Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree

I was very fortunate to be able to spend Christmas Eve with a wonderful family who Sarah used to baby-sit for. It was a very traditional (for anywhere) family-style Christmas with heaps of food and kids running around everywhere. Of course the meal was a barbecue that reminded me more of the Fourth of July, but I was happy to trade the roast turkey and egg nog for grilled steaks and New Zealand wine.

This family has a tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve, and before some unsuspecting uncle dons the Santa suit to hand them out, the kids perform Christmas carols. The adults sing along, so when "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was put on the list, I quickly tried to remember what comes after seven swans a-swimming. But I was quickly saved by not knowing any of the words--this was the Kiwi version.

12 Piupiu swinging
11 Haka lessons
10 Juicy fish heads
9 Sacks of pipi
8 Plants of puha
7 Eels a-swimming
6 Poi a-twirling
5 Big fat pigs
4 Huhu grubs
3 Flax kites
2 Kumara
And a pukeko in a ponga tree!

Then the kids performed the haka (the non-throat-slitting one) and Santa came. I'm sure this is just me speaking as a tourist who can't resist cute little kids, but I love New Zealand Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Merry Kiwi Christmas

As I mentioned in my last post, Christmas here is a litle different than at home. It still doesn't feel like Christmas to me because 70 degree weather and talk of barbecues on the beach just don't align with the snow, ugly sweaters, and roast dinners (or Indian food) that are part of my holiday frame of reference. Still, the Kiwis have very much adoped the British holiday traditions (BTW, figgy pudding does not look at all like the picture I had in my head), while definitely making it their own. Below, a small taste of how Auckland celebrates:

Despite my general disdain for most of the decorating decisions on Franklin Road, there were a few I thought were cute--and very Kiwi.

Even the Sky Tower got in on the action:

On Queen Street, in the heart of Auckland's central business district, you can't miss this gigantic, totally creepy Santa statue. Seeing him in person is even more disturbing because during the day he is rigged to wink and make a "come here" motion with his finger. At night when he is not moving, his eyelid has usually stopped in a frightening half-closed position that makes him look like he is on heavy drugs.

New Zealand has its own "Chrismas tree," the pohutukawa. It earned its nickname because it blooms beautiful red flowers at Christmastime. The city is covered with them. Again, it's hard to feel Christmasy in the middle of springtime flowers (the freesia, birds of paradise, and heaps of others are in full bloom as well), but it's a nice change from gray skies and leafless trees.

Here, the pohutakawa in use (okay, actually it's bottlebrush, but it's still red and pretty) as my team's entry in our office Christmas tree decorating competition. I'm not sure how we lost because ours was totally the best. However, I'll concede that it's a little easier for us, Maori Health, to represent our directorate in tree form than for, say, Disability Services. I'd say the National Screening Program deserved their second place prize; it must have required some serious creativity to design their (slightly creepy) tree covered in pictures of breastfeeding babies. Anyway, in case you didn't figure it out, "Meri Kirihimete" means"Merry Christmas" in Te Reo Maori.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Auckland Christmas Aesthetics

Last week Sarah invited me to do some Christmas light viewing. Not having seen a single house with Christmas lights, I was a little confused. But she assured me that there are a few neighbourhoods where everyone puts up lights, and then all of Auckland goes to check them out.

We headed over to Franklin Avenue in Ponsonby, and the first difference to Christmas light viewing in America was that we had to wait until about 8:30 or so, and even then it was still a little too light out to see things properly. I definitely do not miss Michigan winters where it gets dark at 5pm. The second difference was that viewing was not done from inside a heated car. Since it’s spring/summer here and the weather is beautiful, we got out of the car and walked. It was a big party on the street, complete with carolers singing about the frosty weather and jolly holly. I was surprised at the age diversity represented. Of course there were little kids (who were all thrilled to be up past their bedtime), but also a surprising amount of teenagers, young couples, and others who didn't look like the Spirit of Christmas types.

