25 October 2014

The Khagan Weekly: Harassing the Peasants Since 2014 (Issue 1: 10/26)

Format Changed—AGAIN!
The format of Khan Adventures has changed again, this time to a weekly digest entitled The Khagan Weekly. It will release weekly on Sunday (or Monday) and summarize the week in more interesting ways.

Americans In Christchurch, Myth or Reality?
Despite living in Christchurch for two months now, we have met only a few Americans. A Uni professor in the history department is from New York while we met a random Ohioan working at a Mexican restaurant at the mall. Americans have been scarce. Do they even exist here?

Of course they do, we're here after all. But we discovered that the term "American" is more vague that we'd previously though. A Canadian at a game day a month ago identified herself as American first, Canadian second. Similarly, a Guatemalan we met at a postgraduate event was clearly embracing the term American to refer to her small Central American country. Clearly, the term is more fluid here. Thus, we found ourselves not entirely surprised at an "Americans in Christchurch" gathering on Saturday night to find that most of the "Americans" were only barely that. One couple were, in fact, British, but had lived in Michigan for twelve years. Another was from Arkansas and Oregon, but moved here nine years ago and is not attached to a Kiwi. Her daughter even has the accent. There were some true Americans on-site, though, but even they were raising their children in the Kiwi manner, accents and all.

Do Americans exist in Christchurch? Not for long. New Zealand takes your soul, and gives it an accent and ambiguous sense of nationality. Personally, I blame the Brits.

Carbs–The Devil's Food
For the past two weeks, carbohydrates have been decreasing from our diets, being replaced by meats. The book Good Calories, Bad Calories is the root of this craziness. The book states in not-uncited terms how terrible pretty much any carbohydrate is for you, and how nothing else, not saturated or unsaturated fats, cholesterol, or preservatives, even come close to the evilness that is grains. While I have partially embraced the diet, Kara has gone full blown gluten- and grain-free, or at least as close to it as she dares. Will this diet last? Who knows, but it certainly is an interesting change for me, who has been reduced to eating fish for dinner and quesadillas (heavy on the cheese) for lunch every day. The fact that Mac & Cheese tastes like crap here helps a little.

Food Costs Soaring!
Food costs in New Zealand are easily double that of the United States, especially when you're trying to stick to a meat-rich died. A regular shopping trip to the discount food store regularly surpasses the $100 mark weekly, and the monthly total is around $500 for a couple with a cat. Prices are already double and factoring in an exchange rate of 75¢ NZ to $1 US does little to improve the situation.

A fair warning to those planning to visit in New Zealand, all food, from grocery stores to restaurants, is expensive, and petrol is also twice the cost. Plan accordingly. And the exchange rate is getting worse.

The Semester's Over, And Other Facts That Don't Concern Me
The undergraduate students at the University of Canterbury finished their school year a week ago and are now busily getting drunk while pretending to study for their final exams which will begin on November 3rd and continue for two weeks. However, postgraduate students of all levels generally don't much care unless they are getting taught degrees. Kara and I came here in September, mid-way through the spring semester, and plan to graduate at the end of the 2017 academic year (i.e., December 2017). At least that's our goal. But we have to work year-round, with no official breaks. So congratulations to the 2014 students, I'm going to keep learning French.

The Khagan Weekly is the unofficial news outlet for an American living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anything he says can and may be used against him. His statements should be taken as factual, except when they are not. All rights reserved, except where prohibited...like in Russia. They prohibit everything there. Psh. Punks. Let's start a punt Putin day. That'd be fun.

18 October 2014

The Sign at the End of the Road

We have a house! Oh, wait, that's out of order. Let me start again...

12 October: We have a house! Okay, we've had a house but we couldn't move in until today. That being said, we really didn't move in today, we just unloaded the junk in the car (and there was quite a bit in there) and started packing back at Sam's place. We also went to K-Mart (yeah, they have those here) and spent a fortune on household goods. We also picked up a mattress from nearby and then spent some more money on stuff for the house. That evening, we played a game with Sam and watched Hannibal before bed. Not an overly exciting day, but at least we have a house now.

13 October: So we got everything moved out in two runs today, with the second after we said our goodbyes to Sam. We'll still see him for gaming events and whatnot, but we had to leave still. We got our refrigerator in the morning and moved in all our Kmart goods then went back out to shop like crazy. That evening we brought our last load of stuff over, mostly clothes and whatnot, and then picked up a few snacks for home. The refrigerator was in desperate need of cleaning and the doors had to be reversed, so we did that before grocery shopping the next day. I honestly can't even remember everything from this day because it was just so busy.

