Monthly Archives: February 2012

Toothy’s Travels – New Zealand: Kiwi quirks, eh!

I’ve been in New Zealand for about two and a half weeks now, and you might have been expecting lots of posts about all the really exciting things that I’ve done.  Except that I haven’t really done a lot of visiting of things, and have been focussed on finding my way around, finding somewhere to live (minor detail), sorting out my research project (you know, the reason I’m here), and all the various other random administrative faff that moving and starting at a new university entail.  Oh, and attempting to make friends.  But I’ve made a bit of progress – I’ve explored quite a bit of central Auckland (see one of the many views from the harbour below), I’ve managed to find a flat, which I get the keys for tomorrow; I have a (perhaps slightly over-ambitious) research topic, which I’m now trying to iron out the details of; I’ve sorted out a phone, bank account, etc.; I’ve been given a desk in the postgrad lab; my swipe card to get into the Biology buildings finally arrived yesterday afternoon (although it doesn’t appear to work – sorting that out is today’s ongoing adventure); and well, I’m working on the friends thing (I’ll have a kitchen from tomorrow.  I suspect that the power of cake will help significantly with that one).  Until writing all of that out, I hadn’t quite realised how much I’ve managed to get done.  I’m fairly proud of myself actually!  So, as of today I’m going to end the blog mini-hiatus that seems to have imposed itself for most of the month of February and get back to blogging more or less regularly.

Actually, here’s a little secret (don’t judge me too much): I’ve always been slightly fascinated by the 29th of February , a date that only exists every four years.  When I was younger, my fascination revolved around the people born on this funny quirk of a day – imagine only being able to celebrate your birthday every four years!  I obviously valued the really important things in life…  Now though, I just think of it as a bit of a peculiar yet special day.  I quite like February the 29th actually, because it’s a bit of a quirky day, but there’s a very logical and scientific reason for it existing.

So because today is a bit of a quirky day (in case you think I’ve got the date wrong – it’s already the 29th in my timezone), I thought I’d write a post about a few of the quirks that I’ve come across in the process of settling into my new country (some endearing, some baffling).  Well, quirks might not be quite the right work, more the confusing little differences that I’ve noticed:

The curious lack of ovens – Whilst flat-hunting, I looked at a lot of flats online.  Now I know that space is at a premium in the centre of any city, so I wasn’t expecting huge kitchens, but I was surprised at the number of flats (perhaps around half) that didn’t have an oven.  Much to my bafflement, a large proportion of these oven-less flats did, however, have a dishwasher.  Now, up until now I have always considered an oven as a basic requirement, and a dishwasher as a luxury.  Especially in a small 1-person flat.  So how much washing up does a single oven-less Kiwi create?! And how do they bake cakes?

The sun, part I – I have an excellent sense of direction, but I rely heavily (and unconsciously) on the sun.  Which is fine in the Northern hemisphere which I’m used to, but in the Southern hemisphere the sun is suddenly in the wrong place.  Even though I knew this would happen, I kept going in the wrong direction by accident the first few days that I was here.  At least Auckland has the Sky Tower, which is remarkably handy for navigation.  (My previous encounter with finding directions in the Southern hemisphere was when I was doing boat work in South Africa.  That was seriously disorienting!!)  And my brain is slowly getting used to this whole sun-being-in-the-North thing.

The sun, part II – As well as being in the wrong place (for me), the sun is also deceptively strong.  Even though I read about it in all the guidebooks before I came, it still surprised me.  I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as in Australia, but it’s definitely much stronger than during summer in the Northern hemisphere.  Despite applying sunscreen, I’ve already managed to acquire a super-attractive t-shirt tan just from walking for 20 minutes down the partially-shaded main street in search of lunch the other day.  Luckily I don’t tend to burn easily, but if I did I definitely would have been caught out, even with sunscreen.

Seasonal confusion – It’s summer going into autumn here, which still confuses me a little, mostly in terms of trying to work out what fruit and vegetables are actually in season.  Seeing blueberries at the farmers’ market on Saturday briefly confused me until I realised that even though my automatic reaction was to consider blueberries in February a food crime, they’re actually in season here.  I need to find myself a NZ-specific chart of seasonal foods.   The trees still have all their leaves, too, which feels odd for February.  I also keep getting a surprise when I realise that it’s still daylight at 7pm, and then I remember that it’s summer…

Pedestrian crossings – The sound effects of the pedestrian crossings still make me feel like I’ve just accidentally wandered into some sort of computer game involving space, rockets and lasers shooting at aliens.  The green man is also animated and walks – in case you forget how to cross a road?  Or to remind people not to do alien impressions because of the accompanying sound effects?

