28 November 2015

The Khagan Irregular: Explaining My Thesis to the Masses Since 2014 (2:13 – 29.11.2015)

It has been nearly four months since my last update and I must say that not much has been going on for me. We haven't gone on any trips. Uni life is fairly standard. I did present a short paper on Robert III, count of Beaumont-le-Roger during the Postgrad Showcase, but the scientists in the room were not really interested in it (almost everyone there were scientists). This coming week I will be volunteering to help for a symposium on Magna Carta (which celebrates its 800th anniversary this year) and a broader New Zealand Historical Association conference. For specific updates on our recent activities, check out Kara's blog: Amongst the Kiwis. I honestly don't have the time and interest anymore in specifically relating every event that's occurred in New Zealand. Plus, Kara is generally doing more than I am in any case.

Now the real reason for this post is that my advisor has finally given me a big thumbs up regarding progress on my thesis, which just passed the half-way point of the first draft two weeks ago. This joyful moment means that I can finally tell you all precisely what my thesis is about in a manner that hopefully makes sense to everybody. So here it goes...

Title: The Wilted Lily: The Capetian Dynastic Imperative in the Age of the Hundred Years War (1274 – 1464)
Summary: A long time ago in the kingdom of France, the royal family, called the Capetians, patronised the Abbey of Saint-Denis in the outskirts of Paris. By 1274, it had become the burial place for all French kings and many other members of the royal family. In a corner of the abbey, monks studiously and judiciously wrote and duplicated historical chronicles dating to the earliest times in French and Frankish history. One monk named Primat was commissioned to do something new, though: he was to create a GREAT CHRONICLE that related the entire history of France to the present time in French (well, Old French), rather than the traditional Latin. When he finished his work, it ended in the year 1223 when King Philippe Auguste died. Other monks continued where Primat left off, appending translations of the Life of Louis VIII and the Life of Saint Louis IX to the text, slowly but surely expanding it into the fourteenth century. The original text ended around 1328 with the accession of King Philippe VI de Valois. 
Things became more interesting after this because the monks began creating an entirely new story, independent of any previously-existing Latin manuscripts. Richard Lescot and Pierre d'Orgemont continued the chronicle to 1379, describing in detail the early years of the Hundred Years War between England and France. Jean Juvénal des Ursins then translated another Latin text and appended this to the continuation. And Jean Chartier wrote simultaneously a Latin and Middle French continuation, bringing the Grandes Chroniques, as it is now called, to about 1464. Thus, for almost two hundred years, this abbey and its monks wrote and continued a chronicle in the vernacular French language under royal guidance and patronage, therefore documenting a specifically pro-French history of France derived from contemporary sources and first-hand experiences. This achievement was unrivalled in Europe at the time. 
With this distinctly royal perspective in mind, it is my quest to discover specifically how the chroniclers portrayed members of the royal family during this period. How is the king and his family portrayed? How are the families of his siblings and uncles? And more importantly, how are relatives who defy royal authority portrayed? People like the duke of Brittany, the king of Navarre, the count of Beaumont-le-Roger, and, most importantly, the king of England. What do the chroniclers have to say about royals defying kingly authority?  
But my overriding question is more structural: when Primat first wrote the Grandes Chroniques around 1274, who did he focus on as the structural cores of the Capetian dynasty (answer Philippe Auguste and Saint Louis) and how did later kings and members of the dynasty relate their own actions and activities to the precedents set by their illustrious ancestors? Furthermore, did the pursuit of this precedent—this dynastic imperative—lead them to recklessly continue the Hundred Years War, or was the war something else unrelated to Capetian dynastic ambition?

That's it. That's the thesis. Ten chapters of discussing these questions and hoping that the conclusions I come to answer the research questions in the way I want. So far things have been looking good, but I still have a lot of work to do before it's perfect. For one, I have only embraced my current research style wholly in my previous chapter (although elements of it were incorporated in the chapter before) Re-writing chapters 1-3, therefore, will be important to my overall argument. However department policies are now making it so I only will probably turn in two drafts of each chapter, which is probably a good thing if I want to graduate on time. If I can finish the first draft of the thesis by mid-2016, then that will leave me with over a year to finish the second draft which will hopefully lead directly to a final draft. Only time will tell.

Anyway, let me know what you think and I'm happy to answer any further questions you may have. Cheers!

01 August 2015

The Khagan Irregular: Blogging When I Feel Like It Since 2014 (2:12 – 01.08.2015)

The Nitty-Gritty of Life
Wow! It has been a long time since I blogged last. Sorry about that but, honestly, things have gotten rather crazy since my May post. Theses are ongoing, social life is questionable, computer fun time is irregular, board games are getting dusty, and my suitcase is worn out. With that all being said, this blog—and most of my others—have been placed on the back-burner indefinitely, hence its second name change in six months. It's nothing personal—I like you all very much (except you in the back, stop staring at me that way. It's creepy!)—but blogging is just not the most important thing I can be doing. I've neglected my movie review blog and haven't done reviews for either of the new Carcassonne expansions, but I'll get to those someday soon I hope. I also have plans to write a children's book, but that hasn't materialised yet either. On the plus side, I have updated my Academia.edu account! You can now read my master's thesis, free of charge (tips accepted).

Anyway, stay tuned. Keep watching my Facebook feed. Follow me on twitter (@whaleyland) and always remember, the more you comment and talk about my postings, the more likely I am to do more of them. Yeah, I'm selfish that way. What can I say.

To In-Sydney...AND BEYOND!
So, off I went, into the wild Australian East Coast! Kara and I had a double-doozy of conferences to attend in Australia but we made the most of our time there all the same. Kara had never been to Australia before I was last there when I was eight, so that hardly counts. We began our trip in Sydney and ended in Brisbane. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time or the money to really go anywhere else outside those two places. Both places were also broken up by the conferences. Kara went to a Digital Humanities conference for the first week we were there and we had three days afterwards to wonder around the city. Then in Brisbane, we had five days off before going to the ANZAMEMS (Australia & New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies), which was for me but Kara went to all the days as well and even presented there. But first, the fun parts.

Sydney is an amazing city. It is like San Francisco ran up to Seattle for the weekend and somehow had a threesome with London, and this city was the result. I mean, they have a Space Needle. Sydney is probably the most multicultural place I've ever been, and I've been to many places. There are literally shopping malls everywhere and most of them are hidden underground. I mean, they are under residential towers, town hall, city parks, historic buildings, and beside subway terminals. Oh yeah, and they have a London-style subway system! I mean, they literally stole the logos and everything straight from Victorian London. It doesn't have quite the same breadth, but the city is a tad bit smaller, too. The geography of the area is gnarly, with rivers and streams meandering all over the place, and islands and peninsulas littered along the coast. The Sydney Opera House is pretty cool to behold, but I was much more impressed with the beautiful arched truss bridge that spans the harbour behind it. It's freaking beautiful! The Rocks area, which was the original inmate colony of Botany Bay, is now a hip little café district with a weekly arts and crafts fair that runs down multiple streets. Another district called Darling Harbour is a touristy area like Pier 39 in San Francisco, with a bunch of trendy expensive restaurants (literally, like 25 of them), an enclosed zoo, an aquarium, a Madame Trussauds, Australia's only IMAX theatre (where we watched Jurassic World 3D), a maritime museum, and, of course, a shopping mall. The old train bridge over the harbour has since been converted into a quaint pedestrian bridge, and there is a large stadium at the bottom of the harbour which was all cordoned off because Channing Tatum was arriving for the world premiere of Magic Mike XXL.  We also saw a production of the musical Les Misérables while in Sydney, which was a treat.

All Bris and No Bane

800 Years Ago, I, King John of England, signed some
piece of magnate crap and now everybody remembers
me for what I never wanted to do. I was blackmailed!
Brisbane was a very different city than Sydney. While it did have its downtown area, the skyscrapers were lower and the malls were fewer. The city was much more like Los Angeles than New York in that it sprawled outward rather than upward. And just to be a nuisance to everybody, the Brisbane River meanders all over the place through the city, forcing bridges to cross it frequently. About half those bridges are toll brides, and Kara and I had a car this time around. We stayed at my mother's penpal's house about 15 minutes from downtown via the main motorway. Having a home base to return to each night was very nice and our host was absolutely amazing. We've adopted her as our new aunt. Kara and her got in long discussions almost every night about politics, the medical industry, insurance, Kiwi-Aussie relations, Kiwi-US relations, Aussie-US relations, etc. The house also catered to one grouchy little kitty and a tiding of Magpies who came up to the door and ate directly out of our hands! The little monsters. We took mostly day trips during the first days we were there, venturing down to Surfers Paradise—which is pretty much the same thing as Miami—and up to three different venues. The Sunday before the conference, we went to a medieval reenactment fair which was actually really fun. They had tons of camps run by different medieval-dressed people, lots of little themed shops, reenactment centres, old-timey photo shoot, jousting, sword fighting, gypsies, and a bunch of other fun stuff. It took up most of the day.