14 October: Tuesday was the most exciting day of the week because we finally liberated Niko from his cattery! But first, we spent another fortune at the Pak 'n' Save buying groceries for the now-functional fridge. And there were a lot of groceries to get since Kara's switched to an all-protein diet and I've half-switched to one. Things are not cheap here. After all that got worked out, we got Niko and brought him back. Let's just say he's acclamated well. In fact, he doesn't even seem to remember his traumatic trip in the plane. He cried a bit in the carrier but did fine once we got to the new place and he's done fine ever since. Which leads me to...

15 October: Wow! I forgot how annoying Niko can be at night. He didn't let us sleep. He was purring like a lawn mower all night long, which was apparently shorter than we planned for since he got us up at around 4:00 a.m. The house has some decent damage from the 2011 earthquake and as such many of the doors don't shut properly (or at all in one case), so he naturally discovered that he can get back in if we boot him out. We're going to be talking to our landlords about that one soon. Groggy, we crawled out of bed and went to Uni where we listened to a lecture on something-or-another—it was out of my field and I just don't remember it much. I think it had something to do with Ireland during the 1800s. We'll go with that. I read some. I wrote some. Kara made up most of the house. That's Wednesday.

16 October: Another night with little sleep. Niko is a bit of a pain. We also are trying to get him to eat a raw-meat diet, which is healthier for cats, but we have to kick his addiction to cereal-based kitty chow first, which he clearly doesn't want to do. We have this big old meat log in the fridge for him, but he only will eat a little bit of it at a time. Ugh. Kara had a training session in the morning so I did my French and started working on my book article while she was gone. She came back in time to help with some new furniture we bought for the living room—a sofa and two recliners, win! That mostly wraps up Thursday.

17 October: Friday was my turn to wake up early, though Niko still beat me to it. I met with my advisor, Chris, today to discuss my proposal. Did I say that I got accepted to present a paper at the biennial ANZAMEMS conference? Yeah, I did. It's pretty awesome. On the not so awesome side, Chris says I need to have two chapters done by the time I present and before I can student teach a class, which is a real pain in the neck since I still have my book I am writing until the end of February. The due date for my first chapter? February 1st. Ugh. I seriously am failing this whole PhD thing. I have had this little book by Geraeme Small that I've been reading for almost a month, and I'm not even halfway through it yet, but somehow I need to have my first chapter done in three months. .:.sigh.:. And on top of that, I'm dead broke and federal loans to New Zealand have been stopped over some stupid political issue about nuclear-capable submarines in NZ water.

Anyway, after a brief gap, I went to hear Kathleen Neal speak about medieval lettres and the Kara and I both went to a Q&A session with her about careers in the humanities. Both were very informative and, I believe, are the last research seminars of the year since the academic year ended today. Back at the house, we finally started settling in, though French and book writing are still taking precedence over everything else.

18 October: Garage saling. They have it here unlike in Britain where it is called "Car Boot Sales". In any case, we found a bunch of books and random other things, which was good. Kara also got us a washer and dryer which have both been installed. We'll do a load of laundry tomorrow to test them out. Other than that, it was a fairly slow day with mostly French and research taking up my time. Woot.

  • Intersections in New Zealand are quite odd. Roundabouts are common, though not the norm. Traffic signals are also quite common in the city, though not elsewhere. Stop signs are rather infrequent and mostly at major non-sigalled intersections. The big sign here is "Give Way" which is a rather clunky way of writing "Yield". In residential areas, virtually all signs say "Give Way" rather than "Stop", which is great because it means rolling stops are perfectly acceptable here. A line on the road usually shows drivers where to give that way, but you really just drive to it slowly and then roll through when nobody's around.
  • However, left turns are not allowed at a red signal. Drivers must wait for a green before they can turn right, which is a bit of a pain sometimes when no traffic is coming. The American in me wants to go, but that's not allowed.
  • Right Turns, which are the equivalent of left turns in the United States, are very odd here. They are usually not protected at all, so you just drive out and wait for an opening, which can sometimes be hard to see when the car right in front of you is also trying to turn right in the opposite direction. When the turn is protected, it usually only is for a few seconds before turning red. Then, it will just disappear entirely, which means you are free to try and turn right again. That's right, the signal protects you, stops you, then allows you to try. Very weird and slightly confusing.
  • Lastly, speeding tickets are sent to the registration addresses and people rarely are pulled over for a speeding violation. Tickets are a set $150 for every violation, though I'm sure penalties start applying after multiples. There is no traffic school to opt out of the insurance violation, either, and the points go on your record immediately. Oh, and how do they discover if you're speeding? Cameras, of course, often hidden in unmarked cars sitting on streets. Didn't I mention that at least half the police cars in New Zealand are unmarked? Yeah, it's that creepy.