As for the lights, I should first note that I’m bit judgemental (me? judgemental?) when it comes to Christmas displays. I prefer simple monochrome gold lights or multi-colored strings, and very little else. Specifically, I like heaps of them in trees (like on Main Street in Ann Arbor), or I like the ones in a netting configuration if they’re draped over bushes/shrubs because I love the effect when they’re covered in snow. No ropes of red or blue lights, nothing flashing, and for the love of god, absolutely nothing that comes in a box with the words “giant,” “inflatable,” or “animatronic.”

Kiwis, however, seem to like whatever they can find--and as much of it as they can find. I get the sense that the options for Christmas decorations are limited, because there wasn't a whole lot of variety. Just some people had more sets than others sets than others. Those white plastic reindeer and other pre-made displays seemed to be a new addition this year. Nothing was really out of control, at least compared to the US (house on Winsted Court, I’m talking you), but “more is more” was definitely the prevailing philosophy. Surprisingly, these were the houses that everyone, young and old, oohed and aahed over. I guess I am an American snob, because a lot of what I found tacky they pronounced “beautiful.”

Although I am making a sweeping generalisation here, I feel like the Christmas lights, both in the US and here, are to be a pretty good reflection of each country's overall approach to Christmas. At home, Christmas is overdone and blown out of proportion. It's a race for who can have the latest gadgets, the brightest lights, and the deepest credit card debt. Here Christmas seems more like a time to escape to your bach (translation: holiday cabin; pronounced “batch”). Most of the celebrations are fairly restrained, so the big displays stand out as something unique and interesting, rather than garish and tacky. I am not so much a fan of Christmas, but the Franklin Street viewing experience was actually rather heartwarming. I generally think all that “Spirit of Christmas” stuff is more or less just another marketing ploy, but it’s hard to argue when a holiday brings a community out into streets for a two-week long block party.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Wellington to Auckland

Since I don't get to post pictures very often, here are my pics from the trip from Wellington up to Auckland a few weeks back.

First was a pitstop at Mt. Fuji. I mean Mt. Taranaki.
One of the guys I was travelling with thought it would be a good idea to take the "scenic" route from Stratford to Taumarunui. It was secnic, but we should have figured out by the name of the highway that it would take 6+ hours.
Just before hitting Auckland, we stopped in Matamata. Matamata holds a special place in my heart, though not for any LOTR fame reasons. When I came to New Zealand in 1997, Matamata is where we did homestays for a few days. It was eerie driving around this small town in the middle of rural New Zealand now in 2006 and totally recognising things like the high school and some random lookout points.


On Tuesday we went on a hike out to some waterfalls, and swam around in the pools. Amazing.

From when we first arrived in Vanuatu, it totally reminded me of Lost Island (from the TV show). Not really a surprise since Lost is filmed in the Hawaii, another Pacific Island. But I kept expecting wierd things to happen (like kava having no effect on me). Anyway, see that scary skull-looking thing in the rock? You totally can't see it when you're just looking at the rock. And if you look closely, you can see the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 in the moss. Seriously.

Vila Market

Not much to say about the markets in Port Vila, except that they were really cool. So much produce I couldn't identify, but it all looked delicious.

When we first arrived on Saturday, we bought a whole heap of fresh fruit: passion fruit, papaya, a giant grapefruit, mangoes. Below is the jackfruit that was so fresh and ripe it was literally falling apart as we were carrying it home. We also got some sugar cane, and when we asked the woman selling if if she could cut up the big piece, we thought she'd just cut off a few slices. But no, she just cut the metre-high stalk in half. I guess it was easier to carry that way.

We also got a chance to sample laplap, a very common food for the local Ni-Vanuatu. It's a paste that looks like sticky rice paste (like omochi), but is made from a root crop like taro or manioc. They also stick a piece of chicken on top. Honsetly, I didn't have high expectations for it after what I'd read and also based on my experience with Kenyan ugali, which is ground corn meal and has absolutely no taste. But laplap was delicious, a perfect combination of spices and full of flavour. I wish we'd discovered it earlier--in a choice between fruit bat and laplap, laplap wins hands down.

