22 February 2015

The Khagan Fortnightly: Wishing I Were Asleep Since 2014 (2:5, 02/22/2015)

One Book Down, Index to Go
As of today, my book Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains is 100% done and formatted. All that is left to do is the indexing, which will not be a fun task, but shouldn't be too difficult thanks to the power of searchable PDFs. Still, it will take precious time that I barely have. If everything goes alright, the book will be available on February 26th, as I have intended since the start. Making that date has been darn near impossible, but somehow I pulled it off. I am still awaiting a few things from the SLV Museum, primarily a few photographs for the last two sections, but I'm uncertain if those images are forthcoming. It will be a loss to the book, but I'm more worried about the blank page it will leave in the middle of the fifth section. More news should be coming out at the end of the week on this subject, so check my Facebook wall and other Santa Cruz Trains outlets for information.

Last week we attempted to see two plays that were being put on by the city. The first play, unfortunately, got rained out despite the fact that the rain let up within 15 minutes of the show time. Since it was outside and staged on a grassy field, I imagine it wouldn't have been that enjoyable. It was Peter Pan and was understandably geared toward the younger crowd anyway. Still, we were a bit bummed.

Two days later, though, we got to see MacBeth, Shakespeare's origin story for the Stuart family. Yeah, I went there. It was a much reduced version of the play, only lasting 1:45, but it was fun. The set was on a knoll across a small creek and another knoll, upon which we all sat. It was a fun little arrangement, although Kara and my backs were not liking the situation a bit later in the evening. It almost rained, but after just a few drops it cleared up enough for the play to complete without interruption. It was in many ways the last event of the summer here. School starts on Monday at the Uni and everything is returning to the normal patterns of life. While summer is still another month long, like in the US it ends early.

A New Year...to Some
On Tuesday we celebrated Chinese New Years with a friend from our post-graduate office and his girlfriend. They made eight (EIGHT!) different dishes for us, all unique to China. We hadn't heard of most of them, though a few seemed familiar. The food was quite good and even I, who don't generally like Chinese food, found something to like among the dishes. Oddly the spiced pork bits were probably my favourite, despite there being two chicken dishes on the table. We stayed at his place until 10:00pm, mostly discussing China and the US, their differences and similarities. It was pretty fun. Chinese New Years is like Christmas to the Chinese, so it was fun experiencing this with some native Chinese for once.

Burning Bacon: Blueberries Were Meant for Picking

Some fruits have thorns, others are notoriously difficult to pick and require cutters, and then there are blueberries. No fruit is more easy to pick than blueberries: they just fall off without a fight. On Saturday, Kara and I went to a local blueberry farm where we filled up buckets of blueberries at a cost of $14/kg. It was a good deal and didn't require that much work. The weather was kinda crappy, but since it wasn't raining, it meant we could peacefully pick without much fear of a sunburn. We got a ton of berries, almost 2kg worth. The orchard where they were growing had very few spiders or other bugs, so it was a fairly risk-free exercise. Although we were warned that one of the species of blueberries was already picked over, I filled half my bucket with that one type. There were some large suckers hiding deep in the bushes, but the lack of thorns or bugs meant I could reach as far in as I needed to to pull them out. It was a quite different experience from blackberry picking, where the fear of hitting thorns is constant and painful.

Ups & Downs: Block Walk
Sadly we did not find time over the past two weeks to go on any formal hike. We definitely tried, but we were just too busy. The weather wasn't really cooperating either. What we did accomplish was a 0.8 mile walk roundtrip to a local park. This might not seem like much but the park was actually surprisingly cute. It is tucked away on a few parcels of land that were converted into a crown park a long while back, I imagine. It is only accessible via two narrow paths beside homes, but the park itself is surprisingly large with a playground, gazebo for weddings, and even a small kiddy pool (less than a foot deep). It was surrounded by some poorly-maintained gardens and benches. It was nothing great, but its quaintness tucked away in the middle of a bustling neighbourhood was somehow reassuring. We'll probably go back and read there sometime, unless the kids are too noisy. Construction near the park makes it so enjoying the park is probably a weekend-only option.

