Le Grand Tour

One of the coolest things about the first week at uni was that they WOULD NOT STOP giving out free stuff – bags, coupons, sausages, jandals – you name it.  The best hand-out by far was a personalized voucher for a seat on the Christchurch Grand Tour (a ticket normally costs $100 and we got to go for free!).
A few of us had been trying to decide on a weekend to do this for a while, but weather or other plans kept messing things up.  This past weekend was supposed to be rainy, but the forecast cleared up at the last second when New Zealand remembered that it’s New Zealand and therefore perfect, so we jumped on it and booked seats for Saturday.  Luckily, you get to come with me through the magic of modern-day digital photography!  Come on!
The morning did start out pretty cloudy, but it was still nice weather to be outside in.  Naturally, we had a really great bus driver named Owen, who was probably about 60 and had a twin brother who is a Chch tram conductor.  Owen took quite a liking to the four of us (I went with Erika from Geneseo and my flatmates Chelsea and Laurie) and immediately took it upon himself to find us all Kiwi boyfriends.  His first idea was to set us up with his son the doctor, but after about an hour he decided that, being 36, his son was actually a bit too old for any of us.
Anyway, first stop on the tour was a walk through a different part of the city gardens than I’d ever been to.  They were smaller and a bit more secluded than the Hagley Park botanical gardens, but had the same beautiful rose garden in the center!
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Then we went punting on the Avon River, which was seriously like going back in time.  The punters even wore these great barbershop quartet outfits, complete with bow ties, vests and straw hats.  We sat in these really wide, shallow boats (called punts), and our punter stood on the back and miraculously did not fall off, a feat I could never have hoped to accomplish.   There’s not even the slightest rim around the platform where they stand, and they have to both propel and steer the punt with a really long pole.  Our punter was Canadian and really fun, and gave us great commentary during the entire boat ride.  Here’s a neat fact: all of the willow trees in Christchurch descend from a few willow sprigs that were brought here from Napoleon Bonaparte’s grave.  Chelsea even tried punting, and I personally believe she has found her calling.
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After that, we hopped back on the bus and drove up into the Port Hills in the suburb of Cashmere, on the outskirts of Chch.  We made a relatively quick stop at The Sign of the Takahe, a restaurant and cafe built to look like a small Scottish castle.  Unfortunately, it was closed, which upset Owen more than anyone, so we took the time to climb around on the rocks and take in the amazing views.

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Our next stop was the gondola, which took us WAY up into the Port Hills.  Luckily, this was right about when the clouds finally decided to get the heck out of our way.  I got an absolutely gorgeous and completely delicious latte at the cafe at the top, and we had a great view of Sumner Beach (our next destination) in one direction, and our city in the other.
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After the gondola, we went to the village of Sumner for lunch and had what’s quickly becoming our staple meal: hot fish and chips with cold cider.  We also had a while to walk around on the beach and explore in Cave Rock before leaving.  After half an hour and numerous suggestions from Owen of where to find young single men, we were back in the city center.  Our tour vouchers also included a ticket for the city tram (just like old-fashioned trolleys), but we decided to do that another day since we were pretty exhausted.  It was definitely one of the best day excursions I’ve had since being here, and we never even traveled outside the border of Christchurch!

In other news, I’m going to Mt. Cook (New Zealand’s highest peak) this weekend, which, apart from being AMAZING, will be the maiden voyage of my brown and blue hiking shoes!  Perhaps my next blog entry will be a weekend of tramping from their perspective.  So stay tuned for that, folks, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting-edge travel journalism!

“I’ve baked you a delicious kēkē!”; or, what not to say to your Māori friends.

Tēnā koutou (hello everyone), it’s been a while!  Never fear, I have not been swept away by a tsunami or eaten by a wild animal.  HA, trick statement, there are no wild animals here, except for possums and birds.  No snakes, even.  Weird, right?  Even the possums aren’t the horrible disgusting ones we have at home; they’re actually kind of cute, and if you know me at all, you know that I’m the last person in the world to give a possum any more flattery than it deserves.

American possum (left) vs. New Zealand possum (right)

So, where have I BEEN?  Well, to start, we declared last Friday night the first official pancake night and the second official Pirates night… pretty much an unbeatable combination.  Katharina made German pancakes (which, despite my German mum, I had never had) with beef and veggies for dinner, I made chocolate chip American pancakes for dessert, and Erika provided the most delicious pineapple I have ever eaten.  We also started trying to plan some of the travel we want to do for the rest of the semester, which was really exciting but had the unfortunate side effect of making me wish I didn’t have to go to school here and could just wander aimlessly around New Zealand meeting hobbits and going zorbing.  Alas.  The three-week break in April is also starting to seem shorter and shorter as I keep adding destinations to my prospective itinerary.  I think I’m going to suggest to Geneseo that they add a “do-whatever-you-want abroad” program to their list of options, because I’d totally sign up for that.

Saturday night a few of us went to Sol Square in town, where we discovered a live music act that I may love more than Ollie & Topia.  FALSE that is not possible… this guy was really good, though.  His name was Willie McArthur and he was Scottish and had a long list of possible request songs that was clearly labeled, “This is NOT karaoke!”  No prob, Willie.  After that, we went to this really cool fish and chips place that wraps its chips in newspaper from 1964 and had a dance club upstairs that gained my immediate respect by playing my new favorite song, Memories.  Emir was acting alternately like a grampy and a cat, all the while cranking out his incredible French dance moves.

