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.

The Far North

As promised, here are pictures from my trip up north earlier this month.

The amazing Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa. I definitely felt weird going into a bathroom just to take pictures.

Doubtless Bay, where my boss Geneva grew up. Not too shabby.

The Cape Reinga lighthouse, the northernmost building in New Zealand

The water on the left is the Tasman Sea; on the right is the Pacific Ocean. Cape Reinga is where they meet.

This is little piece of land that sticks out furthest north at the top of the country. See that tree leaning over the water? According to Maori tradition, when someone dies, they leave the Earth by jumping off this tree into the water/afterlife.

Kauri trees are gigantic ancient trees found up in Northland. This staircase was carved out of the inside of just one tree. That's how huge they are.

Geneva failing to catch tuatuas on 90 Mile Beach.

More 90 Mile Beach (not actually 90 miles long). Before they built the road (and I mean literally just one road) up north, people use to drive along the beach to get there. Some people still do (we saw some vans racing along the beach at, like 7am), but it's very dangerous if you don't have the proper vehicle. I guess if you drive up there, you can sometimes see cars sticking out of the sand where they were trapped at high tide. Locals encourage tourists to use the road because all the driving has pushed the shellfish down in the sand, which is both bad for the shellfish and for fishing.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Being back home is a little wierd. But mostly because pretty much nothing has changed. Target has been rearranged, the B-School was blown up, and they are now re-paving the other side of Stadium, but that's about it. It's both comforting and depressing that things are exactly the same.

There have been a few re-adjustments/instances of reverse culture shock, of course. The first one I noticed immediately upon landing in LA. In New Zealand, I always listen in on other people's conversations trying to listen for American accents. In LAX, I got excited that the first conversation I overheard was two American accents, but then I realized, duh, an American accent in LA is not special. I'm glad I realized how stupid I was, because the people probably would have been creeped out if I had started talking to them with the opening line of "I couldn't help overhear your accent. Are you from the States? What are you doing over here?"

Surprisingly, driving on the other side of the road has tripped me up a few times. I have only driven once overseas and I mostly walk everywhere, so I didn't think the traffic patterns had affected me much. On Thursday evening my friend was driving me around and we were on a pretty empty road. I totally thought she was on the wrong side. Then on Sunday night I was driving, again on an empty road, and definitely had to question which lane I should be in when I made a left turn. One side felt natural, but then I thought that I might be in NZ mode, so I should do the opposite of what felt natural, but then I couldn't remember whether I was actually in NZ driving mode or not, so I just ended up confused. Luckily I didn't hit anything.

A Few More Shots of Wellington

I meant to post these earlier, but never got around to it. First, some super-touristy pictures:

Below is the "Beehive." It's where all the politicians have their offices. It also happens to be across the street from my office building. I have to say it's pretty cool looking out the window and seeing the building where all kinds of important government stuff is going on. But I guess all kinds of important government stuff should be going on inside my building too, but once you're working there you realize that "exciting" really means "bureaucratic." Better to stay out of the Beehive and maintain the illusion.

The really impotant stuff goes on in the building on the other side of the Beehive: Parliament. I took a tour during my first week in Wellington, and was astounded by the lack of security. The full extent of the security check I endured was leaving my cell phone and camera in my backpack and checking it at the visitor's desk. The only reason I had to leave my bag was because it was large; if I'd had a purse instead I could have kept it with me. Apparently the cell phone is banned so that it doesn't disturb anyone, and the camera so you can't take unauthorized pictures (there are very strict rules on what can and can't be filmed--TV cameras filming proceedings can only film the person who's speaking. One channel just got in trouble for showing an MP who wasn't speaking, but instead was giving the finger to another MP. But that's another story). Anyway, what really surprised me was that there was no metal detector of any kind or any kind of check--other than your own honesty--that you don't have any contraband (a guy who was on the tour with me had a distinctively phone-shaped bulge in his pocket and nobody seemed to care). I've been to bars right here in Wellington that have more security. Apparently the Beehive just put in some metal detectors, but they're only in operation during business hours. That certainly wouldn't fly in DC. Or even in the Washtenaw County Courthouse.

Now on to less touristy things. (Note: click on the pictures to make them bigger) I took this first picture from the top of Mt. Victoria and it's exciting because you can see my building! I know you can't really tell what it's pointing at, but it's the best I could do. Other highlights of this picture include the Basin Reserve (that big green cricket field), Massey University (not where my flatmates go, but I guess it's still worth noting), and the War Memorial (pretty much self-explanatory).