11 October 2014

There And Back Again: A TranzAlpine Tale

October 7: Tuesday was a lazy day for me. I spent much of the day writing my article on the Summit Tunnel and reading French. Kara had a bunch of meetings, but other than that, we mostly planned for our end-of-week trip to Fox Glacier. We bought a bunch of food at Countdown in the afternoon to stock our suitcase for the trip, but otherwise the day was quite slow.

October 8: Wednesday had a very early start as we had to be at the train station before 8:00. From there, we headed to the West Coast city of Greymouth on the TranzAlpine Railway, something that my railfans would definitely enjoy. Just for the record, the train was once a part of a much larger network of 3' 6" narrow-gauged tracks that once criss-crossed New Zealand supporting its various industries. Politics over the past fifty years have shut down virtually all of these, leaving just the TranzAlpine, an East Coast excursion train, and a North Island track in tact for passenger use. All other remaining tracks are freight-only.

Anyway, so we headed west from Christchurch Station, passing through the Canterbury Plain and all of its cattle and sheep farms. There are relatively few crops grown in New Zealand these days, but cattle are a huge industry, replacing sheep since the 1980s. Above the plain, we passed through a series of beautiful gorges with fifteen small tunnels hopping between gulches. Below, a beautiful river ran beneath the cliffsides. Lots of photos along this stretch, to be sure. We finally went through a slightly longer tunnel and entered a much more mellow area within the Southern Alps where the wind blows strongly, rains scour the pastures, and few people can be found. At the top of this valley, we briefly stopped at the settlement of Arthur's Pass. From there, we then descended into the heart of the mountain, a tunnel stretching over 5 miles and requiring five diesel engines to ensure that the train does not run away. It took nearly 30 minutes to make it through this tunnel. On the other side, we entered the West Coast region, which is a temperate rain forest. The variety of trees increased exponentially from the other side of the mountains, while the temperature rose slightly as well. After another hour, we made it into Greymouth and quickly shuttled off to the intercity bus that was waiting for us.

The last three hours of the trip were less than ideal. Rain was lightly falling the entire trip to Fox Glacier village obscuring the views and the bus driver was an absolute speed demon. We made it to our first stop in what had to be record time and got a 25 minute break there. We then had a long haul to our final destination, which was also the last stop for the bus. We got in just before 6:00, finishing 10 hours of transportation. Too late to do anything, Kara and I took our room at the Glacier Inn and ate dinner from supplies we took with us, since restaurants are a fortune normally and especially when there are few options around. We went to bed early for the journey of the next morning.

October 9: Fox Glacier village is, naturally, named after a glacier, specifically one named Fox Glacier located just above the town around a bend. We joined a guided hike on Thursday morning and bussed to a parking lot just outside the glacier confines. From there, we hiked to an overlook above the glacier. The glacier had receded a lot since it was first discovered around 1850. In the 1890s, its end still peaked out around the bend and could be seen from the plains below the mountains. It receded continuously until the 1980s, when it began to grow again, albeit slowly. The group in charge of the tours once had a path that walked up to the top of the glacier via stairs, but now that stairs hangs overhead, hidden in trees, abandoned since the early 2000s when the glacier backed too far into the mountains. A landslide finally took out the access route to reach the stairs earlier this year. With the glacier retreating so quickly now, the tours are getting longer and going further up into the valley. But slides are also becoming more frequent and unpredictable, so government survey crew are constantly out there, ensuring the paths are safe for guided groups (non-guided groups are discouraged from hiking most of the trails).

