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 And most of the signs are a few years out-of-date.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!