The Kiwi Way: The Anti-Australia
One thing that is quite strange about New Zealand, placing it at direct odds with Australia, is the utter lack of poisonous or deadly creatures here. They just don't have them. Period. I've asked a number of Kiwi what they believe the most dangerous insect is here, and most couldn't give me an answer. Sand flies, which are a type of biting gnat, are quite annoying and can leave infected wounds for weeks (I still have some from Queenstown) are probably the most dangerous thing on the island. They have bees which can sting, but their largest variety are the most pacifistic things ever. If you've see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the big bees that are in Beorn's house near the beginning of the film are about right for the bees here: large but certainly not in charge. I'm not even sure if they have stingers. There are no poisonous species of anything here, from what I can tell. No frogs, no insects, no spiders or scorpions, and no snakes. In fact, New Zealand customs authority works extremely diligently to keep foreign animals out of the country, even though the British brought dozens of species into the country in the 1800s. Thus fear not if you visit. Australia: well that's a completely different story.

Thesis Shmeshish: Sudden Proposals
After getting my first chapter done, I was prepared to spend the next few weeks reading peacefully, taking notes, and writing my next chapter. Unfortunately, bureaucracy stepped in. There is a requirement that ever 6 months a progress report is completed and filed. While the report is mandated by the school, the details of it are created by the department. Well, my department likes to be extremely pesky about things and decided to completely write new requirements for this year. I have to summarise my entire thesis into two double-spaced pages with citations and references, a timeline, and other details. It is basically an impossible task. Fortunately, they gave me an extension...the problem is I don't want an extension, I want to get the thing in on time and out of mind. But my supervisor is insisting on reading it first and providing comments, and the department head also has to read through it and comment. And since everyone's busy right now since the semester just started, I'm expecting this whole thing to take a month at least. It really is inefficient and does nothing at all. There is no grade attached to it, the post-graduate office doesn't need the 2-page proposal, and the department is going to just throw it away after approving it. It really is a huge waste of time. Welcome to academic bureaucracy, I guess.

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 February 2015

The Khagan Fortnightly: Forgetful Since 2014 (2:4, 02/08/2015)

Change of Frequency
Well, Kara and I have been in Christchurch for over five months now and I've decided to reduce the frequency of these blogs accordingly. Our routine has become fairly standard with only some minor deviations that are not overly interesting, so I think a bi-weekly (fortnightly) periodical will suffice for the time being. Please direct your complains and concerns to my manager, Niko T. Cat, Jr. He will surely forward them on once he's eaten the edges and forgotten about them completely.

We've been going every Sunday to a free concert series hosted by the City at the large downtown Hagley Park. It's been fun and has given a bit of much-needed relaxation time. We've seen bagpiper bands, synchronous dames, classic rock cover bands, and a Maori group. But the coolest by far  was the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra's performance during Sparks. They played for two hours straight, generally covering famous film tunes. Still, it was very fun. It ended with a fireworks show to the theme song to Superman, which was fun. What wasn't quite as fun was the fact that it was heavily sprinkling most of the time and was quite cold for it being the middle of summer here. Also, about 1/4 of the way through the Superman theme, the fireworks stopped. Apparently there was some technical problem. After the song was done and after a brief delay, the fireworks resumed. The orchestra only jumped in near the end, but the spirit was there at least. This is the third fireworks show we've seen while here (Guy Fawkes Day, New Years Eve, Sparks), and there is another one in a few weeks. Seriously, these people need to spend less money on fireworks and more on repairing the city!

Goodbye, Sweet Roommate!
Well, we lost our first and only roommate yesterday. Sam the Kiwi hasn't been doing well in Christchurch due to a bad job market and high costs and so he's decided to return to Wellington, where he worked for decades in the 1990s and 2000s. He was our first friend here and we're sad to see him go. He is a major boardgamer, which has been nice because he's always up for a game. We borrowed two of his games before he left and plan to return them to him whenever we visit Wellington (lookin' like April). We took him out to dinner last Monday to have one last outing before he goes. Then last Saturday, we had an all-day game day with him and a bunch of others. Kara and I played Eldritch Horror—it's conclusion was notably less than satisfactory—and then we played to games of CamelUp before leaving. We were there for six hours. CamelUp took no more than an hour in total to play. Do the math regarding the length of the other game. Yeah. And we lost. yay... :-( 

Burning Bacon: Sourdough Gone Right
So apparently I've been doing sourdough all wrong. I finally had my parents smuggle in some San Francisco sourdough starter for me to use as a base, and it has gone splendidly since then. Right after I got it, I did one loaf of bread and it came out at least five times as good as my local loaves. Part of the reason for the success, though, is the manual that came with the starter, which teaches me right proper how to make a loaf in any condition. The next week, I made four smaller loaves, but the batch was twice the size. These ones I spiced with garlic and other spices and they came out great. Next, we move on to trying the loaves with spelt flour, which has much lower gluten content and is, therefore, better for you. I'm also excited to try the local sourdough yeast again now that I know what I did wrong last time. And finally, there is a recipe for making the sourdough bread in a bread machine, which would probably make the whole process about a million times easier...I may be too optimistic on that account. 