Here's the row of people selling laplap at the market. They are constantly shooing the flies away.

And here I am with my laplap (and bonus banana leaf plate!). Okay, it does't exactly look appetizing, but it's seriously delicious.

Flying Fox

I don't know why, but I really like trying strange foods, particularly strange animal. I have more than happily chowed down on kangaroo, crocodile, alligator, zebra, gazelle, eland, ostrich, buffalo, etc. So when I heard that flying fox (fruit bat) was popular in Vanuatu, I couldn't pass it up.

Here's the thing about trying strange animals: most of them have worked out pretty well for me. Alligator was delicious, kangaroo was succulent, zebra was tender and juicy, and eland remains the tastiest meat I have ever had in my entire life. flying fox, however, did not work out so well. It's really dark meat and is very rich, kind of like duck. And perhaps more importantly, the presentation left a little bit to be desired. If I had known that it was going to come out with everything but the wings, I may have stuck to the wild pigeon in mushroom sauce.

Lelepa Island

On Monday we took a day tour to Lelepa Island, a little island just off Efate (the main island of Vanuatu, where the capital is). Lelepa Island is where a lot of the filming for Suvivor: Vanuatu took place. I know, cheesy, but still interesting. Here's where they held tribal council. Obviously some stuff has been torn down, but seeing it in person still takes a little bit of the glamour out of it, eh?
First, we spent the morning on the beach, with some awesome snorkeling. All that dark stuff in the water is coral:
Then we went hiking around some caves, and I saw a fruit bat that reminded me of dinner (more on that later):

Next was more snorkeling, this time with bigger fish. We fed them with leftover bread and chicken bones from lunch. Unfortunately I did not bring an unerwater camera, so I've just got some shots from over the side of the boat:

And we ended the day with a stop in one of the villages on the island. There was definitely a lot of wierdness/awkwardness with being tourists in a village. Again this goes back to the whole question of what is appropriate cultural tourism. At least the Lelepa Island tour was fully owned and operated by Lelepa Islanders, but I still felt disrespectful. It reminded me that I know how I like to travel: by actually getting to be a part of the culture and the country rather than just seeing it as a tourist. I would love to go back to Vanuatu (or any of the other Pacific Islands), but it's just difficult for me to go and stay in a fancy resort and only view the people through proverbial glass.


Until about a month ago, I had never even heard of kava. It sounds like a fruit to me, but of course that's guava. Kava Pacific Island drug of sorts, more or less. They drink it on most Pacific Islands, but Vanuatu kava is the good stuff and is way mroe potent than what you'd find elsewhere. It's made from ground up root of a pepper plant (supposedly it's best made when it's chewed by pre-pubescent boys instead of ground with a rock), and then strained (usually through a sock). It's the color of grayish mud and smells horrible. It's not even that it's an acquired taste--everyone thinks it's disgusting. This is not some social thing you sip on; when you drink it you go hide in a dark corner and basically take it like a shot, then rinse your mouth out to get rid of the taste and try not to vomit.

So of course I had to try it immediately.

We decided to try it our first night in Port Vila. The first challenge was finding the nakamal (the kava bar). We asked at the hotel and the owner told us that there was one just 100 metres down the road that all the ex-pats go to. If the big light by the road was on, it was open. We wandered down and, yes, the light was on, but the light was in between two different buildings, and we didn't know which was the right one. Both looked like people's houses, but we could see inside one and there were a bunch of people sitting around on the floor. We figured that was it, but didn't want to go down there if it was the wrong place. After a good 10 minutes of standing in the street arguing about how to approach, we chickened out and went back to the hotel. The security guard who had seen us leave asked why we were back so soon--did the smell drive us away? We told him we couldn't find the place, so he offered to walk us down there. Thank god he did, because it turned out to be neither of the buildings we saw. It was down some windy path that we never would have found on our own.

