort of Department of Conservation/farmer connection.

Jack in New Zealand

I’ve resolved to feed myself from the farmers market as much as possible, got a good-sized and reasonably-priced haul yesterday, including some lamb chops, ground venison, whole walnuts, and a winter savory (a thyme relative) plant. Also went to an Indian grocery store and bought some whole star anise/cardamom pods/garam masala and cheap peanuts. The owner was there and we chatted about India (he was a Sikh from Delhi) for a minute.

Otherwise, I’ve just been doing work around here. I haven’t been going to my biology or chemistry lectures because they post them online, but I do sit down for a few hours each day to take notes/do homework etc. Working at home is pretty nice, I get to stick to a sleep schedule and snack throughout the morning, also no running back and forth between my house and campus. Chemistry is very dry (and the labs are soul-sucking, I almost wish I took the upper-level section), biology is much more interesting. My writing class is very enjoyable. I’m narrowing in on a topic for my major project (something related to the philosophy of farming/food, looking at it from scientific/social/spiritual/artistic viewpoints). More stuff about classes will be in the next blog.

A friendly reminder from the local ethernet port

I’ve also been making progress in Modernist Cuisine (the massive 2500pg (only 2319 to go!) cooking tome by a former Microsoft CTO) and On Writing by Steven King, and paging through Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, which is incredibly entertaining. I’ve been trying to sit down and write for an hour every day, but it’s been kind of hard to make it a habit, sometimes it flows and other times it doesn’t (I’ve noticed word output is generally proportional to my caffeine intake, though quality varies (I’m gradually learning that editing is a useful skill to cultivate)). The blog should be submitted by tomorrow, but it seems to take a few days before the abroad office publishes. I’m decently happy with this one. It’s a little funnier and lighter than the previous two. Sticking to the ‘ideally weekly’ schedule the office has set (but not enforced (so far)) is going to be difficult. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better for my sanity to put out something I’m happy with every two weeks than it is to rush to get something done that I’ll cringe at later, possible stipend reduction be damned (though as I continue to cultivate the writing habit I think it will get easier to churn out good quality stuff more frequently).

I’ve recently binged a bunch of Joe Rogan’s podcasts. He hosts a great talk show and has had guests like Russell Brand, Sam Harris, Eddie Huang, etc. on to chat about interesting things. My kiwi-host is a big fan of him and is a neuroscience student. He lent me one of Sam Harris’ books and we’ve had some interesting talks about, as Dewey Finn would say “your head, and your mind, and your brain too”, as well as nutrition and exercise (he’s a big weight lifter).

I’ve been running more regularly (5/7 nights this week), and I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of things. I’ve also been meditating regularly and highly recommend it (along with exercise) for everyone. I’ve been doing 15-20 mins a day and it’s been great for stress reduction, mood, general appreciation of things. Here’s a good video if you are interested in trying it:

Dan Harris has a pretty interesting story on how he came to start meditating. He had a panic attack on Good Morning America as a result of cocaine/ecstasy abuse related to anxiety/depression issues. He subsequently took time off to research happiness and discovered mindfulness meditation, and wrote a book about it called ’10% happier’ (which I have not gotten the chance to read yet). He had an interview on the Colbert Report that was pretty good.

The social scene around here has also been pretty fun. I went out to a party on Thursday with some new friends I met through a Richmond friend (his flat complex is the place to be), and I met a fun Kiwi girl who I saw again on Saturday night (don’t worry Mom, haven’t fallen in love yet (with a girl, at least (the country may be a different story))). I’ve been hanging out more with one of my flat mates who’s fun and likes to cook. I went to a coffeeshop after my farmers market visit on Saturday with her and some Richmond friends. We ate chocolate chip pancakes that were as delicious as they were overpriced and drank flat whites.

I’ve also picked up a book on hydroponics and intend to get a setup going soon (no fish allowed in flats, but I don’t pay for the electricity so I can get some grow lights). My fern is on its last legs, one day it was fine, the next it was withering, gave it some water and put it closer to the sun and it’s perked up a little (though I don’t have high hopes). The other plant is still hanging on. I’ve also purchased a pretty sweet-looking cactus. It’s about three feet tall and has badass spines. It is difficult to kill, so hopefully it won’t be joining the fern.