Me presenting at ANZAMEMS. Topic is visible on screen.
On the following Tuesday, we began the long five-day ANZAMEMS conference which was primarily people talking about history. I mean, I'm not sure what else I can really say about it. Conferences are essential to CV-building but they are a lot of talking. In the end, only a handful of the presentations especially interested me, and virtually none directly impacted on me, but I'm still glad I went. I met a lot of other young historians and bonded more closely with my own Canterbury peers. The next conference is being held in Wellington, which is closer to home, so I suppose I will be attending again in 2017.

View of New South Wales from the crater rim outside Surfers' Paradise.
We flew out the day after the last day of the conference and had to almost immediately resume our studies. The flights were pretty stable, minus a few bumps and noisy kids, and our neighbours were never too annoying. Still, we probably won't be travelling again soon, except for short weekend trips.

Animals Here, There, and Everywhere
A wombat.
One thing I skipped above were the three wildlife parks we visited during our travels. Our first zoo was in Sydney—the Taronga Zoo—and we needed a boat to get out there! Yeah, pretty awesome. It was like Jurassic World, except for that whole eating people part. We got a good preview of all the amazing Australian animals, from kangaroos to duck-billed platypuses. We didn't get to see the deadly snakes because Kara doesn't like them, but we did get to see a few alligators and a bunch of non-native animals. It felt very similar to the San Diego Zoo, especially since they had a gondola and the zoo was constructed up on a hill. It was also about the same age, being founded in the early 1900s and expanded through the years.

A red panda, also known as a firefox.
A kookaburra. 
In Brisbane, we visited the Australia Zoo, which is owned by the Irwin family of Steve Irwin fame. And, I'll tell you what, you don't miss that fact once in the park. Steve's family is everywhere in the park, with his daughter Bindi used in marketing everywhere and his son, Robert, now somehow a palaeontologist (he's like 10). But the park was pretty cool. It had a lot of crocodiles and alligators, a ton of Australian animals in general, and a fair amount of other creatures including some cute tigers. Surprisingly, they didn't have any lions and their elephants have disappeared without explanation, but it was a fun day all the same. They have a huge amphitheatre where they do a crocodile show each day so we got to see some handlers coerce a croc into attacking. Pretty fun stuff. The next day we visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and got up close and personal with a bunch of different animals. You are allowed to wonder through two separate fields to pet and feed kangaroos and wallabies.  I also got sneezed on by a wombat, which was a...unique...experience. And then when we were pretty much done with everything else, we got our photos holding a koala. Definitely a highlight although we only held him for a few seconds and weren't allowed to scratch him or anything. Still, I think this animal park felt the most Australian of the three. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone visiting the area, though Australia Zoo and Taronga Zoo were also both quite fun.

A wallaby in its dirt pile.
A dingo standing sentinel.
A koala and her joey.
Four lorikeets eating from Kara's food tray.

A Tasmanian devil on the prowl.

Burning Bacon
The Geláre cinnamon/chocolate waffle. Mmmm....
Nothing has changed much with our food situation except we are growing increasingly tired of the foods we've fallen back on. During the trip, we switched to having cereal for breakfast for the first time since October 2014. It was weird and while we sort of liked it, we found ourselves quite hungry by lunch time every day. We've since returned to eggs and bacon. We also did a tremendous amount of eating out during this trip, more than we really could afford or wanted to do, but we did get some variety. We got a fully paid-for steakhouse dinner, a free catered restaurant feast, and a casual night on the town at a Japanese restaurant. I struggled at all of them, as I do, but fortunately most places have chicken, which I'll eat. Otherwise, we found ourselves getting pizza twice, Subway once, McDonalds twice, oporto chicken twice, ice cream and gelato a few times, and random other snacks here and there. We even found a fun little place called Pancake on the Rocks, which is apparently a chain, although we went to its original store. There are also two amazing dessert places in Australia called Geláre and Chocolateria San Churro. Definitely check them out if you are in the neighbourhood.

Ups & Downs
While I can't say that we did any scheduled walking on this trip, we certainly got our exercise in most of the days. Me especially. During the week I was alone in Sydney, I went on walks all over the place, probably covering around 2km minimum per day not counting the usual walking around associated with life. The sheer number of shopping malls made it impossible not to want to walk around, and then with Kara the zoos and animal parks are pretty much all-day affairs. Our only dedicated hike was punctuated multiple times by short car drives, but it was at a national park near Surfers Paradise south of Brisbane. It overlooked the rim of this massive volcano that had collapsed millions of years ago. The walls of the volcano still were standing and there were hiking trails all around it, so we got some excellent views of waterfalls, the ocean, the other end of the crater, and just nature in general. We even got to see a wild wallaby run into the woods on some back road we took. Pretty cool.

Thesis Schmeshish
Things have been progressing more smoothly with my thesis of late. During the first week in Sydney, I dedicated my four days alone to working on Chapter 3 of the document. The chapter is arguably the most important to the work as a whole since it grounds my theory on a number of historical events. Everything that comes after this will relate back to it in some way. I just submitted the draft on Friday after some comments from Kara and two other students. I think it's good, but we'll have to see what my supervisor says. This chapter will likely become Chapter 2 in the next revision, and the current chapter 2 will get rearranged a bit and become Chapter 4. The new Chapter 3 is what I am working on yet. This will be a bit more fun as I get to demonstrate how quickly the ideas developed by the guys in the previous chapter got screwed up right after they died. Fun! Fun! Fun! I love dynastic disorder.

The Kiwi Way
Comparisons between Australians and New Zealanders abound aplenty here. It can't be helped since so many Kiwis travel to Australia in the winter and so many Australians vacation here in the summer. But one thing that we began noticing almost immediately when we were in Australia is how much more polite Australians are compared to Kiwis. Granted, this is not a universal thing—we have found many nice Kiwis—but I think the general timidity of Kiwis comes out accidentally as rudeness or indifference. This begins at the basic level of the store clerk, who in Australia smiles and offers polite chit-chat and in New Zealand keeps a straight face and says little-to-nothing. Even when I try to chat, as I do, I almost get nothing from them here. In Australia, meanwhile, it can be difficult to disengage from some clerks! Obviously this can be a bad thing, but it is certainly better than a complete lack of interest. Whether this is linked to "Tall Poppy Syndrome" or just a more British air about them, the Kiwis are just not as friendly or sociable as the Aussies. From clerks to amusement park staff to conference attendees, we saw the same pattern.

The Khagan Weekly Fortnightly Irregular 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 China. In fact, if you are reading this in China, you are a bad Han! Blogger is blocked in China, don't you know? They have censors watching you right now. Democracy! Capitalism! USA! USA! Well, you must be using a proxy server, so right on! Go free speech!

24 May 2015

The Khagan Fortnightly: Writing Until Midnight Since 2014 (2:11 – 24.05.2015)

Speaking Out Loud
This was a big week for public speaking and taught me that I really do believe I can be a lecturer. On Wednesday, I gave my first postgraduate seminar talk to a crowd of about 25 people. It was a mini-version of my ANZAMEMS conference presentation and focused on the French successions of 1316 and 1328. They were quite contentious and set a very important precedent for France. It was well-received by the students and even my supervisor. I was, of course, nervous, but I knew my stuff and handled it well.

Then, on Thursday, I had a second joint-presentation with two History MA students in front of a crowd of 54 undergrads. We did this one completely voluntarily. Since finals are coming up and most of these students had never taken a final exam before, we felt that they could use some coaching, so we ran a seminar on how to prep for a history exam. Kara's doing a similar one for writing essays next Monday. It went so well that I didn't even get nervous. It surprised me even! But it also taught me that as long as I know what I'm talking about, I can run courses like the pros.