The fauna – Auckland is much greener than I was expecting, and dotted with little parks and public spaces.  There’s a park just next to the university which has some beautiful oak trees (complete with acorns as it’s late summer) which lull me into a false sense of familiarity.  And then I turn the corner and there’s a palm tree, or other tropical fauna.  Occasionally you see a fir tree and a palm tree next to each other – I’m still finding that rather surreal.  Then of course there are all the plants and flowers that I’ve never seen before.

Talking Kiwis – As in the people, not the fruit or the bird, and this is in the endearing category (before anybody gets upset).  I don’t find the Kiwi accent particularly hard to understand, even though they do funny things to some of their vowels, but some of the slang is still throwing me a bit.  Some of it is very much British, and some of it really isn’t (jandals = flip-flops, and one I learned yesterday, chilly, short for chilly bin = cooler box).  The general rule seems that if you can shorten a word or phrase into a minimal number of syllables, then go for it.  A lot of Kiwis also seem to add “eh!” onto the end of sentences for no apparent reason, whether or not it’s actually a question.  I have a tendency to pick up accents and colloquialisms, so it’s only a matter of time before my accent starts changing (seriously, when I told Keely that I was moving to NZ, her first reaction was “oh, your accent is screwed…  Can we Skype lots – I want to hear it!”).

Kiwi attitude – Everybody is so friendly and relaxed.  Chilled.  I don’t know if it’s because it’s still summer, but the pace of life seems a little slower here.  Perhaps that sounds a little odd, but I mean that people seem to take the time to be outside, to stop for a coffee on the terrace, to enjoy an ice-cream, to go for a walk.  Studying is obviously important, but life and the great outdoors are important, too.  I could get used to that (whilst studying hard, obviously, don’t worry Maman!).

On that note, I should probably get back to my desk, eh!

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are!

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How to unintentionally forget that it’s Valentine’s Day

You may (or may not) be glad to know that I survived my slightly epic 30h journey of over 20,000km without any problems (which is distinctly unusual), which means… Hello from New Zealand!!!

Small confession: being able to type that is really quite satisfying.  I feel that my first blog post from New Zealand should be something super exciting, but I’m afraid I’ve spent the three days that I’ve been here just finding my way around the area that I’m currently staying, familiarising myself with the university campus and doing really unexciting things like setting up a bank account and other admin-y type stuff.  However, trips to the bank don’t make for the most riveting of blog posts.  Alternatively, I could just upload some really pretty pictures of my new surroundings, but I’m afraid things are a bit limited in the pretty pictures department.  I’m finding the light quite difficult to work with here (look at me sounding all technical and like I know what I’m talking about.  I really don’t.) – it seems incredibly bright, even when the weather is overcast, resulting in some very over-contrasted photos.  Basically, I just need to get used to it (and maybe learn to use my camera properly), but in the meantime here’s a glimpse of the clock tower, a symbol of the University of Auckland:

I’m going to be unoriginal and talk about Valentine’s Day (please don’t groan and go off in the huff) since that’s today.  Which you totally knew, right?  You didn’t forget?  No?  Well, I did.  I totally forgot that it was Valentine’s Day today.  Not that I have any particular reason to remember, but since most of the shops in Edinburgh have had obnoxiously pink and/or red, heart-filled, fluffy vomit-inducing window displays since the beginning of January, it’s not something that I would have expected to happen.  My general view on Valentine’s Day is that it’s a completely overly-commercialised occasion that is stressful for everybody whether you’re in a relationship or not, and why does there have to be a designated day to declare your love for somebody anyway?  What about the rest of the year?  Some supremely awkward situations at school haven’t helped my general dislike of the day either.  So how does one go about accidentally forgetting?