This next picture is also taken from Mt. Victoria. This one looks out over the Wellington Harbour and the Wellington CBD (Central Business District). As you can see, my job is in a pretty central location, right across from the Beehive. Technically it's the Treasury Building, but the Ministry of Health is in there too, obviously. To give you an idea of how this fits in with the last picture, it takes me about half an hour to walk from my flat (I walk north and slightly west) to work.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Now Taking Tim Tam Orders

Since this is only a visit back to the US and me coming home for good, I don't have to take much stuff with me and that leaves lots of room in my bag. If there's anything you' d like me to bring from New Zealand, please let me know. I'm going shopping this weekend.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Te Hiku o te Ika

A few weeks ago, my boss Geneva (who lives in Auckland) suggested that I come up and visit. She is from the far north, so she said she'd show me around. When I first checked for plane tickets, I wasn't sure if I could afford it. But when I found that it was about $100 cheaper to fly out on Friday morning instead of leaving after work, Geneva convinced our manager that she needed me to do some work in the Auckland office.

When I got to Auckland, we first stopped at Geneva's house, which is in the "bad" part of town. Her neighborhood is a regular sight on the evening news, so I was curious to see how the "scary" neighborhoods of New Zealand compare to those in the US. My analysis? They don't really compare. I was expecting it to maybe look like Detroit, but to me it just looked like some of the less manicured neighborhoods in Ann Arbor.

Not surprisingly, we didn't actually make it in to the office, and took off from Auckland around noon. Geneva kept apologizing for the long, boring drive, but I was fascinated just watching the countryside. I am still struck by how green everything is. The countryside is quite pastoral--rolling hills, cute farm houses, and grazing sheep and cattle. The effect was enhanced by the fact that it's springtime and there are tons of little lambs and calves.

The "highway" system in New Zealand is funny to me because it's basically just windy little back-country roads with amazing views of the ocean every now and then. But it was like taking the back roads in the US and we went through all kinds of cute little towns. Geneva was obviously a much better guide than Lonely Planet, and could help me discern things like yes, it is worth stopping at the Hundertwasser Toilets, but not worth stopping at the Gum Tree Museum.
By dinner time we made it to Doubtless Bay, which is where Geneva grew up. It was absolutely stunning. It was so weird to hear her talk about growing up there and the daily things she took for granted. Like having her school literally on the beach. Or the way her dad would train the kids for sports by making them run a course around the town while he watched from up at the top of the pa (Maori fortification on a hill). It makes me wonder what awesome things in my childhood that I took for granted or didn't realize were out of the ordinary.

We spent the night in Kaitia with Geneva's cousin. Kaitia reminded me of small town America, but not in a good way. A lot of the industry up north has been closing down, so the region has been hit with a lot of poverty and unemployment. You can definitely feel it in Kaitia. The interesting difference, at least for me, was that small town America tends to be caucasian, while most of the far north is people of color (Maori in particular).

The next morning we got an early start and drove up to Cape Reinga, which is the very top of New Zealand. The drive was amazing because as you go farther north, the land narrows (check out this map) and you can see water on both sides of you. The Cape itself is even more impressive. It's where the waters from the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean come together, and you can actually see exactly where it happens. The waters are different colors and they crash together spectacularly. Also very cool at the cape is a tree right on the tip that's leaning over the water. According to Maori tradition, this is where the spirits of the dead jump off into the afterlife.

After we left Cape Reinga, Geneva and her cousin were intent on giving me a non-touristy experience and took me tuatua (clam) fishing. We went over to Ninety Mile Beach (it's actually about 90kms, but that doesn't make it any less impressive) and dug around in the water. Unfortunately the tide wasn't out far enough so we didn't catch anything, but I was pretty excited about eating a raw tuatua straight from the water, not to mention taking more home to cook for later.

Next was a drive back down the coast to Paihia, a tourist town in the Bay of Islands. More beautiful scenery. I will post pictures soon. We also stayed at a fabulous hotel in the next town over, Waitangi. That's Waitangi as in Treaty of Waitangi--the document often considered to be New Zealand's founding document. On Sunday morning I took a tour of the Treaty Grounds, adding to my knowledge of NZ history. Again it was interesting to get the local perspective from Geneva and her cousin. Although they had been to the Treaty Grounds a number of times, it was always part of the Waitangi Day celebrations (and protests)--definitely a different experience than a Sunday morning tour group.

Hmm... this post will be more interesting once I put up pictures, because words can't really describe how beautiful the area is. I am constantly overwhelmed by this country.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Better Start Preparing Now


Dates were announced today for Geetha's North American Tour 2006. The tour will kick off on October 19 at Detroit-Wayne County Metropolitan Airport, with stops in Ann Arbor, San Juan, Grand Rapids, and Chicago.

Now taking requests for special guest appearances.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Time Change

Daylight savings time ended here this weekend. Because it's spring and soon it will be summer!

So just FYI, if you are planning to call or somehow contact me (which you probably should be), the time difference is now 17 hours between here and Eastern Standard Time. The easiest way to convert is to add 5 to whatever time it is and then change the am to pm. And at the end of October when the US goes to daylight savings time it will be an 18 hour difference (add 6 and change am to pm). This means that when I am leaving work on Friday afternoon and starting my weekend, it's possible that you will have not even gone to bed yet on Thursday evening.