We each ordered a half-shell (about 3/4 of cup worth of kava), and since we didn't know about the whole "hide in the corner to drink it" thing, we sat down at a table. Fortunately, an Australian girl who had overheard us filled us in on the protocol. We found a dark corner and chugged. It actually didn't taste quite as horrible as I expected, but was definitely pretty gross. Then we joined Michelle, the Australian girl, and her friends and waited for it to kick in. Nothing happened. We went to get some more, but it was the end of the night and they had run out, so we spilt the last half shell and gave up. Michelle said it didn't do anything to her the first time either, so we figured we'd just try again another night. If this stuff worked, it was a huge bargain--50 vatu (approx. 50 US cents) for a half shell of kava, versus 500 vatu for a beer or 700+ for a cocktail.

On Monday night we went back to the kava bar, and this time went early to make sure there was enough. After four half shells, we still didn't feel anything. But the smell/taste was getting a little much, so we went off to dinner and figured we'd give it another go on Tuesday.

Then at dinner I started to feel something. But it wasn't a good something, or a relaxing something, or any kind of something that I imagine you'd seek out from a drug. Instead it was a horrible, horrible stomach ache. Eating just made it worse. Candida mentioned she wasn't feeling too well either, pretty nauseous, in fact.

It was a race back to the hotel room and to the bathroom. Luckily Candida fell asleep pretty quickly, but I spent a good portion of the night in and out of the bathroom. I'm a little bitter about the whole thing. Not so much that I got sick--that's bound to happen when you go on vacation to a developing nation--but that the kava never had any positive effects. At least if I had to go through that, I could have gotten high out of the deal.

Paradise Found

Just a quick post... greetings from Vanuatu!

My friend Candida and I arrived here Saturday afternoon, and although it is a short trip (we are leaving early tomorrow morning), we have already done heaps, including (n no particular order):

-Snorkeling on a couple coral reefs
-Trying kava and not feeling anything
-Visiting a bunch of Survivor filming locations
-Sunning ourselves
-Fending off gigantic bugs (but luckily no centipedes)
-Meeting interesting Ni-Vanuatu folks
-Trying kava again and this time getting sick (but still not feeling anything)
-Eating delicious fresh papaya, jackfruit, mangoes, passion fruit, bananas, etc.
-Eating flying fox AKA fruit bat

Today we are going swimming in some waterfalls. More on all of this later, of course, and with pictures. The flying fox looks only slightly less appetizing than it actually is.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Morningside 4 Life!

Guess I should have added in my last post that somewhere among all the dirty flats and crazy tenants, I was able to find what I think will turn out to be a good place. It's a cute little villa ("villa"="small house") with three flatmates and a huge backyard--should be perfect for traidtional Kiwi BBQs this summer.

It's in the suburb ("suburb"="neighborhood") of Morningside. Or maybe it's in Kingsland--the suburbs here are really tiny and have questionable borders. But I'd prefer to say it's in Morningside has a much more exciting recognition factor thanks to Bro'Town. Also big on the relation-to-important-Kiwi-icons side, the house (villa?) is pretty close to Eden Park, the big rugby/cricket stadium. Eden Park has recently been the subject of much debate, as it is theoretically going to be the main stadium when New Zealand hosts the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Although I'll be long gone by then, it's highly possible that I'll get to experience the negative side effects (i.e. loud construction). But on the upside, living so close by might encourage me to go to a cricket game for some real kiwi culture. Or not.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Adventures in Flat Hunting

Finding a flat in Auckland has been considerably more difficult than it was in Wellington. In Wellington I arrived on a Saturday, looked at places on Tuesday and Wednesday, and had made arrangements for a place by Friday. Not so in Auckland. Since I arrived last Monday, my wonderful friend Sarah has driven me around almost everyday, and we’ve probably seen about 20 different places. I’m definitely spoiled for choice here … it’s just that most of the choices are, well, not so choice.

Regan’s flat was not notable one way or the other; it was more that Regan was not my ideal flatmate. He had just quit his part-time job at a video store—he didn’t think he’d have time for it anymore now that he was trying to get something going with his band. I know they’ll be successful, though, because as Regan was taking down my name, he told me that after talking to me on the phone that morning, “I wrote a song about you in the shower. But I forgot it.” I told him I’d be in touch.

