Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's Pronounced "Kwes-uh-dill-uh"

Remember when I was trying to think of something American to cook for my flatmates? Well, I found it. Of course, the “American” thing is hardly American, but is actually Mexican food.
It started when the NY Times ran an article on tacos, including recipes for foods I have seriously been craving like shredded chicken and carne asada. The shredded chicken was pretty easy, so I cooked tacos for dinner one night. My flatmates were duly impressed, although I have to say the salsa was pretty lacking because I completely forgot that cilantro is called coriander in New Zealand. But tacos weren’t that exciting because tacos weren’t new to my flatmates (or at least that’s what they said—I’m not sure if you can say you’ve had a taco if you are surprised that chicken can be used as a filling).

There were still tortillas left over so the next time it was my turn to cook, so the obvious solution was to make one of my all-time favourite foods: quesadillas. When I planned the menu, it never occurred to me that it might qualify as an exotic meal—who has never eaten a quesadilla? But I was completely shocked and horrified when one of my flatmates looked at the stack of cheesy triangles and asked “How do I eat this?”

My first reaction was sadness. I just felt so horrible for these poor people who had grown up never knowing the joys of a quesadilla. They provide the ultimate combination of deliciousness, simplicity, and variability. With so many cheeses, vegetables, meats, and toppings to choose from, you can pretty much never go wrong. Quesadillas pretty much qualify as a staple food in my life. Just ask my mom, who cooked them for me for 18+ years and then bought me a quesadilla maker for Christmas when I moved out. Or ask anyone who has ever lived with me and can testify to the fact that I regularly supplement use of said quesadilla maker with regular trips to Bandito’s, Taco Bell, Dominick’s, etc.

So you can see why I was so pained that not only had my flatmates never eaten quesadillas, they have never even heard of them. And it’s not like they call them something different here; the idea of melting cheese between two tortillas was completely new to them. Tragic. Fortunately, I have brought enlightenment to our flat, and the quesadillas were thoroughly enjoyed (even though they weren’t really that good—I had to cook them in the oven because I was using our one frying pan to cook the Mexican rice, so the tortillas got kind of dried out). If my flatmates take nothing else from our cultural exchange, I'm feel successful that I've taught them another use for melted cheese.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I don’t really have much to comment on the subject, but it seems wrong to go without mentioning that a major New Zealand event has happened. Last week, the Maori queen passed away, and Monday, after a week-long tangi (longer than is traditional, but they wanted to accommodate all the mourners), she was being buried and her eldest son named as successor.

Mostly why I have no comment is that I have little understanding about the Kingitanga (the Maori King Movement), either its history or its current issues. However, it has still been interesting to watch the reactions of my Maori friends and coworkers. Something I have heard a lot is “She wasn’t my queen.” However, this has not been said in the way I would say “George Bush is not my president.” Because the royal family is from the Tainui region (south of Auckland), it seems like people who are not from that region or that iwi do not feel as connected to her or to the throne. When the new successor was named this morning (they brought a TV into the office so we could watch), there were a lot of reactions as there would be to the naming of any political successor. Unfortunately, the reactions pretty much had no context, and since half of what was going on, both on TV and in the office was spoken in te reo, I was really left clueless. My te reo is definitely improving, but not that much.

So since I actually live here and don't really know much about the topic, I figure my non-Kiwi readers are in a similar situation. So here are some links to educate yourself with.



Since being overseas, I have been quite disappointed with the lack of Michigan paraphernalia I’ve seen. If the lines that the school and the alumni association feed us are true—“Michigan has the largest body of living alumni in the world,” “The Michigan logo/colors/name are the most printed logo/colors/name of any sports team, college or pro,” etc.—then you would think I’d see be seeing Wolverines everywhere I go. Even in rural Kenya I saw a good amount of Michigan apparel, but I hear that’s more because thrift shop cast-offs get sent to Africa than because rural Kenyans are Michigan fans (I also saw a fair amount of Kenyans wearing fraternity and sorority apparel, and I think we can assume that 99% of them were not in the Greek system). Painfully, I have seen more Notre Dame gear than Michigan gear in the last six months.

But this weekend was practically like being home again (not really). On Friday I was at a Ministry of Health party (who knew that Public Health is the party directorate?) and spotted those familiar colors from across the room. My friend who I was talking to was really confused because I interrupted him mid-sentence with “Is that a Michigan shirt?!” and walked away. It was indeed a Michigan shirt, and the woman wearing it was from England, but her parents had both gone to U of M. She told me all about how much she loves wearing the shirt, and how her parents always talked about how great Ann Arbor is. She and her brother finally got to visit a few years ago, and made a point to go stand in the middle of the stadium and soak it all in. Glad to see the pro-Michigan brainwashing works just as effectively on people raised in other countries.

Then on Saturday I was out with my flatmates and ended up talking to some guy who asked where I from. When I told him Michigan, he replied, “No way, I’m moving there in a few months! Do you know Ann Arbor?” Pretty random, no? So I gave him a quick rundown on everything from Arbor Brewing Company to Zingerman’s, and only got mildly homesick in the process.