To the Bottom of the Earth
The only other real event of note recently was our long-awaited trip to the International Antarctic Centre. This is the real deal: people go from here to the Antarctic to explore, research, and do things in blisteringly cold weather. Crazy, crazy people. The public part of the centre is more or less a discovery museum with a lot of gimmicky things. There' a 4D theatre that squirts you with water too many times, a recreation of North Dakota in November (-18˚C/-0.4˚F), and a penguin enclosure. Okay, the penguins were cute, but I digress. And the cost of visiting was an utter fortune. Granted, we had Buy One-Get One passes and got a student discount on top of that, but it's something like $54/person normally. This is a rip-off pure and simple. The whole place takes you only 3:30 hours to go through. And most of the signs are a few years out-of-date. The most exciting thing during the whole tour was a 10-minute ride on basically a halftrack through an obstacle course. That was pretty fun, but the place was just expensive and definitely designed for the younger crowd, which is just too bad. I only recommend this place if you a) are über-wealthy, b) are absolutely bored of things to do in Christchurch, or c) have found an amazing coupon like we did. Otherwise, a cruise to the Antarctic would probably be much more satisfying. (Disclaimer: I do not recommend or condone cruises to the Antarctic due to increased pollution and environmental damage caused by Antarctic tourists. A visit to the International Antarctic Centre will teach you more about these modern problems...not that I recommend visiting the centre either...um, yeah).

Burning Bacon
Food has been taking some strange turns lately. We have been coming back late most nights and dinner is sometimes at school, so cooking is becoming less and less of a thing. That being said, there are a few treats we've made recently. Last week we made chocolate-dipped pretzels and peanut butter-chocholate pretzel sandwiches for my History Pre-Exam Seminar. They didn't go at all, except to the other two speakers, but they did taste good, at least. I also just made today a beautiful orange and chocolate bundt cake for our History PostGrad meeting for Tuesday morning. Kara made a pumpkin bundt, so we've got everything covered for that. We have plans for a Mexican dinner party next week, but nothing will be made for that until mid-week, so it's been slow. Bacon and eggs for breakfast every day are still our usual fair.

Oh, we also made our own microwave popcorn bag, which caught on fire in the microwave. Yay!

Ups & Downs
I'm keeping this short: we didn't have time to do anything except walk around the block last week. It's too cold and wet to do anything more. Instead, I ride my stationary bike for 25 minutes every day while watching Vikings and Outlander. It's better than nothing, I suppose. No hikes planned for the foreseeable future either. Eh.

Thesis Shmeshish
The world of theses is never smooth and for me that seems to be especially the case. My advisor and I disagree about a great many things, among them the expected attitude of a PhD supervisor. After having a brief meeting with another lecturer in the department, my supervisor, that lecturer, and I sat down and discussed the nitty-gritty of PhD research. It didn't really go as planned, but I expected that, so maybe it did. Somehow the ball has been stolen into his court as well, so now I just have to sit and wait to see what happens next. In the meantime, I've been working on Chapter 3 of my thesis, which deals with defining the Capetian Dynastic Imperative. Sound academic, right? Oh, and we did discuss my last chapter and he actually liked it quite a bit, so much so that we probably are going to end up splitting it into two chapters before this thesis is done. It is increasingly unlikely that I will even research the English side of things, but that's okay. I still have a long ways to go in learning French, but I'm making progress there too: I just finished my study book and have re-ordered the French textbook I started this endeavour with.

The Kiwi Way
It seems that many of my local Cantabrian friends have taken a liking to reading this blog. Fair enough; I do post it online for everybody to read and they have increasingly been friending me on Facebook (and vice-versa). Since this seems to be the case, let's have a quick summary of Kiwi writing habits. They're terrible. It is truly the see-and-do technique of learning since the primary and secondary systems here really don't focus on sentence structure, paragraph design, or essay outlining. To be absolutely honest, I hated these things when I was in school, but I did learn them, and I learned them pretty well according to many. What the bigger problem here is that people don't learn how to write, and then they write stuff that other people see, and then they in effect copy what they see, and thereby don't learn how to write. It's a vicious cycle!

Take one example: sentences with unnecessary commas in them. Just absolutely, unnecessary. See what I did there? That was, an unnecessary comma. So was that. It's really easy to do when you want to, but they aren't needed. That last comma, that was necessary, as were these. Unbeknownst to the modern Kiwi, there are actual rules that govern the usage of commas. They aren't all hard and fast, but they are there, and there are plenty of places where they don't belong.

Speaking of punctuation Kiwis don't know how to use, I present for your enjoyment: the colon. No, not the strange organ in the body, but rather this lovely little pair of dots sitting atop each other. You can use them to equate something—money: the root of all evil. You can use it to prompt a list: one potato, two tomato, three zucchini, squash! One thing you can't do with them, though is end a sentence with them; this is where the semi-colon comes in. It's like a full stop got jiggy with a comma and had a love child—it's great!

So my Kiwi friends, remember, commas have a purpose, and colons and semi-colons do too. If you can't figure them out, the internet has the answers to many things, including these.

The Khagan Weekly Fortnightly 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 China. In fact, if you are reading this in China, you are a bad Han! Blogger is blocked in China, don't you know? They have censors watching you right now. Democracy! Capitalism! USA! USA! Well, you must be using a proxy server, so right on! Go free speech!

10 May 2015

The Khagan Fortnightly: Skipping Issues Since 2014 (2:10 – 10.05.2015)

Dinner & a Fiesta
Two parties within 24 hours gave us an evening of international students and a Mexican party. First off, we had our fourth Operation Friendship dinner on Friday night. We are becoming known by the 15 or so hosts of the monthly parties and a number of the regulars know us now, which is good. Like usual, there is a decidedly Kiwi-international blend of foods served, most of which I won't touch but some of which is quite good. The games this time around weren't great—in fact one wasn't really even a game. We always do some games but this time it was pictionary and charades with a strange getting-to-know-you thing that was only okay.

The next afternoon we went to a Cinco de Mayo party with the Americans in Christchurch group. That whole thing is horribly unorganised for some reason but the food was guaranteed to be good this time around because Kara and I made a bunch of it. We made two different sauces/salsas, refried beans, and baby churros. People liked all of it except the white sauce (their loss because it's amazing!). Pretty much the whole time was spent talking to Kara's San Diego friends that she met here, Hannah and Blair. They're a fun group and agree with us on pretty much everything regarding both America and New Zealand, so that's kind of fun. The party itself was a bit simple and the rest of the food wasn't great, but it could certainly have been worse. Oh, and the cake was good. It was a Mexican flag with a Mexican and French flag crossed atop it. Two points to anyone who knows why those flags are important to Cinco de Mayo. No points for checking Wikipedia.

A Movie & a Club
I got hijacked into joining HistSoc a few months back and then conned into becoming an exec, but it was a good decision all around. We had our first event two weeks ago, an Inaccurate Movie Night where we tried somewhat sadly to make fun of Mel Gibson's The Patriot. The movie was a bit too long, though, and people are not super comfortable with assertiveness here (not that I can talk). Still, we had a good night and a decent turnout and we definitely will be doing another event soon. In fact, our next event is in two weeks and I am one of the three co-hosts of it. We're going to do a tutorial seminar regarding exam preparation for the undergraduate students. A bit of it will also discuss their crappy essays and how to make less crappy essays in the future. It's nothing major, but we are expecting a big turnout since none of these first year students have taken a uni-level history exam before.

Burning Bacon
Well, food things have taken a decidedly different turn. The past few weeks we've been skating by with the regular food items mostly, but we did make a monster blend of Mexican food right when we came back from the North Island. The mixed our chicken/cheese enchilada filler with homemade refried beans, rice, and more cheese to make something truly magical. Mix that with some of our homemade hot sauce (read salsa del fuego) and you've got an excellent dinner.

Our bigger endeavour has been to turn our cooking into profits. Kara thought up the idea while on our trip and I won't go into the details right now, but let's just say that Kiwis are not the most ingenuous peoples and so we're going to try introducing some good ol' fashioned American foods into the market and see how they do. We're still working on a business model, but something may happen. We'll see.

Ups & Downs
We've been so busy these past few weeks that our adventures out of Christchurch have been decidedly limited to walking to and from school, with the exception of a short walk we took around the block today. Weather has been intemperate, too, with some days being freezing cold and others being actually quite nice. The nicer the day, the more likely we have to stay in the room studying. Murphy's Law or something equally annoying.