After we returned from the glacier and had lunch, we hiked A LONG WAY (around 10 miles) to (and back from) Lake Matheson, a natural glacial lake that has long since become the home of eels and reeds. The lake is famous for its beautiful reflective surface, but a light rain storm in the morning mixed with wind in the  afternoon made the lake murky and decidedly not reflective. The lake, though, was surrounded by a nearly-tropical rain forest that was beautiful, though lacking in a sounds since only a few species of birds live in the forests here. Our walk back to the village was quicker than our walk there surprisingly, but we were disappointed that the reflection was so poor. We spent the evening watching a few TV shows and eating from our cache, anticipating the long day on Friday.

October 10: Friday was a beautiful day—a rare thing on the West Coast. Even the locals and bus driver noticed it. Unfortunately, we had another long bus ride back. We planned better, taking copious amounts of Dramamine. We also took a lot of photos on the way back since we passed various mirror lakes (that actually mirrored) and the ocean on our drive back to Greymouth. At our lunch stop, we had about 45 minutes to wander around a town that I can't for the life of me remember its name. The last leg of the bus ride was quick afterwards. In Greymouth, we got another hour of free time since the train arrived late to the station. We wandered the streets of the small city and checked out a few stores. We'll probably visit the place again when we tour the South Island later this year or early next year.

The train ride back was much the same as the ride there, except in reverse. The better weather meant that we got some more photos on the west end of the route, and the views of the river valleys were beautiful, as before. We got in late and picked up some battered fish from a local market. They were very good. I had to read some French when I got back because I'd forgotten the book on the trip. Oops! Otherwise, that was pretty much Friday.

October 11: Saturday was a breathing day where I mostly wrote my article on Wright & Sunset Park for my book. Seriously, this bugger took all day. We got fish again because Kara has gone crazy insane thanks to Good Calories, Bad Calories, a book I highly recommend it you never want to eat carbohydrates again. In the evening, we also finally got to see the first Marvel's Agents of SHIELD episode, something I'd been eagerly waiting for for about three weeks now.

More Musings:
  • It rains constantly on the West Coast, like buckets of rain. In an average year, it rains 200 days and the rain is measured in metres rather than centimetres. Specifically, 9 metres of rain compared to roughly 1.5 metres on the East Coast.
  • Cows have overtaken sheep in New Zealand over the past thirty years. The sheep industry apparently just doesn't do as well as the cattle, so farmers have been slowly phasing one out for the other. There are still sheep everywhere, though, just not as many as there once were. Cows now outnumber sheep in increasing ratios. I don't mind, though, because New Zealand cheese is tasty!
  • Speaking of which, there are four primary types of cheese here: Colby, Edom, Mild, and Tasty. The latter two are a type of Cheddar while the first is well-known in the US and Edom is similar to cheddar but slightly softer. Other types of cheeses are also available here, but these four are the staple cheeses. None of them are offered in low-fat varieties, and I can't imagine why anyone would want to have them that way—they just wouldn't be the same.

06 October 2014

Cruddy Internet & Native Animals

These are getting shorter because things are settling down significantly, but I go on vacation in two days to Arthur's Pass and the Fox Glacier, followed quickly with my move to Avonside, so stay tuned for that. Now, for the racap:

October 2: We got to see our little angel/devil on Thursday. Niko was his typical distracted self, more interested in eating grass and agapantha leaves. After him, we went to the large EcoShop thrift store, where we picked up some minor dishware. The afternoon was spent desperately trying to find time to read French and write my article on Clems. It didn't go well at all, but I got them both done. In the late afternoon, we went to the school to visit some other Arts Department postgrads, mostly MA students, and we discovered a few things about how the tutoring/student teaching program works and how every single event here involves alcohol in some way or another. Overall, an interesting day. We finally met some people that actually share our interests, which is nice.

October 3: Kara spent most of the afternoon attempting to make peanut butter cookies for the game night that evening, while I worked on the Laurel article for my book. The game night was quite fun, with five games played over the course of five hours. Not much else happened, though.

October 4: I got back from Chris my one-month proposal draft which he definitely did not enjoy. After much complaining to Kara, I finally got to work writing it, promptly giving up after re-writing half of it. I then decided to start on my preface article to the section I had just finished the day before.

October 5: Today marked a trying day as I had to finish the rewrite my one-month proposal since the first draft was, well, garbage. My supervisor, fortunately, didn't literally say that, only implied it heavily. In any case, that took the bulk of the afternoon to finish and I was quite glad when it was done. Kara edited it in the evening as I finished my last article for Section 2 of Santa Cruz Trains. Somehow, I also managed to cram garage saling in the morning and French reading in the afternoon, though how I don't know. Sam was gone all day so we were able to work a bit more than usual.