Cactus

Overall things are going very well. I’m cultivating a fun and productive routine, taking care of myself, and enjoying the outdoors (whether I like it or not (last night’s jog through the botanical garden had an unfortunate sleet interlude)). I’m hoping to get a car or some other form of transport lined up to do more weekend traveling. I think spring break will be the next big opportunity, and I may go with some friends to the Abel Tasman track in the northern part of the South Island. I also don’t have to hurry to see things as much as I thought. I’ve got about 5 weeks of time during the finals period with only two finals to take (writing project is due before the period starts and counts as my final (and it’s also going to be fun to write)), so I’ll have a large stretch of uninterrupted time to travel while the weather is nice.

New Zealand

Hope things are going well at home. I wish I had saved up more summer memories (I think I appreciate Fredrick the more I meditate), still cold and damp here.

Lots of love and safe travels,

Jack


Jack in New Zealand: Yugen

July 7, 2016

“To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return. To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands. To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds. And, subtle shadows of bamboo on bamboo.” Zeami Motokiyo

“Discuss your preparations to go abroad – how you are feeling, anxieties or excitements, last minute projects or plans you are making, etc.” UR OIE

How do I feel about going abroad? I think this question is a little vague. I’m fairly confident that the UR Travelogue coordinator is referring specifically to the four months I will spend at the University of Otago in NZ working toward my Biology degree when he says ‘abroad’, but after several months (and in some cases, years) of students and OIE faculty throwing around the term, it’s difficult to nail down a precise definition.

If returning students and previous travel bloggers are to be believed, ‘abroad’ means ‘the best semester of college’ and ‘learning and growing’ and ‘OMFG amazing’ in so many words. If the OIE is the defining authority, then ‘abroad’ means ‘cultural exchange’ and ‘horizon broadening’ and ‘a lot of paperwork’. Even friends and family (individuals keenly aware of my specific plans) reduce ‘abroad’ to banalisms like ‘so much fun’ and ‘independence’ and ‘legally imbibing alcohol’.

‘Abroad’ has been consistently built up over the past months to mean all of these things, and while I believe everyone’s definitions come from a genuine source (perhaps from their own life-changing international study experiences, and their desires for me to have the same), I think it’s impossible for these definitions to truly encompass the ‘study abroad experience’. Each seems a little too trite to be true, and with students attending programs around the world, ‘abroad’ cannot possibly begin to define the experiences of every student.

So it’s quite difficult for me to pin down exactly how I feel about ‘abroad’. I think I’ve decided I don’t feel much about it at all. ‘Abroad’ is going to just sort of happen to me. And that’s the way I’d prefer it.

My preparations for abroad have been almost entirely practical, concentrating on packing my backpacks, leaving behind any definitional baggage that could serve as a template or filter for my experience. A laundry list of expectations will only serve to make me anxious, distance me from the present moment, and prevent me from truly marveling at my experience. A constant stream of ‘is this the best semester I’ve had so far?’, ‘am I experiencing enough cultural exchange?’, ‘am I taking enough advantage of my ability to legally imbibe?’ will prevent me from experiencing what it truly means to ‘go abroad’.

That being said, if I have any hopes for abroad, it’s that my friends, family, and the OIE turn out to be entirely right. I want to return in December to find that the only way to fully describe my experience is ‘OMFG it was so awesome’. I want the trite travel-bloggisms to be true. I want an experience so complex and amazing that I am reduced to spewing positive unintellectual platitudes upon my return, and really and truly mean them.

But in the mean time, this blog will be concerned with the experience as it happens, free from definitional filters and expectations. It may be occasionally trite. It may sarcastically spite its own triteness. Above all, I hope it will be an honest and entertaining accounting of my experience. You’ll get a sense of how I feel about my own personal ‘abroad’ along the way.


Alyssa in New Zealand: The end

November 12, 2013

It seems that I’m constantly on the move. I never run out of things to do no matter where I am. And it’s saddening to think that this will all come to an end very soon. The day I fly out from New Zealand is going to approach quickly and I won’t realize this until the actual moment comes.

The past couple of weeks have progressed much quicker than I thought. It felt liberating to finally finish my last exam because from that point on, I did not have to worry about schoolwork anymore. All I had to think about was what I was going to do with my remaining time in the country. I took advantage of my free time right away. I had made plans to leave after my exam to travel the north part of the South island, which was a 900 kilometer trip from Dunedin.