Thesis Shmeshish
When we got back from the North Island, I spent literally 10 days in a row mostly writing a chapter of my thesis. And it was a long 10 days. Technically, I got done early on day 8, spent the afternoon editing it, and then had a few MA students read through it to make sure my supervisor wouldn't think it's garbage. After they approved it, I sent it in. I've heard nothing since.

Since May 1st, I've been working on my next chapter. It's a strange thing to go from writing for 10 days straight to suddenly reading full-time. This is the reading/writing cycle of a PhD student. My job last week was to look up various different survey books on my chapter while my goal for the next three weeks is to find books, articles, and primary source documents that discuss my chapter topic more directly. Trying to not get off topic is really hard, too, especially since this chapters has a lot to do with the next two chapters and the thesis as a whole. I just hope I can pull together as snazzy of a chapter as I did for the last one.

The Kiwi Way
So heating in New Zealand is, well, a mystery to the Kiwi. There are a few different types of heaters in us in the country, but the most common is the heat pump. A heat pump is an air conditioning system that pulls air from the outside and chills it for the inside. Wait. Did I just say chills it? Yes, heat pumps are actually air conditioners. "Heat pump" is a setting on them that is not recommended for use. In other words, most Kiwis use air conditioning systems to heat their homes. These systems are expensive to run, cannot be shut off except at the circuit breaker, and do not heat up a room very well. The next system they have are portable or mounted heaters. The Uni has tons of these everywhere. They're so simple that, well, you can't really program them at all. You turn it on and turn it off and adjust the intensity, but if you want a cold room to be warm, you either have to just leave the heater on the whole time or be cold first as it warms up. At Uni, we don't have a choice—the controls are nowhere to be found and the heater is running all the time, day/night/winter/summer. The stationary ones can be a bit better because some have programming, but they have so many safety mechanisms on them that many of the programs can't really be used. A lot of them are also straight up crap. Ceramic heaters are such crap heaters that do nothing except radiate a little bit of heat around its immediate periphery. Utter crap. There is also a slightly rarer thing that we are blessed to have called an HRV. This device is mounted in the ceiling of various rooms of a house and it pumps (read uses a fan) in warm air from the attic. In other words, the attic doesn't get as cold and the house gets its heat. This works great until the attic temperature drops below the house's, at which point it's worthless. To be fair, it won't intentionally push more cold air into the house, but since there are holes in our ceiling and cold air is heavier than warm air, it comes in all the same. The one thing they don't have here is central heating. Not at all. Don't even think about it. And what's the point anyway? There's no insulation in the walls to keep the heat in to begin with. Central heating is apparently cost prohibitive here, but I don't buy it. Just like so many other things, the Kiwi way is just a silly stubborn way, when things like central heating would make everybody happier.

The Khagan Weekly Fortnightly 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 China. In fact, if you are reading this in China, you are a bad Han! Blogger is blocked in China, don't you know? They have censors watching you right now. Democracy! Capitalism! USA! USA! Well, you must be using a proxy server, so right on! Go free speech!

01 May 2015

The Khagan Fortnightly: Ringing Up Tabs Since 2015 (2:9 – 22/04/2015)

Way Up North
The past two weeks have been one long adventure on the North Island. We visited many places along the way and more or less circumnavigated the sucker, minus most of the west coast as well as the area north of Auckland.

A troll almost stepping on me at the Weta Cave.
We began our journey north by heading on a five hour drive to Picton, the ferry port between the two islands. The boat ride was uneventful but the screaming kids did grate a little. We got into Wellington at about 10:00 pm—it was dark, rainy, and almost impossible to see. We realised quickly that while people talk up the wind in Wellington (we didn't notice it being overly windy), they don't emphasise enough the mountainous nature of the city. The city is situated between three bays that have experienced millennia of tectonic activity. In many places, there are little communities in tight valleys, while houses are on every conceivable location, including the very impractical. Our Air BnB was in one of these homes, with a beautiful view of the city, but we feared for our lives in case the long-awaited earthquake hit while we were there. Fortunately, it did not. We spent our first rainy day at the Te Papa Museum, which is the national museum of New Zealand. It was very well done and I highly recommend it to visitors passing through. That evening, we met up with our brief homestay roommate Sam, who moved there a few months back, and we chatted over dinner and snacks. Our second day was not raining...much...so we visited the Zeelandia wildlife park and then ventured downtown to the Trolley Museum. There wasn't much at the museum, unfortunately, but we did take a ride on the trolley. That also wasn't as impressive as we'd expected. It is more Shadowbrook Restaurant tram and less San Francisco trolley than we were expecting. We went for a walk downtown, but the area was a mess and we decided to cut our losses and return to the homestay.

The next two nights were spent at the small town of Turangi where we stayed at a hostel that had an overly friendly dog as its namesake. The hostel wasn't terrible, but it could have been better, too. Our full day there was spent venturing up to Tongariro National Park and hiking around the volcanoes, which fortunately appeared for some photographs before falling behind the clouds again.

Bubbling mud pots in downtown Rotorua.
Following Turangi, we spent a single night at the relatively nearby town of Rotorua, which is literally situated in the middle of a massive volcano. The thing blew up in 1886, destroying some amazingly beautiful sulphur terraces that were located on either side of a then-small lake. The eruption destroyed most of the terraces and deluged the rest, flooding much of the valley around the town. Today, the town is a tourist haven that attracts fans of volcanoes and hot springs alike. They have heat vents and bubbling mud literally everywhere in town, and apparently homes regularly fall into new vents that open up. The town also smells terrible, but it is definitely a place to check out. We went to the museum there which used to be a large Victorian bath house, and this isn't the giant swimming pool kind of bathhouse—this thing actually had a bunch of single-person baths in it. They catered to the sick and wealthy and tried to cure ailments with sulphur, mud, or any other tectonic treatment they could think up. The museum was one of the unexpected treats of the trip.

Bilbo Baggin's home at the top of Bagshot Row, Hobbiton.
On our way to Auckland, we finally stopped at Matamata and the Hobbiton Movie Set, but it was pouring rain for our entire visit, which was very unfortunate. The rain stopped just as our tour was ended. To be honest, the tour is a bit overhyped. The hobbit holes are awesome and the scenery amazing—I have a high respect for Peter Jackson's ability to visualise and create a set—but the tour was just done all wrong. Besides the rain, there were people everywhere and the whole thing was treated like a series of photo stops. It was literally, 'Take your photo, move along. Take your photo, move along.' Nobody was in costume; the actual stories told by the tour guides were rather basic, direct, and uninteresting; and there was no Lord of the Rings or Hobbit music playing on the set or in the bus (the bus was playing 1990s pop, of all things!). It just didn't give us the feeling we were hoping it would. And the gift shop was fun because of all the merchandise, but there was no theming at all. In contrast, the Weta Cave in Wellington, which we visited but didn't tour, felt like it knew its origins and the whole place just exuded Lord of the Rings and Jackson's other films. The two locations were in utter contrast to each other.

A sleeping tiger at the Auckland Zoo. All the animals were out that day (except the kiwis!).
Auckland itself was rather uneventful. The Air BnB there was pretty terrible, though it's large tv was a bonus. They crammed a queen sized bed on a full-sized frame that was the lower half of a very squeaky bunk bed. The kitchen was lacking in many important things, more prominently a microwave. And ants invaded the second night following a day of rain. It just was all kind of lame. Our first day out we out to the Auckland Zoo, which was very fun. All the animals were out because of the light rain, including the big cats. I highly recommend this zoo to zoo lovers. The red pandas were really cute. Our second day was a boat ride and hike on Rangitoto Island out in the bay. Prior to the boat, we also checked out the nearby art museum, which had a fun collection of paintings and other forms of art. Our last day was supposed to be a study day, but we spent much of it at the MOTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology) were we got to ride a historic streetcar and view some very large historic airplanes. Auckland as a whole was a success, but the city was less impressive than I expected.

