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 Pok√©mon 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!