Claire and Stacey were super-nice, so nice in fact that they wouldn’t stop talking and made us late for our next appointment. I now know all their likes and dislikes, from sushi to art to dinosaurs. They’re not all sunshine, though, as we learned when they were telling us about their old flatmate. “I got so mad at her,” Stacey said, “that I punched her in the face.” I wasn’t exactly disappointed the next day when I got a text saying they’d found someone else. But fear not, the text made sure to note that I was still welcome to be their friend.

Shaun and his two flatmates (whose names I have chosen to forget) lived in an enormous house that I’m sure was beautiful back in the day—before there were life-sized cut-outs of naked women on the walls. Their explanation of rent and expenses was pretty straightforward: “Sometimes we have enough money to pay bills on time.” The guys also happened to be some of the most socially awkward people I’ve ever met. One of them sat in the lounge just staring at the TV, even though it wasn’t on. The other two stumbled through conversation and couldn’t seem to figure out why they had three empty rooms they couldn’t seem to rent out. Best of luck, guys.

Ricky and Greg met when Ricky tried to sell Greg some bad drugs. They’ve been best friends ever since. Ricky texted me the next day to say that they needed someone who could stay longer than I could, but added, “You’ve got my number—we should get drinks sometime.” Who knew that flat-hunting was so socially lucrative?

The best place by far, however, was Chris’ place. The easiest way to describe it—and I mean this in the nicest way possible—is that if the house and the guys were in the US, it would be a house for a slacker frat at Michigan State. The place was disgusting, and the furniture inside looked only slightly higher quality than the two or three old couches stacked on the porch (“Don’t mind our fuel. We’re burning those soon.”). The kitchen had clearly never been used or cleaned, and I’m tempted to say the same about the bathoom. “We’ve been meaning to get a shower head put on the shower,” they told us. “We can do that by the time you move in.” Probably true, because I’ll never move in, and they’ll probably never fix the shower. Not surprisingly, the only thing in even semi-good condition was the Playstation. Still, the best part came as we were walking out (“I still have to look at some other places, but I’ll let you know”), and Chris pointed to a small dirt patch by the walk: “Don’t mind the grave.” First I thought I’d heard him wrong, then I thought that maybe they’d had a dog that had died from neglect or something, but no. “We hate our old flatmate’s girlfriend, so we made a fake grave for her.”

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Now You Have No Excuse

As the world gets smaller/flatter, it was only a matter of time before free international calling appeared. I guess you could say there already is free international calling with services like Skype and Google Talk, but here is a service that does not require a computer for either party.

All you do is call the phone number in Iowa, and it will connect you to international numbers in a whole bunch of countries--including New Zealand. Although nobody has tried calling me yet, I read about the service in the New York Times, and I put a lot of confidence in their fact checking abilities, so I don't think it's some sort of scam. They say that the only potential downfalls are that it's sometimes hard to get a connection, and it might not connect to cell phones in some countries. Sounds good to me.

Of course this means that I now expect my phone to be ringing off the hook.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


There are many things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday. There are the usuals like my wonderful family and friends, good health, etc. But I am also thankful that I have been able to travel and experience so many amazing things in the past year. I'm thankful for all that Australia and New Zealand have to offer, in terms of their natural beauty as well as their culture. I'm thankful for the great people I've met and the opportunities they've given me to experience aspects of Australia and New Zealand I probably couldn't have seen otherwise. I'm thankful that I got the courage to pack up and move overseas.