  1. Move to a new country where you don’t know anybody, arriving four days before Valentine’s Day.  A country that involves a 12-13h time difference with the countries that your most pro-Valentine’s Day facebook friends live in is best (or just avoid facebook, but let’s be realistic).
  2. Get super distracted by the fact that it’s summer, which means that it’s warm (currently 23°C to be precise – please don’t hate me if you’re somewhere cold) and fairly sunny.  This is particularly effective if you’ve just moved from Scotland and haven’t seen anything resembling warm and sunny for… about four years.
  3. Schedule your very first meeting with your MSc supervisor for the morning of Valentine’s Day, in the hope that you’ll find out where you’ll be based so you can start looking for somewhere to permanent live.  Stress out about not having read enough papers, not having read them more in depth (it’s a well-known fact that the least read section of any paper is the methods section), not really understanding most some of the physics involved.
  4. Decide that you’ll need to get some basic physics books out of the library and revise electricity.  Remember that you can’t get books out because the International Office won’t give you your student card until you have a permanent address or if that’s really not possible, then a NZ mobile phone number.  Because clearly international students arriving and staying in temporary accommodation organised by the University itself until they’ve found somewhere to live must be a really rare case…not.  Get annoyed about the lack of logic.
  5. Get excited at the prospect of picking up your shiny new phone, knowing that it won’t freeze for two minutes whenever you open Twitter…  Get excited at the prospect of having a NZ phone which means you can access Twitter again whilst out and about (realising that you have a minor Twitter addiction is optional).
  6. Notice a huge gift basket that includes a large, very fluffy, baby pink, ugly stuffed toy being delivered this morning whilst people-watching drinking your coffee.  Wonder why somebody would have such bad taste and then finally remember that it’s Valentine’s Day.  Then get distracted and stress out a bit more about your upcoming supervisor meeting and potential lack of preparation.
  7. Go to the meeting with your supervisor, who turns out to be really nice.  Worry because there appears to be no door to the building, but then find it round the back.  Discover that “meeting” means a walk-and-talk as he delivers a piece of paper at the other end of the campus and then stopping at a café for coffee on the way back to discuss potential projects.  Whilst sitting on the terrace (I’m not complaining).  Briefly wonder if this is a legit university, then just go with it.
  8. Stress out a bit because you still don’t know where you’ll be based, although at least your supervisor is very comprehensive of the situation and agrees that it would be a good idea to just assume Auckland and start looking anyway.
  9. Go pick up new phone and get terribly distracted by it (ooooo shiny).
  10. Get rained on a couple of times, but saved by the habit of always carrying an umbrella in your handbag (thanks Scottish weather).
  11. Manage to convince the International Office to give you your student card (hurrah!).  See a girl with a rose in a brown paper bag – the brown paper bag looks like it should contain a bottle of gin rather than a rose.  Debate to yourself which you would have preferred: rose vs gin (the queue at the International Office was really long and I got pretty bored…).  Incidentally, as much as I love roses, gin wins (if it’s good gin).
  12. Realise that you haven’t seen a single shop display that is pink, fluffy or full of hearts, and that the gift basket and rose-that-should-have-been-gin are the only two Valentine’s-related things you’ve seen during the entire day.  Conclude that New Zealand is clearly the place to be to forget about/ignore Valentine’s Day, and that you love the Kiwis for their minimum fuss attitude towards it.
  13. Walk past a massive hibiscus tree (bush?) on your way home, after another rain shower.  Revel in that wonderful almost-tropical post-rain shower smell.  Be happy.

Enjoy the rest of your day, whether you’re a Valentine’s fan or not!

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So it begins…

I’ve said all my goodbyes (with more than one resulting in a rather awkward-crying-on-public-transport situation) and this afternoon I’ll be beginning my slightly epic trip to New Zealand.  Epic in that it will take me 30 hours so I won’t arrive in Auckland until Saturday lunch time (NZ time – which is super late on Friday evening UK time).  Not epic in that I’m swimming there or something terribly sensational like that.

I thought I should procrastinate from packing by writing a blog post probably show some signs of life, so here are some of the things that I’m super excited about:

Long-haul flights – I love flying (let’s just skip over the whole environmental impact thing, ok?), but I’m a particular fan of long-haul.  I love that almost every airline has individual TV screens now, even in Economy, so you can choose what you want to watch (assuming you’re not stuck with the only faulty screen in the whole plane).  Except then there are too many options and I’m terribly indecisive…  I’m hoping The Muppets are on, but we’ll see.  I bet I end up watching a whole series of terrible films that I would never consider paying to go see at the cinema…

Being an expat again – Aside from the last four years of university, I’ve spent my whole life as an expat.  As strange as it may sound, I feel much more at home whilst living abroad than when living in the UK, one of my “home countries”.  I’ve missed being an expat so much, and I can’t wait to discover a new country, new customs and a new culture!!