As my three friends and I drove in the northern direction, we made stops along the way. After five hours of driving, we ventured out to Castle Hill, which had been named the “Spiritual Center of the Universe” by the Dalai Lama. The location seemed to be at absolute peace and serenity. As we walked towards the entrance, we were greeted with vast green land which was completely occupied by several limestone boulders. Each stone varied in size, for they ranged from 8 to 40 feet. The area was the epitome of New Zealand’s climbing scene. Every corner we turned, there was a new bouldering opportunity that we were drawn to. It became our glorified playground and my favorite place that I’ve visited in New Zealand.

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Castle Hill

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The ideal location for climbing and bouldering

As we proceeded north, we drove through Arthur’s Pass National Park, a scenic highway route. The further we immersed ourselves into the valleys, the more impressive and vast the mountains became that surrounded us. Just when you thought you couldn’t imagine anything bigger, something even more immense came along. Such remarkable scenery reminded me of how much I haven’t seen, and I became more than grateful to find myself venturing out to places that I had never thought about encountering.

Abel Tasman National Park was our final destination, for we wanted to tramp one of the Great Walks, the coastal track. It is located in the northwestern part of the island. The weather was noticeably different from the weather in Dunedin. The temperature was warmer and the sun wasn’t constantly hiding behind the clouds. The track as a whole was fairly easy mostly because there was very little elevation. As we hiked the track, we came across several different accesses to beaches, which made it even more enjoyable. One could almost say that it was more relaxing than a strenuous activity for us.

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As we drove through Arthur’s pass, I captured this shot when we were crossing over a bridge

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Arthur’s pass

Once we finished the track, we traveled east to Picton so that we could start another tramp, the Queen Charlotte track. Since we didn’t have the time or stamina to do the entire track, we decided to start in the middle where we would get the best views of the Marlborough Sounds. As we reached to an elevation of just over 400 meters, we concluded that we could have not picked a better spot to be on the track. Out of 71 kilometers, we chose the perfect place.

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Marlborough Sounds

After six days, we made our way back to Dunedin. The thought of leaving has finally become a reality now that my packing has begun. My flight to return to home is November 21st and I leave Dunedin with my flatmates on the 10th. For those remaining 11 days, we will be traveling the entire North island. It will be our last and final stretch of traveling in New Zealand. The Auckland airport will be where we depart back to our home countries.

Tonight is my last night in Dunedin. The town has become not only the place where I reside, but it has also become my home. Traveling around in New Zealand would not have been the same if I had not been with the people that I have met here. As I’ve gotten to know them, they have become an important aspect in my life as we have all supported each other regardless of the fact that we are all from extremely different places and cultures. We all came to New Zealand for our own yet similar reasons, all of which have naturally forced us to make the experience much more meaningful in a way we never imagined.

Expectations are never met. We can never be absolutely certain about anything until we have experienced it for ourselves. Thus, it is best to go in without any expectations or set plans. Keep an open mind. You never know what changes and occurrences will present themselves, for it could potentially be for the better in the end. If you knew everything that was about to happen to come, to what degree would you actually enjoy it?

Seeing that this is my last blog post for the semester tells me that the journey is finally coming to an end. I highly enjoyed writing about my study abroad experience. It has been recorded and now I have something to always look back on to reflect the entire semester. Thank you for providing me with this opportunity, Richmond; you have helped me make my memories and experience permanent.

With my last words, I will say that if you have any desire to study abroad, do it. Some inconveniences may present themselves, but they can be solved. As cliché as it sounds, the experience as a whole is unlike anything you could ever imagine and there is no reason for anyone to miss out on that. No one should be deprived from seeing the world.

To consider myself lucky is an understatement. Thank you to everyone who has made my time more than enjoyable over here in New Zealand. As for all the other study abroaders, it will soon be time for us to go back home and return reality back at school.

Not all those who wander are lost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring


Alyssa in New Zealand: Two is better than one

October 23, 2013

Doing something more than once is anything but a waste of time. In fact, it allows you to see more of what you have initially missed. As pointless as it may seem to visit the same place for a second time, it is actually very beneficial.

After returning to Queenstown once more with my parents, I was exposed to some of the more geographical aspects of the area. As we drove to several different vineyards throughout the day, I got the chance to see the nature that truly surrounded Queenstown. It was quite strange to think that vineyards could thrive in such a dry, cold area in the region. However, such wineries have learned to adapt and grow successfully in New Zealand’s weather conditions, even if they are situated near mountainous areas.