But before I get too cheesy, let me say what I am not thankful for right now: I am in no way thankful for the fact that Thanksgiving is not celebrated in New Zealand. I take small solace in the fact that I am enjoying fabulous spring weather at the moment, while all you Michiganders are freezing cold. But that just doesn't compensate for the severe lack of turkey in my life right now. Oh, and I am also not thankful that a "pie" here involves meat. Painfully, I have met a number of people who have never even heard of a sweet potato pie. As much as I love New Zealand, I just don't think I could ever call a Thanksgiving-less country home.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Well, transitioning up to Auckland has been pretty much a breeze so far. I left Wellington on Sunday morning, catching a ride with two German guys are travelling the North Island. We took a scenic route up to Turangi, a town just nestled between Lake Taupo Tongariro National Park (the home of Mt. Ngauruhoe AKA Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings). We spent the night there and then finished the trip to Auckland on Monday. Lots of good pictures and scenery along the way--all to be posted soon.

I jumped right into life in Auckland, and within a few hours of arriving on Monday I already had a job lined up (I'll be doing the same thing I was doing in Wellington, but now I'll be based in the Auckland Ministry of Health office), and had checked out four flats. I saw two more yesterday and will see two tonight and hopefully will move in somewhere this weekend.

Being up in Auckland this time is much different from when I arrived in May. Although I still don't find it to be as welcoming or pretty as Wellington, this time I am equipped with the connections and friends that allow me to settle in without too much stress. It will still take some figuring out to understand my way around (especially since I have to take the bus and/or train out to my job), but it shouldn't be too difficult. And maybe in my time here I will figure out why the rest of the country hates Aucklanders so much. Is it that Aucklanders really do think that the world revolves around them or that the rest of the country is just jealous? The jury is still out, but then again, I have only been here three days.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bad Weather

I know I have written about Wellington's crappy weather before, but at the time I thought it was a passing thing. One cannot expect winter weather to be good, because bad weather is what definies winter. But now it is spring, and since the nice days in Wellington are really nice, I was hoping it would improve.

Not so. Since I got back a week ago, it's been storming almost nonstop. And this is not your average wind and rain, either. I seriously considered going to hide in our window-less hallway the other day for fear that the glass was going to blow in. Then my flatmates and I had a discussion about what they call hurricanes here (typhoons? cyclones? There was no conclusion), and if they get them (yes).

Then yesterday there were TWO earthquakes.

I'm leaving for Auckland tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Not-So-Savvy Traveler

Having travelled around 50,000 miles (give or take) since February, I feel like I have gotten pretty good at travelling. I can pack quickly and compactly, I have a good organizational system for my carry on luggage and important documents, and I'm not afraid to ask for directions. If nothing else, I keep reminding myself that even if I forget something, as long as I've got my passport, tickets, and some money, I can figure out the rest later. And that mindset was working well--I made this far never getting seriously lost, and the only things I've misplaced are one pair of pants and one pair of underwear (I don't count the socks that our washing machine eats because I didn't start losing those until I moved into my flat in Wellington).

Being the savvy traveller, I figured my trip back to New Zealand would be easy. My flight from Detroit to LA was a little late, but I had checked my luggage straight through to Wellington, so I figured my only potential holdup would be security. Still, I was well prepared with my slip-off shoes and ziploc bag of liquids (under 3 oz of course) in hand. But the holdup came at the Air New Zealand check-in counter. First the check-in guy shuffled through my tickets about 20 times. They were all there. Then he flipped through my passport over and over. I pointed out my visa, the stamp in my passport showing that I'd entered New Zealand in May and had activated it, plus the line on the visa that said "multiple entry permitted." He called over a supervisor to take a look. "You need a return ticket," she told me.

I have one, of course (I had to send proof when I applied for my visa), but being the savvy traveller who does not carry valuable things I don't need, I had left it in New Zealand. No sense in hauling it to America and back, right? The supervisor woman asked if I was flying Air New Zealand back--maybe they could just look up my reservation? Unfortunately, being a savvy traveller, I'd booked an open-ended ticket to allow for changes to my itinerary. So there was no reservation in the computer. Did I have a copy of my ticket? Of course--the savvy traveller carries photocopies of all important documents. But being an idiot, I had packed the copies in my checked luggage thinking that I wouldn't need them. Still, I was extra-prepared and had left an additional copy with my parents, so could they fax it over? The woman told me that no, since it was an open-ended ticket and not a proper reservation, I needed the real thing.