New foods – I feel this is pretty self-explanatory – I write a food blog, so of course I’m excited about the prospect of new foods!  I can’t wait to discover new fruits and fish and just generally new dishes…  The food section was obviously the very first section that I read when I acquired my guide book.  I have my priorities right, don’t you know.

Being a student again – I only graduated in June, but in the intervening months I’ve really missed being a student.  As sad as it may sound, I’m rather excited about all the reading and learning that I’m going to have to do (not so much the stats that will inevitably rear their ugly heads).  I think I need to get out more…

The scenery – NZ just looks utterly stunning in all the photos and documentaries I’ve seen.  The dramatically beautiful landscapes remind me very much of Norway.  The visa in my passport informs me that I’m there to study, but I hope that I’ll be able to visit some of NZ and see all the beauty for myself.  You can probably expect some Toothy’s Travels posts in the nearish future…

Rugby – I’ve wanted to see the All Blacks play for a long time (in real life).  Even if they beat France at the World Cup…  So fingers crossed that that happens!  I’m also hoping that the general love of rugby that seems to permeate across the country means that the 6 Nations matches are shown on TV.

Middle Earth – I’m quite enthusiastic about Lord of the Rings (I love both the books and the films), so going to NZ is totally exciting, even if Auckland wasn’t exactly the centre of filming.  Oh, you were under the illusion that I’m ultra cool?  Oh…  Well, that’s that illusion dispelled then.  Bonus points to anyone who spotted the LOTR reference in the title of this post, although I’d like to reassure you that I have no intention whatsoever of fighting orcs.  Or fighting anything for that matter.

NZ wine – I’m really not familiar with NZ wine, so I’m excited to discover it properly (because as we know, I’m quite partial to wine…), but whenever I say that to friends who actually know about wine they generally give me a pitying look that effectively says “good luck with that…”  Doesn’t bode too well…  I’m hoping that it’s just a case of NZ keeping its best wines for the domestic market and exporting the not-so-great stuff.  Any suggestions for wines to taste/vineyards to visit are obviously welcome.

And in the interest of balance (I seem to have come over all BBC), here are a few things that I’m rather less excited about, but still turning into positives:

The time difference – NZ is currently 13 hours ahead of the UK, so the impending jet-lag will probably be marvellous fun to deal with, I’m sure…  The difference will make watching the 6 Nations rather interesting – I can’t wait for the matches that are on at 4am on a Monday morning…  At least I won’t be late for wherever I’m supposed to be/whatever I’m supposed to be doing on said Mondays.  No promises for the rest of the week though.

Three winters in a row – It’s the end of the summer in NZ, so after winter in Europe, I’ll get winter in NZ, followed by winter in Europe again at the end of my course.  Planning fail.  Though on the plus side, winter = mulled wine…  And I feel NZ winters sound rather preferable to European winters.  In fact, they’re probably better than Scottish summers.

Downton Abbey – The problem with moving around is that TV series are always at different stages in different countries, so I don’t usually get too into them.  I’m totally addicted to Downton Abbey though – I rather hope that the series has made it to NZ and that it’s not too behind either.  Once again, I clearly have my priorities in the right place…

I don’t have anywhere to live (yet) – Because I won’t know exactly what I’ll be doing until I’ve met my supervisor (hopefully next week), I don’t know whether I’ll be based in Auckland or Leigh…  So I haven’t been able to look for anywhere to live yet.  Panic panic.  But I do have two weeks’ temporary accommodation organised when I arrive, so at least I won’t have to sleep under a bridge (for now).  Hopefully that will be enough time to find something decent…

So, on that wonderfully positive note, I’m off to Middle Earth New Zealand!  Exciting stuff!!  Needless to say, I’m not sure how much blogging will happen over the next few weeks as I sort out my living situation (minor detail) and settle in, but do bear with me!

Wherever you are, enjoy the rest of your day!

PS – Sorry for the lack of photos in this post.  I’m actually supposed to be packing, so ya…

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