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Northburn Station winery

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A taste of Queenstown scenery

I also returned to the Milford Sound, except this time, instead of just standing at the entrance, I went on a boat cruise that took us deeper within. Despite the fact that it was raining fairly hard (Milford Sound is considered to be one of the wettest places on Earth), the beauty of Milford was not overshadowed by the dismal weather. As a matter of fact, the rain only contributed to its magnificence, for there were several waterfalls, most of which formed from the rainfall, that were running down from the mountain peaks into the sound. At one point, we encountered one of the more powerful waterfalls. As we made our way closer, the vibrations began to increase from the impact of the water hitting the sound. We were several meters away, but we still managed to get completely sprayed and covered by the water. The force of the water was immense, but it did not prevent us from approaching it.

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The reverberations from the waterfall became more and more immense as we approached it.

There were vast amounts of fog which made it hard to make out some of the peaks of the mountains in the distance. However, the magnitude of the mountains were fully revealed when the boat made its way through the fog. Throughout the cruise, we were all kept in suspense, waiting to see what more Milford Sound had in store for us beyond the layers of haze.

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A layer of mist floated over Milford Sound as we made our way deep within

The minute I returned to Dunedin, I finally had to put myself to work, for it was officially final exam period at Otago. Even though I was disappointed by the fact that I had to stop traveling for the time being, I knew that papers were a priority during my time over here as well. It felt a little weird to abruptly put my travels to a halt, for I had become so used to being on the go for the entire semester.

There was a significant amount of work that I had to do in order to prepare for my exams. My theatre exam was a take home exam, for which I had to write two essays. For my microbiology exam, the paper consisted of over thirty lectures. There were forty multiple choice and three short essay questions, all of which had to be answered in three hours (very similar to Richmond’s exams). The only difference was that these exams were more heavily weighted on my final grade.  As a result, the exams covered a lot of material and it was obligatory for me to do well.

Since my theatre exam was a take home, microbiology has been my only exam so far that has taken place during a given time slot. The location for each exam is usually very random. For instance, my exam was set in the old physical education gymnasium instead of a classroom or lecture hall. The room held an exam for not only my class, but for another class as well. The desks in the room were set up in rows and each person was assigned a number. As we took the exam, three proctors continuously walked around the room, watching almost our every move. The room atmosphere was tense, and the experience was similar to being a room full of students taking the SAT’s.

Now that two out of three of my final exams are out of the way, I have free time to myself once again. Having only one exam left makes the end of the semester seem so soon. The end is quickly creeping up and I’ve barely begun to notice it up until now. I continue to explore Dunedin in my free time, for I still haven’t seen everything. Whether it consists of me waking up early to watch the sunrise, hiking tracks that are not typically highlighted or discovering new beaches around the peninsula, everything still seems new and exciting. I still find it astonishing that all of these amazing sights and spots are so close by. Their proximity and easy access just reminds me that I have to take advantage of them while I’m living here for the last four weeks of this experience.

The odds of me seeing these people again in the near future is very slim, for we are all from very different places. Being from Boston, having friends all the way from Michigan to Norway does not make visiting each other very easy. Nevertheless, I plan on making the most of my time with the friends that I have made over here until the very end. It’s never too late for us to arrange a last minute trip in our last few weeks. The end may be near, but that does not turn us away from continuing to travel more.

Having been to most of the highlighted areas of the south island, I find myself wanting to return to the same places again. I have a fear that I will forget the sights that I have seen. Something new is always discovered the second time, which makes me think that there is still more out there. Even if I don’t see everything, it always gives me an excuse to come back all over again.

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Sunrise at Saint Clair Beach on the Otago Peninsula


Alyssa in New Zealand: The capital and Maori culture

October 11, 2013

The reality that the end is approaching has finally hit everyone. Since it’s the last week of classes, we have all started to realize that living here is not going to last forever. As we hand in our last minute assignments and prep for the upcoming exam period, we can’t but help ourselves to keep planning more and more last minute trips. What have we not done? What are we missing? Surely we’ve seen a lot, but have we seen enough? The thought of leaving something behind seems to be more worrisome than preparing for our final exams.