I also have been harvesting my jalapeƱos lately and have a whole jar of pickled peppers now. The bush, meanwhile, has like a dozen more peppers and they've been getting bigger than before before turning red. In fact, they aren't turning red at all. Red peppers are supposed to be hotter, but since they're all mixed, I don't know. I haven't actually used any of my peppers yet because we made a big batch of refried beans and froze them a while back, but I suspect we'll be making some more in a week or so, so we'll see how good these peppers are. Yum!

Ups & Downs: Hiking the Port Hills
The port hills, which is the remnant wall of the Lyttleton Volcano, has numerous hiking zones on its sides and many state parks accessible to the public. A while back, we went on one such hike toward the Summit. My knee went out near the top, though, and we never got there. Two weeks ago, we tried a different route to the top, through barren brown grassland and a steep switchbacked track, and made it, exhausted, to the top at Summit Road. From there, we were able to see all of Christchurch and Lyttleton Harbour, which was really cool. The hike down was terrible, but my leg didn't go out.

Last week on Tuesday, we went to a different, more remote part of the Port Hills called Kennedys Bush. There was an old slate and aggregate quarry at this site and a hiking trail that wrapped above and around it. The history placards made the entire journey much easier and the hike took less than an hour. Still, it was a nice day with scattered sunlight. The wind was fierce and clouds blocked the Southern Alps, unfortunately, but the view of Christchurch from the hills was beautiful. It was also cool to look over the edge of the quarry from the top. It was active as recently as twenty years ago, but was quickly converted to a park afterwards. We probably won't go back to the place but it was a fun little trip. We know of a few other Port Hills walks to try before we get tired of them and have to look for more adventurous nearby hiking areas. The next one will probably take us to the former gun batteries above Taylor's Mistake. That one should remind us well of the Cabrillo National Monument relics left behind from World War II.

The Kiwi Way: On Less Interesting Holidays
New Zealand lacks many of the creative holidays that Americans celebrate, but there are a few that replace them. One in particular was just celebrated last Friday called Waitangi Day. It is kind of the equivalent to New Zealand's independence day, but with a very strange history to it and a lack of patriotic celebration. Here's the back story. In 1840, a treaty was signed between the Maori of the North Island and the British settlers (virtually no Europeans were on the South Island yet). This was kind of unprecedented because it gave the Maori more powers than the British gave to most other indigenous groups. Its effects are still felt quite frequently today in many different areas of society. The holiday, therefore, recognises the signing of this treaty. But it didn't really bring peace and it didn't bring happiness. The Maori was classified as second-class citizens after it was signed and the British got free rein over much of New Zealand. Nowadays, the Maori use the treaty to stop construction projects, force dual language recognition of various things such as national parks, and halt the use of natural marine resources which the British did not anticipate in 1840 (like oil!). Thus nobody really likes the treaty on either side, and the day really isn't a celebration except for the businesses that decide to have sales during the weekend after the day. It's a very different feeling than with the US Independence Day, where patriotism is all played out—here, Waitangi Day is a solemn reminder of the divides that still exist between both ethnic groups and perceptions of New Zealand.

Thesis Shmeshish: The Great Paper Rush
The last two weeks have been hectic, and I mean that quite literally. Two weeks ago was my writing week for the first chapter of my thesis, and it was a long and tough slog. I worked through the weekend. Kara had a similar project so neither of us took a day off until Tuesday. I had a ton of writing to do. The final first chapter clocked in at around 15,200 words, which is a sixth of my entire thesis. Granted it still is lacking many sources and needs massive clean-up, but my due date was February 1st and I made it, so I'm happy on that account at least.

Simultaneous with the thesis writing was formatting for my train book. This took my evenings and late night for the first week; the second week I moved it into the day and forewent my thesis since my next deadline isn't until May. Formatting has taken a ton of time, with all the photos having to be Photoshopped for cleanliness and brightness, and captions have to be written. Plus little things keep coming up within the articles that require further work, such as missing citations, new information that needs to be added, and strange formatting errors. I've also had to add a few more custom maps to the mix, which just adds to the mess. I will certainly be happy when this book is off my plate. As it is, I just finished the third section (minus four photographs) and am ready to start the fourth. Fortunately the fifth and last section is smaller than the rest and shouldn't take more than a few days to finish.

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!