Friday, July 23, 2010

I Explore

St. Augustine wrote, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." I find myself doing a lot of reading here, both in the Augustinian and literal senses. My Modernist Fiction class provides most of the literal meaning. As far as I have gathered, Modernist means the writings of early-mid 20th-century Irishmen such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Brian O'Nolan. We are reading 16 novels this semester, which in combination with my other literature class and a metaphysics course means a lot of time by the window with a book. Courses are structured much differently here than at my home university, with only one or two assignments during the semester followed by a large and important final. It puts a lot of pressure on the end of the semester, I am sure.

The figurative reading is a bit more exciting to write about. I've been trying to get an idea of what people do for fun and pleasure here in New Zealand, and I'll give you a roughly chronological account of my adventures.

First, Dunedin is home to a Cadbury chocolate factory, and one of the sweets manufactured here is the jaffa, which is a candy-coated chocolate ball. Dunedin is also home to the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street, which is about a half-hour walk from my flat.

Baldwin St. inclines at 19 degrees.

As you can see in the above picture, there's quite a crowd here at Baldwin Street. What could this have to do with jaffas? Well, every year Cadbury dumps 50,000 jaffas down this street in order to see which will reach the bottom first! You may buy a jaffa ticket, and if the jaffa with your number on it reaches the bottom first, you win fabulous prizes like groceries and gasoline. Apparently the first year they did this there were no nets, and the chocolate balls caused thousands of dollars of damage as they pelted houses and cars. They use nets now.

The gutters filled with jaffas.

The announcer tells us to not eat the jaffas, but nearly everyone has a sack in which to stuff the choicest chocolate projectiles. I am sure that jaffas may be found all over this neighborhood for the next several months.

After the race A few friends and I went to the Otago museum, where we such much impressive Maori craft and the below skeleton of a fin whale, the second largest animal on Earth.

This youngster was only 55 feet when it died. Adults reach 85 feet in length!

One of the kiwi hosts in our flat, Jethro is basically our personal adventure guide. He knows how to do a lot of cool stuff, and he takes us to lots of cool places.

Here is Jethro rock climbing.

Here is Jethro spinning fire.

You get the idea. Thanks to him I have seen a lot of this part of New Zealand, rock climbed outdoors for the first time, attended several fire jams (fire spinning get-togethers), danced salsa (kinda), saw sea lions up close, and more. It was at Sandfly Bay that we saw the sea lions, 18 at our count. I also learned that they like to fight and roar at each other a lot. You want to give them space.

Cute, huh?

Nearby is another amazing locale: Lovers' Leap. This vista must be seen in person. Sheep dot the landscape about this natural bridge, and the ocean is vast, like a second sky rippling with life and hidden energy.

Nature is pretty amazing.

Tomorrow (well, today) we are going to participate in a global project: Life In a Day. You may check out the official description here: "". Basically, Ridley Scott asks the people of the world to show him what we are all about, so we will spend tomorrow doing cool stuff and filming it. Included on our list are beach acrobatics, castles, shaving my flatmate, fire spinning, and absinthe. The sunrise is also on our list, which means that I need to wake up in four hours. Given that fact, I'll end this entry here.

Check back for more adventures!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Arrive

Professors, students, University administration, newspaper columnists, and many more freely opinionated people tout the college study abroad experience as the perfect way to learn a language, have fun, bolster a resume, and expand one's understanding of the world and oneself. Hence it is becoming the popular thing to do, especially at Willamette University, where 70% of undergraduate students study abroad sometime in their college career. I was happy to go through the lengthy application process in order to contribute to this statistic and be placed in southern New Zealand, right where I wanted to be.

I played with thoughts of overseas adventures for many months, but it did not become real for me until my parents were driving me to PDX airport. I think that most people know what I'm talking about when I say "real." I can know of something, even something grand and exciting, but that knowledge is muted until I know it in my stomach. Six months is a long time to be away from everything I know. By the time I get back, my mom's life will be greatly changed as she leaves her job, all of my friends will have had momentous experiences abroad and—presumably—have changed because of them, and my other loved ones will likely have had similar formative experiences. Despite my stomach's respect for the gravity of my situation, I knew that all I could do was give my parents my love and turn all of my optimism and focus to the coming journey.

I had bought online a one-way ticket to New Zealand several months ago. During my search most tickets were priced around $1,300, so when I saw an $816 option I immediately booked it, thinking that I should beat out other world travelers to the deal. It was shortly after this that I looked up reviews for the site that I bought this ticket from, "". Reviews were almost unanimous in their censure of this site's tendencies to not actually book flights people had bought, charge excessive hidden fees, and generally attempt to rip people off at every turn. Gulp. If it did work out as expected, however, I would have a six-hour layover in Los Angeles, where my beautiful sister Brandi lives not 20 minutes from the airport.

It worked out! You can stop holding your breath. I had a few minor problems with failing batteries, engines in need of a rub-down, and computer glitches, but I have no complaints. Brandi showed me a great time in LA, where we did a small hike with a friend of hers, ate at the Hare Krishna community center (great all-you-can-eat vegetarian/vegan buffet), and played Wii bowling. Thanks, Sister! She then taxied me back to LAX, where she dropped me off at Terminal 7, where we thought my flight would depart from. A 20-minute walk got me to Terminal 2, where my flight actually departed from, and from there I took three flights to get me to Dunedin.

Brandi and me above Los Angeles.

I have to plug for Air New Zealand, here, as it was the best long-distance flight I've ever had. I had plenty of room to stretch my legs, the food was good, I could actually sleep, and they provided dozens of free movies. Kiwis should be in charge of all airlines!

For the next few days I met many, many people (mostly Americans), spent money, drank, ate, and had adventure. If you think that Independence Day is a big deal in the US, you should party with a bunch of raucous Americans in another county on our nation's birthday. We even had a fire spinning show, courtesy of Jethro Hardinge, one of two Kiwi hosts at my flat.

I'll just touch on two more outings. The first was to the botanic gardens in Dunedin. Though the flowers here are less impressive in the winter, their aviary cannot fail to impress. They had many exotic birds, including a talking parrot and Mr. T, as pictured below.

"I pity the fool," says Mr. ParroT.

The next adventure was to Dunedin's Middle Beach for some frisbee and exploring. The ocean was refreshingly cold and made for a nice swim, and we found a swing pentagon. Yes, a SWING PENTAGON! Why don't we have these in the States? It's great fun kicking each other at each forward swing, and it just looks good.

I register for classes tomorrow, so wish me luck!