A recreated city street at the MOTAT Museum, Auckland
Our ride back to Christchurch was long and meandering with a bunch of single nights at various east coast towns. The first day we headed around the Coromandel coast where we stopped at the Driving Creek Railway and rode up to the top of the hill. The railroad was built by a potter, of all people, who needed to get clay down from the hillside. Over the years, he kept lengthening the track and began running passenger lines. The track and everything on it were built by him and his small team of workers over the past 40 years, which is pretty amazing. The thing includes three tunnels and a bunch of bridges. After that, we headed to the famous Cathedral Cove where the heavily-photographed sail rock is located just outside the afore-referenced cathedral cave. The hike was long and there were a lot of people there, but the view was delightful and beautiful. We stayed the night at Tauranga, where it began to rain well into the following afternoon. Not the best time, but the Air BnB was nice, at least.

The Driving Creek Railway, showing the side of the train and one of the switchbacks, Coromandel.
A teracota tunnel constructed along the Driving Creek Railway, Coromandel.

A Driving Creek Railway passenger train, named "Snake", Coromandel.
One of the beautiful sea rocks on the Coromandel Peninsula.
Our next two stops were really more waypoints. We headed south to Gisbourne late after a hike with Kara's friend/student. There really was nothing there worth visiting (mostly outdoor stuff) so we moved out early the next day for our next stop: Napier. Napier was destroyed in a terrible earthquake in the early 1930s and rebuilt in an entire art deco style, which is absolutely crazy! My Aunt Klinda and my mom would love it. We got there early, checked out the Napier Aquarium, and then walked downtown. For some reason, everything is pretty much closed in these towns this time of year. I mean, even restaurants aren't open passed about 2:00. We ended up having to eat at Dominos Pizza of all places!

Downtown Napier, showing a few of the art deco buildings. We stupidly didn't take any better ones. Sorry!
The next day we headed south to Wellington for the ferry back to Picton. We stopped at a few Lord of the Rings locations in the Upper Hutt valley, but they ended up being less impressive than we were hoping. New Zealand still hasn't really figured out the whole people-love-Lord-of-the-Rings thing, so they really make it hard to search for these film sites. Our ferry back was much shorter than the ferry over and more relaxing. In Picton, we had a nice hostel to stay out and we headed out early the next day for home. On our way home, we stopped at two locations to check out fur seal colonies, both near Kaikoura. The northerly site has a little steam where the seal pups like to go and jump around beneath a waterfall. Idyllic is really the only word to describe this adorable display of youthful play. Just outside of the town itself, another colony sits on a peninsula and a little seal pup tried to come up to us, presumably for us to pet it. We didn't, but boy was the little thing cute. Another teenage pup was crashed out on the wooden walkway, not caring one bit about the people cooing over it.

The park through which Gandalf and Sauruman walk in Isengard in The Fellowship of the Ring.
And that was pretty much our two week trip to the North Island! I hope you enjoyed the photos.

The Southern Alps at Kaikoura, where they reach the Pacific Ocean.

Seal pups playing beneath a waterfall near Kaikoura.

The True Kiwi
Searching for kiwis is a strangely difficult task in New Zealand. Since they are an endangered species (and there are six species of kiwi), they are not found easily. We've already been to numerous places, in fact, that have kiwis, but we never even saw a trace of one yet. The North Island has more kiwis, but our search for one was still difficult. At Zealandia, we found that the daylight and openness of the park protected them, but also allowed them to sleep through the day (they're nocturnal, naturally). At the Auckland zoo, we discovered that they had multiple kiwi in an exhibit that flipped day and night. Yet the exhibit was still so dark that even if there were kiwi in there (we think we saw one's feet), they were out of sight and ignoring us. Finally, out of all places, we discovered that the Napier Zoo had a single large kiwi on exhibit, also with flipped day/night cycles. But we got there in the simulated morning, when the exhibit was somewhat illuminated, and right there, searching for bugs in the middle of the exhibit, was a class A kiwi bird.

These creatures are much larger than you may imagine, about a foot tall and round like a kiwifruit. They also are surprisingly fidgety. The one there was pecking around everywhere for foot scraps in the ground. And it found some, too, because it kept eating stuff it found. But also was pacing around frantically, which may have been because of the exhibit, or the simulated day, or who knows what. In any case, very strange creature and one of the weirdest birds ever. You've got to try and see one if you're in New Zealand, although results vary.

Burning Bacon
During our journeys, we did the almost impossible: we hardly ate out at all! That's right, we carted around our bag of pre-cooked bacon and eggs and other not-so-cooked comestibles. It wasn't always easy to accomplish and we broke down a few times, especially near the end of the trip, but overall we saved a bunch of money on not eating out. As a reward, we had a lot of ice cream or, more specifically for me, thickshakes. Thickshakes are what Americans call milkshakes. They are called that because they are thicker than a New Zealand milkshake. Like in the UK and elsewhere, milkshakes are more literally milk with just some ice cream, so they are really cold but really watery. Thickshakes put in around twice as much ice cream to keep it thick and creamy. Oddly, they also pretty much use vanilla ice cream exclusively for thickshakes, adding in flavour burst that resemble (and taste a bit like) snow cone flavours. Very odd.

We also tried to so something else creative on this trip: we pre-made taquitos. They actually came out really well, though they were a bit soggy by the last day. I didn't get sick of them despite eating them for five days in a row. Kara mixed in really pulled apart chicken (which mulched in the slow cooker), cream cheese, milk, mixed cheeses, a few peppers, and other spices. It was crazy gross looking but tasted amazing, wrapped in little initially crunchy corn tortillas. We decided as soon as they were finished to make them again this week, but turn them into full on deep-fried chimichangas with homemade refried beans, rice, and more cheese. They're going to be amazing, I can sense it! Too bad I'm almost out of my salsa. We ran out before the taquitos were done. The red salsa was SO hot, but it tasted good and I was actually getting used to it by the time I ran out, so that's good.

Ups & Downs
For once, we actually did some hikes. A bunch of them in fact. Our first hike was within Zeelandia wildlife park. The park is built in a reclaimed forest that served for many years as a two-tiered reservoir. When they realised the entire thing was built atop a major fault line, the dams were decommissioned. Today the park is slowly growing to become an old growth forest, though it has about 500 years to go before that goal is achieved. While the park has kiwis and rare owls, those creatures are only visible in the night, but since it had rained the night before, all the other animals were out in abundance. We wondered around the trails checking them all out, including native parrots, tui birds, large pakehas, fantails, and a bunch others. They also had little roach hotels for the native wetas, which we viewed a little too close for comfort when we wondered into an only gold mine shaft where these buggers are literally right there on the far-too-close-for-comfort walls. That little explorative journey didn't last long.

A few days later, we did double hikes around the volcanoes of Turangi. These were the inspiration for Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings, though they weren't, in fact, Mount Doom. The first hike was out to a beautiful waterfall that ran off an old lava flow. We walked through some beautiful forest and pretty fields on the way. It was quite beautiful. The second hike was along a major hiking trail through the volcanoes which takes about eight hours to complete. We only walked to the first hut, about 45 minutes away. Still, the view we got of the nearest and most picturesque of the volcanoes was perfect and the clouds even went away so we could enjoy it that much more.

A waterfall along one of the trails in Tangariro National Poark.

One of the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park.
Flashforward a few days to Auckland where Kara decided that all the animals she had seen were not enough, so we went out on a boat to the island of Rangitoto, where we were promised magnificent views and animals. We didn't really get either, unfortunately. The weather got somewhat bad while we were out there, and the boat was diverted to a different dock which made the walk a whole heck of a lot less scenic. The island was an old shield volcano (such as the Hawaiian Islands) and it still had a bunch of rocky lava flows all over it, which were mildly cool but got old fast. The climb to the top of the mountain was long and rather boring, and the view was nothing spectacular. I took a panoramic of it, but the clouds kind of greyed everything out.

View of Auckland from the ferry to Rangitoto Island.
At Tauranga, a few days later, we decided foolishly to go on a hike around yet another extinct volcano. Considering it was raining at the time, this was in hindsight a stupid thing to do. The walk took over an hour and we were head-to-toe soaked afterwards. We returned to our AirBnB to change and dry off a bit, but we had to get on the road so I was wet the rest of the day, which wasn't very fun. The hike itself was somewhat scenic, but it was so cloudy/foggy that we couldn't see out in the bay very far and the mountain itself was shrouded in mist, so it definitely could have been better. All-in-all, not a great hike.

That's pretty much it for hikes and walks. Quite a lot in a little time, but there were so many more we didn't do that we could have. New Zealand is a hiker's paradise, for sure.