October 6: A busy Monday with lots to do but nowhere to go. Revising my proposal after Kara's edits in the morning merged into my French reading which shifted to me writing a Press-Banner article and finally editing my past two weeks' worth of Santa Cruz Trains writing. All-in-all, a pretty busy day, though unremarkable.

  • Internet in New Zealand is not as fast as it should be but faster than most people claim it to be. That being said, it likes to cut out suddenly and frequently. Data on cell phones are the same way, dropping in and out despite a strong signal.
  • New Zealand has precisely one indigenous mammal: the bat. A few others made their way over with the ancestral Māori including the Polynesian dog, Polynesian rat, and wild boar. I'm sure a few others came too. Finally, the European settlers brought their own deer, weasels, cats, and many other mammals. Oddly, though, there are no chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, gophers, and any other myriad species of small animals. People never brought them over, so there are no small animals here. More importantly, though, most mammals that are here are not native to the islands.

01 October 2014

Windy With a Chance of Games

26 September: The days are finally becoming more routine, which is probably a good thing. I met with my supervisor, Chris, for the second time on Friday. We discussed the project and whatnot and he gave me my second assignment, due the following week. All afternoon was spent researching and I finally began reading my French book...which is really hard considering I don't read French! In the evening, we tried to go to a postgrad event, but nobody was really there so we fled. What an experience! At least I'm still on track with my book articles.

27 September: Saturday was our first big social event: a game day. After stopping at a garage sale, we went with Sam, our host, to a local Baptist Church where Sam's friends were running the first of a monthly board game meetup. There were probably around 50 people there throughout the day and Kara and I played eight games, which is pretty impressive. We even both lost spectacularly in a Carcassonne tournament (we were at separate tables). A friend of theirs also operated a reduced-price game store for the event with hundreds of games to choose from. We didn't do much else that day, but it was fun. Still on track with book articles!

28 September: Sunday was a bit of a blustery rainy day, but we still went out to see sled (or rather chariot) dogs at the Hagley Park, the large park beside the city centre. It was fun, though nothing super exciting. Afterwards, we went to the Canterbury Museum and checked out the first three exhibits. We decided to save the rest for another time and went downtown to Re:Start, a nice container city built on the former site of a mall that was damaged in the earthquakes. We returned home, did a bit of work, and then got some Dominos pizza for dinner. Oddly, Dominos here only has one size of pizza, which is a size slightly larger than US-small. Fortunately, the pizzas were cheap, tasty, and pepperoni was included (it costs $3 more at Pizza Hut). Afterwards, we played two games with Sam. Still on track!

29 September: Monday was an utterly boring research day. We worked for hours. I wrote another article (still on track!) and that was pretty much it.

30 September: Tuesday was equally dully with more research, a bit of grocery shopping, and a game of Airlines: Europe before bed. Sam brought his kids over so they were providing diversions, but that was pretty much it. Still on track!

1 October: Wednesday, we went to see a speaker from the University of Adelaïde in Australia...she was Scottish writing about Ireland. Go figure. Kara also had her second meeting with her supervisor, which went well. We came home early so I could read some more French (not getting much better) and then we entertained the kids for another night. It was a bit long. Still on track, and today's article was huge!

Common Occurrences:

  • The wind in New Zealand can be terrifying. It's not hurricane force, but it sure can feel like it. And it is persistent and frequent. It began winding Sunday night, and by Monday morning the entire cinder block building was lightly shaking and the windows howling and rattling. Even the sliding glass door opened a bit. Very weird.
  • On Sunday, we were surprised to find a rooster prowling the yard. A lady downstairs was shooing it off. It was quite vocal in its disregard. It then charged a Maine Coon cat that was watching the entire thing. Later that day when we were getting into the car to buy pizza, the rooster came back and began heading toward Kara. We left in a cloud of dust, never to see the rooster again.
  • Weather forecasts here are so inaccurate that they make Santa Cruz forecasts seem downright prophetic. Seriously, the weather predictor on Weather.com changed by the minute, switching between clouds, sun, rain, thunderstorms, wind, etc. It can't be trusted! Sam says that events are scheduled for rainy days because they usually end up being sunny. I'm tempted to agree with him.