My options? Stay in LA or buy a new ticket from Auckland to LA. They talk about carrying a credit card for emergencies, and this was definitely an emergency. I'm never very excited about making $1,000 charges, so it was especially painful considering it was something I'll never use. The woman assured me the ticket was refundable, but she also qualified that with "Well, maybe not completely." Great.

Fortunately, all my good travel karma (or something) swept in at the last minute and literally just as the guy was about to take my credit card, the woman "made a call to New Zealand" and told me I could get on the plane without the new ticket. I thanked them about a million times, decided it was not a good time to ask if I could have a window seat, and ran off to security. I was going to write a letter to Air New Zealand thanking them for having such a great staff, but then thought better of telling the company that their employees potentially let someone (a person with a non-Anglo name, no less) on the plane without proper documentation.

So long story short: I'm safely back in New Zealand (the immigration people in Auckland mentioned nothing about a plane ticket), and when I leave the country again in a few weeks (Tonga? Vanuatu? Still deciding) I will definitely be taking my Auckland-LA plane ticket.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Leaving Home or Going Home?

After almost three weeks back in the US, tomorrow I'm heading back to New Zealand. It has been a very productive trip home. Most of my major accomplishments (taking the GRE, getting wierdly sunburned, catching up on the entire fall TV lineup plus some back seasons of The Office and Gilmore Girls, etc.) were not photographed, but here are a few that were captured on film:

Halloween was pretty awesome. In addition to continuing our tradition of watching Teen Witch while handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, I carved the greatest pumpkin I have ever carved. Jenny made the Detroit D. Sadly the Tigers did not win the World Series, but my pumpkin is still awesome.

I also got to take a fabulous tour of the Wayne State Law School, complete with a trip to the lecture room that had been locked up because a squirrel got into the vents. Seriously, why did I go to New Zealand when I can visit Wayne State?

It was definitely a good trip home. I'd list all the other great things I did and people I was so glad to see, but since there are no more accompanying pictures, it's not really that fun to read a list of names. Posted by Picasa

More later on some of my observations from being back in the States. I wouldn't call it culture shock, but it definitely took some adjusting. There are some things I am sad to have to leave again (DVR), but I also can't wait to get away from others (the feeling that I am constantly being marketed to).

Also, "happy" election day. Although I now feel strong attachment to New Zealand, I will maintain my civic duty as an American and vote today. And depending on what the election returns tell us tonight, tomorrow might be a really, really good day to leave.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


The koru is the uncurling fern frond. If you see any New Zealand/Maori art, you will see the influence of the koru. I love koru, both in art and in real life, so I thought I'd post some pictures.


The obligatory shot of the Treaty of Waitangi. Unfortunately, this is not the actual document. The actual document is not actually at the Waitangi Treaty grounds (I think it's in the National Archives in Wellington); this is just a photocopy.

One of the wakas (canoes) that goes out on the water on Waitangi Day. This one was built specifically to celebrate the Treaty, and on Waitangi Day it is joined by wakas from all over the country and sometimes from other Pacific islands. Wakas are extremely impressive, in large part because of their massive size. A couple years ago, Geneva's brother came over to San Francisco and they brought some wakas with them and sailed them under the Golden Gate bridge. I really can't figure out how they got the wakas from New Zealand to San Francisco. It's not like you can take one on the plane.

The Kauri tree that the above waka was carved from. Big tree=big waka, eh?

The whare runanga (meeting house) on the treaty grounds.

Looking out into the Bay of Islands, which is surrounded by Waitangi, Paihia, and Russell. I'm not sure how it's possible, but apparently this area was once known as "the Hellhole of the Pacific." Come on 18th/19th Century Europeans, weren't they still throwing sewage in the streets in Europe at the time when you first landed here? You're really calling this a hellhole?

The resort we stayed at in Waitangi. Geneva planned our schedule for the weekend around staying here, just because she likes the place.