Thesis Shmeshish
Getting a thesis chapter done while on the road is virtually impossible, I've found. We even dedicated a day to it at Auckland, which turned into a nice afternoon out at the MOTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology) instead. I mean, I got a few pages done early on, but we kept getting in too late and then there was DAREDEVIL! Yeah, that's right, a t.v. show distracted us. When we got into our otherwise rather crappy accommodation in Auckland, we discovered that we had a huge HDTV there. And I mean HUGE, like 60+ inch huge. Conveniently, I had downloaded first episode of Daredevil the night before, so we tuned in and OMG! Yeah, that's pretty much when our studies ended. All our other t.v. shows went on hold, all our nightly homework assignments went out the door, we have been watching a couple episodes a night, with a few interruptions, whenever possible. We were going to see Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron tonight, but the tickets sold out, so we're going tomorrow instead. That means we get the Daredevil finale tonight instead. It's been a Marvel-ous week to be sure. In any case, these next two weeks are going to be very thesis-filled.

The Kiwi Way
Roads are something the kiwis are kind of bad at. From paving them properly, to keeping them at least two-lane, to remembering to put reflectors in them, to maintaining them—kiwis are bad at all of that and our trip proved it. First off, unpaved roads show up suddenly and without warning more often than they should. Sometimes a perfectly paved thoroughfare will become unpaved for a brief stint because of a recent construction project or something. When will they pave it? Someday, I presume. The road at the end our street is still unpaved three months after the construction crews stopped working on it. .:.sigh.:. Another phenomenon is the lazy bridges. Bridges here are often only single-lane. When you approach one of these, there will be a sign showing who has right-of-way, and even some long bridges are one-way, with little pullouts in the middle in case two cars both decided to try it at the same time. I can only guess that economics is the reason for these narrow bridges, but they really stink. From there, reflectors and even reflective road lines don't really seem to be a thing here. When it rains, the lines in the road literally disappear from sight—in Wellington, we had no idea if we were in one lane or straddling two lanes. It was sheer craziness! And road signs are often not reflective either, so at night you can't see where you're going or what you're driving on. One last annoyance is that most roads in New Zealand are two-lane, even major thoroughfares. Passing lanes may be provided, but it is always the slow lane that must merge into the passing lane, even though the passing lane always is broken off from the slow lane. It doesn't make sense, really. Passing lanes are not always marked, either. Sometimes they get their own lane, sometimes they are short sections that the vehicles have to almost completely stop in, and sometimes they are just really wide sections of road where cars can just move over to (sometimes noted, sometimes not). Regardless, almost all sections of road allow passing, and double-yellow lines outside of cities are pretty rare and reserved only for the most dangerous passing areas (sometimes). The bottom line: driving in New Zealand is more free, but is also less controlled and somewhat more difficult, especially at night and/or in rainy weather.

The Khagan Weekly Fortnightly 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 China. In fact, if you are reading this in China, you are a bad Han! Blogger is blocked in China, don't you know? They have censors watching you right now. Democracy! Capitalism! USA! USA! Well, you must be using a proxy server, so right on! Go free speech!

05 April 2015

The Khagan Fortnightly: Misreading French Since 2014 (2:8 – 04/05/2015)

The Outoftowners
We were privileged this past week to receive a visit from my old friend Nicole and her partner Neil. I met Nicole back in Fall 2004 in Swansea, Wales when I studied abroad for a semester. The two of us became fast friends and despite having a relatively large group of Americans and British friends while living over there, Nicole is the only one of them that I've remained in regular contact with. She and Neil were in town to carpool to Queenstown with Neil's sister, who is a dairy farmer near Christchurch. This is a good fact, because that means the two of them are likely to visit again before we leave and Kara and I both enjoy their company quite a lot. The four of us are peas in the same proverbial pod.

After giving them the grand tour of Christchurch (i.e., showing them the crater that is downtown) and chatting for a while at our place, I went with both of them to Neil's sister's dairy farm where I got to see how cows get milked industrially first-hand. It was crazy! The cows are on a 50-cow carousel spinning around as they get milked. And they like it; they really like it. I guess we've bread cow to have such large utters now that they are literally stomping their hooves in anticipation of being milked. They knew that they're doing from start to finish, with the workers hardly having to do anything more than attaching the milking device and removing it. Each cow gets milked twice a day, 12 hours apart, and only sits on the carousel for about 15 minutes or so. It was an amazingly efficiently operation. The cows here are also pretty much all grass-fed, free range cattle. Apparently the cattle are just as efficient as in the US, but live much happier lives.

Time Twisting
I hate daylight savings time, it just is such a joke. I know farmers like to have light when they wake up, or something like that, but most of us aren't farmers and having to adjust all of our schedules for them is really a pain. Granted, I like the bonus hour I got last night with the end of daylight savings time, but I'll just have to give up an hour in six months. The trade-off isn't worth it. That being said, Autumn and Winter here are very strange. In the Northern Hemisphere, Fall comes with Halloween and Thanksgiving (at least in the US), and Winter is heralded in with Christmas and New Years. There's literally none of that here. I guess Easter is the equivalent of Christmas, but the anticipation for it is a lot less and its migratory nature on the calendar makes it just harder to get excited about. In any case, that's at the start of the season, too. In Fall. Winter in New Zealand literally has no major holidays, nothing to get excited about. And the lack of insulated houses is already making ours feel colder. Throw on top of that New Zealand Standard Time, with its sunset at 6:00pm and sunrise at 6:00am and you have a relatively dark existence. Until yesterday, our evenings were light and enjoyable, but tonight just feels like it's going on forever. The darkness came so suddenly, and I really don't like it. Granted, this is the time it should be according to the late Pope Gregory and his calendar,  but if we stuck to the same time year-round, we could acclimate to this sudden darkness, not just get pitched into it. Blarg.

Burning Bacon
Cooking has gone somewhat to the wayside lately but I have been refining my sourdough and putting my jalapeños to use. The sourdough bread is becoming slowly better as the sour flavour comes out, but it's taking its sweet time. I'm not sure why it is taking so long, but at least I have the cooking end of things down pat. I've been using the bread machine, since it is insulated, to help the bread rise, while I can also use its mixing function to stir in new amounts of flour and water occasionally. While bread isn't the healthiest thing in the world, at least sourdough rises by eating its own gluten sugars, which means it is relatively sugar free.

Over the past two weeks, we've also made two batches of jalapeño hot sauces. The first batch was with green peppers and it is very much in the style of most taquerias, although it is slightly on the hot side. My red pepper blend, though, puts the other batch to shame. It is HOT, too hot, really. I dillute it with the other sauce when I use it, but man it's just fire. Because it was made exclusively with red peppers and a few sweet tomatoes (small ones), it has a slightly sweet taste to it, making it taste a bit like Tabasco sauce or Tapatillo, neither of which I like much. Fortunately it's so hot that you can hardly taste the old flavour anymore. I still have a whole bag of mixed peppers and we have a few more traditional chilis growing in the garden, all of which we want to use to make a hopefully milder salsa.

Lastly, I harvested the seeds from four (mostly three) sunflowers this afternoon, washed them, boiled them in salt water, and plan to roast them tomorrow. I'm not sure how they'll turn out, but Kara will eat them on our trip to the North Island if they are edible. None of the seeds look like the sunflower seeds in America, but Kara tried one and said it tastes pretty much the same (i.e., fibery). Fingers crossed that the seeds will be edible.

Ups & Downs
Another two weeks, another lack of hiking anywhere interesting. We drove around a lot, though, with Nicole and Neil. We finally visited the Christchurch Cathedral, which though in the middle of town is surprisingly difficult to get to. It looks awful still—much of it collapsed in the 2010-2011 earthquakes. We drove to Sumner afterwards and then up Summit Road to the top where we hiked to an overlook of Lyttleton Bay. Surprisingly, on the south bank, nearly completely isolated from the rest of the world, a whole little town was flourishing with a small craft harbour just near the mouth of the bay. So crazy. It must take those people 45 minutes to an hour just to get to Lyttleton and another 20 minutes to get to the nearest decent grocery store. Some people really like their isolation, I guess. Other than that and a short walk around the dairy farm, the weeks have been pretty dry with hiking. During our North Island trip, we are going to regret that fact very much as our feet collapse beneath us. Ugh.