Sunday was a strange day… I woke up to a bunch of frantic emails/texts/messages from people at home making sure I was staying away from the beaches because of the approaching tsunami, which at that point I hadn’t heard anything about.  We were actually supposed to go tramping and cliff-jumping at Taylors Mistake near Sumner Beach that day, so those plans were obviously postponed.  When I found out that the tsunami warning was the result of an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile, though, I wasn’t really concerned with the effects on New Zealand.  We didn’t hear from Camilo until the following afternoon, which was extremely nerve-wracking as his town is roughly 50 miles from the epicenter.  He and his family are all okay, though, and doing a really awesome job of helping each other out and starting to rebuild their community, much of which has been completely destroyed.  His city, Chillán, was the location of the huge jailbreak that’s been on the news, but Camilo assured me that he singlehandedly scared the escaped inmates away by throwing rocks at them in true Chilean fashion.  Coolest.  Brother.  Ever.  (Oh, except for my other brother, who is pretty much a champ at college admissions!)  In the end, the tsunami turned out to be a dinky little wave that barely touched the NZ shores – laaaame.  They actually showed “breaking news footage” on TV of some dude’s rowboat being gently rocked to and fro when the “tsunami” hit, which was pretty hilarious.

Other than that, the first two weeks of classes have marked a significant downturn in all things remarkable.  It’s still exciting to be in New Zealand and at a new uni and all… but on some level, it’s still just class.  My te reo Māori class is just getting better and better, though.  I love studying a language again.  Māori is very different from French and Latin (the other languages I’ve studied), which are relatively similar to each other and to English when compared to Asian and Eastern Polynesian languages like Māori.  The trickiest thing about te reo Māori is the tohutō (macron), which is the little line over certain vowels.  It’s simple enough in function – just makes the vowel sound longer – but really difficult to remember and get exactly right in pronunciation.  It’s pretty critical, though… for example, “keke” means “cake,” while “kēkē” means “armpit.”  Don’t really want to go mixing those two up.  Unfortunately, the class got slightly less awesome this week because our amazing tutor, Duane, is being replaced.  He’s apparently teaching too many hours, so Aotahi (the school of Māori and indigenous studies) is taking him off our class.  He was sort of a behind-the-scenes lecturer during our two class periods a week, and also led the weekly tutorials, which are sessions with a smaller number of students where we go over class materials and get more one-on-one attention.  Anyway, Duane is like a great big Māori Barney, and so much fun… he taught us a Māori alphabet song to the tune of “Stupid Cupid” and spent twenty minutes of our first tutorial having us guess his favorite sandwich (correct answer: butter, peanut butter, chicken chips, and tomato sauce).  As cool as Philly-Bro-Cuz is, TREO110 won’t be the same without Duane.

Random notable incident of late: Erika and I tried kiwifruit/pavlova ice cream in the city center a few days ago, which we were really excited about because you can’t get more New Zealand-y than that combination!  Unfortunately, it was super gross and definitely not sweet as.  It was like vanilla ice cream with mysterious crunchy pieces of “meringue” (lies) and weird gooey kiwifruit jelly-ish stuff.  Ick.

EDIT:  As I was writing this, there was a knock on the door, which turned out to be some 35-year-old guy I’d never seen before inviting me to a free “bus trip” (read: pub crawl) leaving in 20 minutes.  I might have briefly considered it if he hadn’t opened the conversation with, “Hello!  Don’t worry, I’m not here to rob you.”  Well thanks, bud.

I love New Zealand.

An Ode to Tim Tams

I’ve only been here 12 days and I’m already subconsciously compiling a mental list of things I’m going to miss when I go home.  Number one on the list are Tim Tams (the metro, my sweet as duvet cover, and calling kiwis “kiwifruit” are others, to name a few).  Tim Tams are these unbelievably delicious cookies – I mean biscuits – that are basically what people are referring to when they say “the food of the gods.”  I discovered the chocolate hazelnut variety yesterday and they may well be the death of me.

In other news, I’ve been to each of my three classes at least once by now, and I think I’m going to really like them all.  My environmental psychology professor is actually American and refers to everyone (students in the class, famous psychologists, inanimate objects) as “characters.”  He spent most of our first class talking about optical rangefinders and most of our second class talking about world religions, so based on that and the actual environmental psych book, I think it’s going to be a pretty cool class.  My biological psychology class has about five different lecturers coming in over the course of the semester to talk about their different areas of expertise.  Today in that class, I sat next to a girl from UC who studied abroad at Geneseo last semester!  It was such a funny coincidence; she was even on Emaline and Vishu’s floor in Steuben!  She also said she really loved Geneseo and wants to go back sometime, which was nice to hear because, after how amazing and exotic New Zealand seems to me, I’d been worrying that Kiwi exchange students would find western New York pretty boring!  Finally, I had my first te reo Māori (Māori language) class today – it’s SO COOL.  One of my flatmates, Mikaela, is in the class as well, which is nice.  I don’t really know how to say anything yet because it was just an introduction to the course, but stay tuned!  Our lecturer’s name is Phil, but he told us we could call him Philly or Bro or Cuz, and asked if we’d mind if he wears board shorts and jandals (flip flops) to class.  I would not mind.

Oh.  Bad (or completely insignificant) news, depending on how you look at it.  It appears that the majority of the New Zealand population shares my goal of morphing into Bob Dylan circa 1963, so my sunglasses are no longer cool or unique (you may argue that they are not cool or unique in the United States, but I would not listen to you).  Also, if I ever lose them, they would probably be snatched up by some cool and unique Kiwi and never find their way back to me.  This is a potential hazard that I will be watching out for.

Not much else is new right now.  It’s my flatmate Chelsea’s birthday today, so we’re having a little shindig tonight.  Katharina and I made Tim Tam ice cream cake.  It’s really a masterpiece.  I guess this was more like a long, drawn-out monologue about loving Tim Tams, rather than an actual ode – Meg, maybe I could commission you? 🙂

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