Yet, it is important to focus on the next few weeks, for typically, the final exams account for the majority of our final grades. My microbiology final is 70% of my grade and my zoology final is 50%.  As much as I would prefer to put most of my efforts on my travels, it is essential for me to focus on my work as well.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the traveling comes to a complete halt. In fact, I continue to explore the country. Nothing stopped me from flying into Wellington (the North Island) last weekend. What made this experience a little more special was that I was with the people that I have known my entire life: my parents.

Being with mom and dad was such a great way to spend my time in the nation’s capital. I found myself very lucky to have had visitors. I got to have a little taste of home in America, even though I’m several thousand miles away from it.

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Golem, a main character from Lord of the Rings, greets those who arrive in the Wellington airport everyday

Wellington is a very walkable city, for we continuously weaved in and out of the streets. Since the city is situated on the southern part of the North Island of New Zealand, much of the main activity is centered near and around the waterfront. It it typically known as “Windy Welly” due to the high amount of winds that blows into the city from the ocean. A boardwalk that turns into a path runs along the perimeter of the city right by the waterfront, making everything very accessible and creating an enjoyable walkway. Near the water, Wellington seems almost like a beach town. Nevertheless, the further you walk away from the waterfront, the more urban it becomes. The city turns into a more hectic and active version of Dunedin. There are several more people that are walking around as well as cars drive through the streets.

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The leaning posture of the statue indicates the magnitude of wind in Wellington.

Variety is integrated all throughout Wellington. Every corner that you turn is something completely new. Whether it be shops or restaurants, no two places that you encounter are the same. I finally got to go out to eat and have a taste of some of the New Zealand food. The food isn’t significantly different from American food. Most of the options that they offer on the menu are somewhat similar. However, the way it all tastes is fairly different, for it tastes much more natural. Everything that I tried seemed like it was a more flavorful, healthier version of what the American dish would be.

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A view an area of the waterfront from Mount Victoria, a prominent hill in Wellington. Wellington is the first city one would enter if traveling by ferry from the South to the North Island.

The waterfront is a very populated area, for there are several different kinds of attractions located there. One of the main appeals is the Te Papa Museum, New Zealand’s national museum. As we walked around each level, I found myself learning a lot more about the kiwi culture than I had throughout the entire semester. The Maori culture is highly preserved and respected in the country, for they are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand that have their own language, mythology, crafts and performing arts. Sadly, the presence of the Maori seems to be slowly shrinking in New Zealand, but the kiwis make a great amount of effort to sustain and uphold the customs in the country.

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A light up map of New Zealand in the Te Papa museum

Pounamu (also known as “greenstone”) plays a very important role in Maori culture. It is a very highly valued type of stone found in southern New Zealand and each piece of stone carries some sort of significance to it. The piece of greenstone that I attained (a gift from my parents, for it is advised that you should never buy greenstone for yourself) is a “fish hook”, the symbol of plenty. It represents strength and determination and it provides safety for travelers, especially those who venture out overseas (which seemed to be quite fitting for me).

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Maori greenstone – the fish hook

After returning to Dunedin, I was inspired to attend the end of the semester concert that was performed by the students enrolled in the Maori papers (both 100 and 200 level). Over half the students in the 100-level paper were international students. I saw the people that I was familiar with walk on stage in costumes that made them seem like strangers. The females were dressed in all black, wearing knee-length skirts, black lipstick and black designs drawn right beneath their lower lip on their chin, almost making it look like they had fangs. The males were shirtless and wore grass skirts that seemed to be constructed by some type of fiber.

Throughout the performance, the students were only singing in Maori with a peaceful melody. Even though I did not understand what they were saying, I was still very entertained. Typically, the dance starts off so that the females are situated in the front and the males in the back and they’re standing very close to each other. Eventually they all spread apart, and the females continue to gently sing in the front. The highlight of the performance is when the males make their way to the front to perform the haka, the traditional ancestral war cry. Much of the dance involves stomping of the feet, vigorous movements and rhythmic shouting and chanting. The signature mark of the dance is the widening of the eyes and sticking out the tongue. New Zealand rugby teams perform the haka before every game, trying to intimidate their opponents and to increase the intensity of the team.

Even though the semester is finishing, that does not prevent me from learning more about the New Zealand tribal culture. I’m glad that I finally had proper exposure to the culture, for there is much more to New Zealand than amazing sights; it has plenty to offer. It’s never too late to discover something new, even if it seems like you’re quickly running out of time (which is exactly how I do feel). The end may seem intimidating, but it is also motivating.


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