Thesis Shmeshish
Most of my time the past two weeks has been spent working on my thesis. I have a chapter due on May 1st which, to be fair, is still a month away, but I will be gone for two weeks of that month, beginning on Tuesday. I got all my book reading done for it but I have a number more articles to read. I've already written a 5,000-word draft of the chapter, but there are no quotes or citations in it yet and I suspect that large portions will have to be re-written before the end. During our trip, we both plan to work in the evenings when possible, despite wanting to check out the towns. Fortunately, for our sakes, the smaller towns along the way close down at night, and with daylight savings time now over, darkness may also convince us to not bother with going out at night. We'll see. We are in Auckland for three full days, though, and one of those days is designated for studying-only (within reason). It doesn't make for an ideal vacation, but I have to prove to my supervisor that I am capable of writing a thesis chapter. Hopefully this one does it. I have far more sources than I need and I also have quite a few primary sources, all in Modern French, Middle French, or Church Latin, so that's got to help me out some. We won't know, though, until it's submitted and assessed.

The Kiwi Way
Public holidays in New Zealand are a strange phenomena that cannot be explained by religion or logic. Easter, the pinnacle of the Christian holidays, wins the award for strangest of them all. First off,  Easter is a big deal here, at least in regards to marketing. The United States has Easter egg hunts and candy and whatnot, but not like the Kiwis do. When you walk into the department store here, you get bombarded with giant chocolate easter eggs. They are everywhere. Large displays in the middle of the store and little bits here and there. And they have shark eggs, and dinosaur eggs, and Star Wars eggs, and, of course, Biggy Piggy eggs. Yum. Second, Good Friday is a public holiday. A mandatory public holiday. Only essential businesses are open, nothing else. Fair enough, except that New Zealand is one of the most secular states in the world with fewer than 48% of the residents being Christian divided between all denominations including Mormons. Saturday is, naturally, a normal business day, at least as far as Saturdays go. Easter Sunday itself, meanwhile, is sort of a holiday, but mostly in that Sunday-is-always-a-holiday kind of way. As a business holiday, Easter is celebrated on Monday (Easter Monday), which is another mandatory public holiday. See reasons why this is stupid above. Lastly, Tuesday is celebrated by some businesses as the increasingly silly Easter Tuesday, a holiday with literally no function other than to give people yet another day off for a religious celebration they don't celebrate. It mostly is for schools, probably so kids can return home from a long weekend or something. Woo!

The Khagan Weekly Fortnightly 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 China. In fact, if you are reading this in China, you are a bad Han! Blogger is blocked in China, don't you know? They have censors watching you right now. Democracy! Capitalism! USA! USA! Well, you must be using a proxy server, so right on! Go free speech!

22 March 2015

The Khagan Fortnightly: Unconsciously Elected Since 2014 (2:7 – 03/22/2015)

How to Be Elected Club Exec
In an interesting twist, two weeks ago I became an exec of UC HistSoc. I'm not quite sure how this happened: I was minding my own business one day when BOOM, I got an invite to the exec Facebook page. Yeah, that's how things apparently work these days. I went to the first exec meeting where I became co-marketing rep with Ruth Larsen, an MA student that shares the same room with Kara and I. I also was elected bank rep since I'll be at the school the longest (the rest of them are all MA students). Very strange and sudden. To be fair, Kara's a member of two exec boards and is a consultant for a third. We tried to have our first event last week, but we're still having to go through hoops to reactivate the club for 2015, so we're hoping this week will be different. Fingers crossed!

Selling From Down Under
In other news, my book, Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains, is selling relatively well for only having a single venue currently. In better news, there will be 12 copies available at the Bruce MacGregor talk on March 26th, which should really boost my publicity. I've already found a few small errors in it—nothing major, fortunately—but I'm still waiting for reviews to come in. I'm not even sure if people have received their copies yet.

Kara threw a book release party for me on St. Patty's Day, which was nice. We ended up staying really late with mostly other history MAs from our room and the adjacent one. But it was nice chatting about things that weren't only about our supervisors (though that certainly came up). Alcohol wasn't even needed because we were all drunk on the cake and rice krispy treats Kara made for us, as well as pizza, juice, and other tasty things.

Burning Bacon
Kara finally finished her baking class and we've returned to good old fashioned December diets. Perhaps we've been having too many carbohydrates, but fortunately I haven't gained any more weight this year. In fact, I've been pretty stable for the past three months, which is great considering it's the lowest weight I've been for years.

I have been having much better luck in making my own sourdough. After getting the San Francisco sourdough starter smuggled into the country, it took a few batches to get things tasting...sour. It still isn't there quite yet, but it is getting closer. Things like this take time. One thing that is awesome, though, is that I discovered a recipe that uses a bread machine to do all the work for me. The loaves don't come out as perty, but they taste just the same and the slices of bread are much bigger and more even. It still takes around 24 hours to get a loaf done, though, so patience is a virtue. My refried beans recipe is now consistently coming out tasting the same, too, so we look forward to that each week. Next week, when we have some friends from the US visiting us, we are going to try making our own tortillas again with the tortilla press. Hopefully they come out better than last time.

Ups & Downs
Hiking has not been a huge priority lately, partially because of the increasingly cold and wet whether and partially because we just don't have the time. That being said, we have wondered all over our local neighbourhood and discovered a few strange things. First, corner markets—dairies, they call them here—are everywhere. We have five dairies within a three block radius that we know of, not counting the BP petrol station market or the various other markets across from it. And all dairies sell the same thing: milk, butter, junk food, soda and energy drinks, cigarettes, and newspapers. They're like pint-sized 7-11s but they're everywhere! They're not even owned by a single company. It's very strange. They also sell dairy products for much cheaper than the stores (at least 10% less if not more).

Second, there are literally no houses beside the Avon River. It is freaky. When the earthquake hit, all the homes along the river sank and were declared too dangerous to live in. Over past four years, each and every one has been levelled so that many of the lots don't even look like they've been recently lived in except for the barrier plants. It's freaky! The couple of lots that do have homes still on them are literally falling to pieces. The earthquake definitely did a lot of damage to this area, but Avonside especially got it bad.

Thesis Shmeshish
After a less-than-inspiring meeting with my supervisor and a more inspiring meeting with another random lecturer from a completely different department, I finally decided to reboot my thesis entirely. Same topic, but the chapters have been utterly reorganised and now I have a ton more of them, which is not exactly a good or a bad thing, it's just a new nuisance to contend with. My supervisor has been strict, though polite, but there is definitely tension building there. I've decided to deal with it by largely ignoring him unless I can't avoid it. Many people have recommended I take this approach, which works just fine for me. Others have also been helpful in fleshing out the character and nature of my supervisor so that I can anticipate his actions and opinions better. Hopefully things will resolve themselves in the future, but I also kind of hope another medievalist appears that I can switch to. Personality clashes really aren't my thing.

The Kiwi Way
Generally speaking, Americans like to keep control over their cats and dogs. There are reasons for this, and not all of them are entirely logical. Take cats, for example, they like to do their own thing and don't like to be restricted. Therefore, New Zealanders let them do their thing—outside, inside, whatever. There's not really any such thing as an indoor cat here. Dogs, on the other hand, have to be more restricted because they're, well, dumber. That being said, when people take their dogs for a walk, there's a very good chance those dogs will be running free. Dogs here just seem to be more loyal in general; they don't run away when unleashed and they don't even stray to far from their owners. They obey commands and return when called. I don't know if it is just how dogs are raised here or if it's an inherent trust relationship that develops with a dog. In any case, it's very different from the US. To get back to the cat issue, because cats are indoor/outdoor creatures, people don't really understand people like Kara and I, who imprison our cat because he's naughty. When people are over, we have to be on our guard to make sure the cat stays in. And we don't like letting people, even our landlords, in when we're gone because we fear that they will forget to close the door. It's a strange reality but one we have to live with because we chose to have an indoor cat. Indoor cats are a fairly normal concept in the US, but here, it is extremely unusual and people don't seem to get it.

The Khagan Weekly Fortnightly 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 China. In fact, if you are reading this in China, you are a bad Han! Blogger is blocked in China, don't you know? They have censors watching you right now. Democracy! Capitalism! USA! USA! Well, you must be using a proxy server, so right on! Go free speech!