I’m not exactly sure what the universe was trying to tell me with all of this, but I assume it had something to do with the fact that football season is starting soon. Despite the fact that I usually spend football Saturdays cursing traffic and napping while everyone is at the game, I’m actually getting really excited this year. I’ve already researched a sports bar where I’m told they’ll show the games, and have shown my flatmates pictures of the Big House to prepare them (they were in awe—as they should be—that Michigan Stadium is something like four times bigger than the Westpac Stadium here in Wellington where the rugby is held). I guess being away from the madness actually makes me miss it and has unexpectedly brought out my school spirit.

There’s really no other way to end this post: GO BLUE!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

It was Wellington's Fault

Yesterday I was at the gym, stretching after my workout. Since there’s not much to look at while I’m stretching, I often end up focusing on the emergency procedures poster. Perhaps my psychic abilities were working extra hard, because as I was reading the earthquake procedures, I felt the ground shake. No joke. It was a big rumbling and felt like when you are in a multi-story building and there’s construction work happening on the floor below, or like when you’re in a small building (like a house or something) and a really big truck drives by. I looked around thinking that someone had knocked over a weight tree or a treadmill or something, but no. Still, I figured whatever it was had happened in the other room or outside or whatever, and I forgot about it.

Later I was watching the news and they mentioned “the earthquake today in Wellington.” What?! That was an earthquake?! I know that New Zealand is chock full of seismic activity, and I definitely expected to experience an earthquake at some point here, but I guess earthquakes are just not part of my frame of reference. I am much more used to good old fashioned Midwestern natural disasters like blizzards and tornadoes. Stay off the roads until the snow lets up? Gladly. Hide in the basement waiting for the sirens to stop? No problem. But the idea of the ground actually moving underneath me is pretty scary.

My flatmates, however, were unimpressed by the earthquake or by my reaction to it. “Yeah, they happen all the time,” they yawned. “There have been a couple since you’ve been here—you probably just slept through them.” In fact, Wellingtonians and Kiwis in general are so used to earthquakes that the only news article I could find about it was in the The Hindu, India’s national newspaper.

Okay, fine. So the earthquake was totally not that scary at all, especially since I didn’t actually know it was an earthquake. And Wellington buildings are designed with earthquakes in mind, so in all likelihood I am very safe. But last night as I was falling asleep and a big truck drove by, I did a quick check to make sure there was enough room to hide under my desk.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Old Man Winter Vacations in NZ

Okay, I know it’s a little cliché and potentially boring to write about the weather, but with US newspapers talking about the heat wave and NZ papers talking about our weather situation here, I figure I’m entitled to at least one blog entry about it. (This of course is ignoring the fact that I complain about the weather in pretty much every email I send home).

The awesome thing about coming to the Southern Hemisphere in February was that I left Michigan’s cold and stepped out into the Australian summer. But now, in August, the weather reversal is not working in my favour. People, it is COLD down here. I know, I know—as a Michigander, I should know how to deal with it by now, especially when I admit that the thermometer here is actually hovering in the low 40s (that’s Fahrenheit) and is therefore nowhere near the bitter temperatures I grew up with. But I would like to point out a few things in defense of my complaining:

1. This is not the same wind we have in Michigan. The weather forecast regularly discusses “southerlies”—winds blowing up from Antarctica. Remember in “March of the Penguins” the scenes where the penguins all have to huddle together to shield themselves from the cold and lots of them die? Those are the same winds that make their way up here. Also, while the rest of the country is shielded by friendly mountain ranges, Wellington’s position on the Cook Strait, right at the bottom of the North Island, means that we get no protection. The weatherpeople are not kidding around when they talk about “gale force” winds.

2. Winter in Michigan is dry and snowy. Winter in Wellington is wet and rainy. Although I’m happy not to save money by not buying a humidifier, I’m not so happy with the constant rain and with being soaked by the time I get home from work. And it’s not like being soaked from playing in the snow, because there’s no warm, dry place to come back to. On the upside for people who live here permanently, this is supposed to be the wettest winter on record, so they don’t usually have to deal with all this. On the downside, it’s causing a lot of problems with flooding and houses sliding down mountains.

3. There are severe differences in the heating systems here i.e. a severe lack of heating systems. My flat (which is highly representative of other homes) has little insulation, thin windows, and no central heating. When it gets down to the 40s in Michigan, everyone has the heat on. Not an option here.

Yes, maybe I should be a little tougher after living in the cold for my entire life. But even though I am used to harsh Michigan winters, I don’t like them. I’m still cold every single February. For that matter, I’m still cold when it’s in the 60s in May, and I still sleep with a blanket in the middle of July. My low core body temperature prefers the low 80s. The reports of America’s current heat wave don’t sound so horrible to me. Although it’s hard to imagine what at 110 heat index feels like when I’m wearing a sweater. I guess you always want what you can't have. But somehow I doubt I'll be jealous of the States when I'm lying on the beach in the middle of January.


Here is a completely unrepresentative sample of winter days in Wellington:

Taken in mid June:

Taken in late May:

Taken in early June:

Friday, August 04, 2006

Oh, Euphemisms

Lisa [my coworker]: “Your accent is very different from Candida’s [my coworker from London]. Hers is very soft.

Me: “Yeah, her’s is very posh British, and mine is, well, I guess very Midwestern?”

Lisa: “American accents always sound so…"

Me: "Harsh? Aggressive? Brash? Twangy? Loud?"

Lisa: "Um... Confident. American accents sound very confident”