07 March 2015

The Khagan Fortnightly: Studying Hard Since 2014 (2:6, 03/08/2015)

Feminism 101
It was a cheeky Sunday and the ladyfolk were out in force. Perhaps it was because it was International Women's Day or perhaps it was because there was a panel of feminists in Sydney via livestream and right in front of me. Who knows. Anyway, for International Women's Day, the University of Canterbury in cooperation with the Sydney Opera House lives-streamed a panel of six relatively well-known feminists who were discussing the current third wave feminist movement. It was quite an enlightening discussion that had some high points, though the conclusions were all disappointingly low, especially considering the great steps back the United States has taken in the past few years regarding women's rights. Far from passing the ERA, women in America today are fighting simply for equal pay, access to free or cheap childcare services, and reproductive freedom. All of these issues should have been dealt with in the 1960s and 1970s, but they are still on the agenda today and becoming surprisingly relevant again. The streaming was about an hour followed by another hour discussion with a local panel of feminists speaking on site. Included in the mix of panelists was a Maori, an African-American, an American video game designer, a journalist, a Mormon, the FemSoc president, an Australian aborigine, a transexual woman, two Canterbury lecturers, and the elderly Germaine Greer. It was an interesting mix, though it lacked any Asians, Muslims, or truly darker-hued people, thereby slanting the debate decidedly toward the white, middle class women debate, which was remarked upon only barely. Interesting times all around, and Kara is now raring to become more politically active in feminist circles.

A Book! A Book
In more exciting news, Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains should be available for purchase by the middle of the month and best of all, it will be a print book! Check out my press release here. It took four days to get the indexing done, which surprised both Kara and I, and then another three days before the book got approved for the proof copy. And it was a good think it didn't get approved, too, because I had the page numbers at the beginning all over the place. I'm not sure what happened there. It's all fixed up now, though, so stay tuned and watch my Santa Cruz Trains blogs for an announcement regarding the book's release. It should hopefully be by the end of the week.

The Internationals
On February 27th, we had our second dinner with Operation Friendship. For those who forgot or didn't read back in December, the group is composed of elderly locals who cook dinner for local international students once a month (except January). They are a Christian group, but they are very respectful of the fact that virtually all of the attending students are either Hindu or Muslim. Thus it is a very eclectic group. Not surprisingly, most of the Canterbury students are some type of engineering major, since that's the biggest program at the school, but there are a number of other majors represented as well. One of the members, Stephen, befriended us at our first meeting and we went to a coffee shop with him the following day. Kara did most of the talking, and he was very interested in American politics. Stephen is Indian by birth but has lived in New Zealand most of his life and also has worked in the Silicon Valley, so he's been around very different cultures and had some interesting life experiences. He is going to be moving over there shortly, so we won't be able to keep him as a close friend, but it's been nice to have somebody our age to chat with who knows something about American politics.

New Neighbours
Speaking of new people, in the days immediately before and after school started up for the year, Sue, the College of Arts administrative assistant, decided that the master's students room was all full but that the PhD room could use some more souls in it. Suddenly, people were being added on a daily basis, with four added in one day! Our quiet room of about a dozen students, most of whom were rarely there has now become a nearly-full room of 20ish students, most of whom are history master's students, which makes me happy. Granted, my side of the room is quieter and less populated than Kara's side, but it still is nice. The only complaint I have (and I'm guilty of this too) is that with all the students now in there, it sometimes gets noisy, which makes it harder to work. The master's students are younger than the rest of us and they all know each other, so that's a rather strange switch from before where only a few of us knew each other, and none very well. Regardless, having more people around has been great for networking. Kara got a job out of it as an engineering English tutor, and I am now on the executive committee for a reborn HistSoc (History Society/club). Yay?

Burning Bacon: Cooking for Kara
For the past month, Kara has been taking an almost exclusively-Asian cooking class. Her food has not been great, but her preparation of it has been perfect. That being said, we've been just kind of doing our own things lately for food and it has mostly worked out. I perhaps am eating a few more carbs than before, but I am also eating more meat, which is good. Fish is popular here, like in England, so I've been having that, while also indulging in the occasional hot dog (the only brand that does not include lamb meat...eck!). My sourdough utterly failed last week because I was impatient but this weekend I created a new batch using the bread machine to mix and cook it and it came out excellent—it's the first batch that actually tastes like San Francisco sourdough, which is awesome. I've learned a few things about breadmaking over the past few weeks and I'm putting those skills to work. We've also perfected my refried (though not fried at all) beans recipe. The only thing we've mostly given up on is making our own tortillas. They simply don't come out very good. They're too thick and too dry and it is too difficult to remove them from the tortilla press. Plus, they're too small for either of us except when we make enchiladas. I probably should try to make them again soon but I've just been too busy with other stuff.

As an aside, even though it is becoming autumn in the next few weeks, our garden is still going strong. We have about a dozen ears of corn almost ready for picking. A cucumber just sprouted and should be ready to eat in a week or so. We have so many zucchinis that we don't know what to do with them all. It's crazy how well they've grown, actually. We also have a whole bed of carrots with their heads sticking out of the ground. My peppers have finally begun to turn red and we have so many that we don't know what to do with them. Kara may begin taking some of these things to her tutorials for the students just to get rid of them. Four sunflowers are on the way out and we're going to hang them out for seeds once they've wilted a bit more. And coming soon should be a large tomato crop and a few pumpkins, if we're lucky, though Halloween is a bit too far away to enjoy those in their appropriate context.

Ups & Downs: Going Nowhere
Going out to hike has been a bit of a challenge these past two weeks. Last week was indexing...all day...both days... This week we had to catch up on other stuff plus it decided to rain yesterday, so we just haven't had time. On Monday, though, I resumed exercising on our $4 stationary bike that we picked up at a garage sale in November. I actually prefer bikes and treadmills to going outside most days because no sunscreen is required and I can watch my shows. I just finished part one of season one of Outlander and I'll be moving on to Video Game High School for the next week or so. I also watched the very first episode of Pokémon today and regret to say that it was not as bad as I expected and it was in many respects rather cute. .:.sigh.:. I'm downloading the full 80-episode season now (head lowered in shame).

Thesis Shmeshish: How Not to Write a Thesis in One Step
I got back the first draft of the first chapter of my thesis at the beginning of last week and was disappointed to discover my adviser did not like it much at all, except for the style of writing. Most of his points were valid but we differ on a number of issues that will have to be resolved in our meeting this coming Tuesday. Unfortunately, one of the issues will not get resolved and that is my general feeling that he does not have enough time to aid and guide me in my thesis and that I have no one else to turn to. This has been a growing issue but it is at a peak right now. I should have my secondary supervisor approved by the end of the month, but until then, all she knows of me is what my adviser has said, and I don't entirely trust what he has said. It's some serious issues that need mending soon. Fortunately, I've reassessed aspects of my thesis and feel it is on a better track now, although I'm not entirely certain where I want to go with it, which is a major problem. I'm realizing that I am part of a school of thought that things information is good for information's sake, and were I writing a dissertation, that may work, but a "thesis" is by its very nature an object that is trying to prove a point. I don't really know what my point is and I don't know if I really want to make one, so this is something else that we need to decide upon.

The Kiwi Way: Europeans at Heart
Finally, I bring us back to the Kiwi. Kiwis are Europeans. This is something I've come to realize completely. While there is a strong infusion of Maori culture that underlies much of Kiwi life, Kiwis in general relate more with the British than they do with the Tahitian. Kara and I began notetaking two weeks ago for two LAWS classes (yeah, plural, weird) and they have taught us a lot about New Zealand laws and legal practices. The most interesting is that the Parliament in New Zealand is absolute. Nobody can question it, nobody can override it, and there is no judicial review. There also is no written constitution. Laws can be made and unmade by any government, and old laws can be intentionally or unintentionally replaced by new laws. The government here is based on a snapshot of the United Kingdom common law from 1840, with diversions thereafter, but aspects of British law after 1840 can and are often still considered in legal decisions. In other words, government here is a jumble of British and local laws. Stranger, still, is the fact that the Treaty of Waitangi, made with the Maori tribes of the North Island, is not technically a binding legal document—in fact, it doesn't have an status on its own in law. It is referred to heavily by other laws, but the treaty itself has no legal status, which is amazing considering how important it is to understanding British-Maori relations.

The Khagan Weekly Fortnightly 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 China. In fact, if you are reading this in China, you are a bad Han! Blogger is blocked in China, don't you know? They have censors watching you right now. Democracy! Capitalism! USA! USA! Well, you must be using a proxy server, so right on! Go free speech!