Because I am going through severe basketball withdrawal (and because I offered up a ticket to Danielle as a Squidmas present), I went and saw the Melbourne Tigers soundly defeat the Cairn Taipans (87-64). Not bad for a team that was 4-8 when I first booked the tickets.

Of course I couldn’t stop comparing the experience with a Raptors game.

The biggest difference? It was a lot of white people. A lot. The audience was almost entirely Caucasian, although I did spot a few visible minorities on the way out. In TO, whites are the minority. The Raptors attract a good mix of Indian, Chinese, black and everything in between. Hell, even games in Guelph attracted every black person in town (not that I made it to a game. Bad Gryphon). The players themselves are mostly white (black players are imported from the US, including Julius Hodge, the only name and on-court player I recognised), and they all have the same facial hair. (To be fair for all my ragging on the lack of colour – TO did draft Nathan Jawai, a former Taipans player of Torres Strait Islander origin but we traded him for a couple of pennies and packets of airline peanuts).  D asked at one point, if I was afraid being surrounded by so many white people. As a twinkie, I’m quite used to it.

Basketball is a definite distant cousin to the footy-mad Melbourne, and it shows with the adverts pasted everywhere, including players’ uniforms and corporate logos pasted at midcourt (whereas in the ACC, it’s the Raptor claw) and in the key. For Lite’n’Easy, of all things. I wanted to throw something sharp at the Lite’n’Easy blimp. Also, someone had imported the idea of thunderstix and transformed it into plastic clapping hands (complete with sponsor’s name).  It started at tip-off and didn’t stop until the Taipans scored.  One of my favourite bits of bball is the squeak-squeak of basketball shoes on the parquet floor, so I was greatly annoyed at not being able to hear it and rejoiced when the thunderclapping ended. Squeak-squeak.

For all my complaints, it wasn’t a bad experience.  The arena (the “Cage”) was much smaller than a typical NBA-sized arena, which made for a more intimate experience.  I’ve never been this close to the action, and for half the price.  The Tigers won. Game was short (10 minute quarters instead of 12), if uncompetitive. I had ice cream. On court entertainment was 2 kids attached to each other by bungee cord, objective to pull the other in order to grab a ball and toss it into a recycling bin with a hole cut out the top (apparently, they do this on Ellen. I haven’t been keeping up with her). The fans could certainly give the Raptor Truthers a run for their money. (although, they could never top this)

The NBL is like a homeless man’s NBA. The quality of the NBL is questionable…one of the Tigers accidentally scored  on the wrong basket. But it is endearing when a player deflects the ball and the announcer gets the crowd to chant “(insert player’s name) says NO!”.

All of this whinging just makes me realise how much I miss the NBA.  The whole experience of attending a game. Buying a program that fluctuates in price with the Raptors’ success but is still better than the glorified insert of the Tigers programme.  Chewing on a soft pretzel. Trying not to spill my pop bottle as concession staff have removed the cap to prevent people from throwing it on the court. The hip-hop music, and me wondering the value of paying an MC to do nothing but dance behind the in-house DJ. Peeking into the Centresports shop and going “Daddy? Can I have this?” (the amount of Raptors crap I have is astounding. I once convinced him to buy me a Vince Carter Celebriduck. Needless to say, it’s not displayed anymore.) Chanting along to “D – picture of a fence”.

Also, the Raptor Chicken is much better than either of the Melbourne Tigers (#1 or #2, their jerseys signify the difference), when he puts his life in danger just to entertain the crowd.  One of the Tiger mascots used its tail to play air guitar on “Start Me Up”, leading D to comment that it looked like it was doing something rude.

Go Raptors.

Update: Ok so apparently this post comes off as a little racist. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek, like the blog Stuff White People Like. I am always the lone minority in a crowd of Caucasians, it’s like “Where’s Waldo” with an Asian female. Race has always been a touchy topic in the NBA, like when Dan LeBatard claimed that everyone voted Steve Nash as MVP because he was white, over a giant black man. Or with Gilbert Arenas’ latest troubles and being proclaimed a thug by the talking heads on Fox News. The NBA has something like 80% African American players, the NBL has very clearly not, the audiences in both reflect this difference. That’s all I intended.

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I’m pulling a Jerry Coyne because I went to my friend’s place to bake gingerbread for Squidmas and there were kittens in the garden.

I’ve handed in my research project! Harm reduction is the
only thing I’ve got left!

Sorry I have not posted in such a long time, particularly when I have done so much travelling in the last few months. Since I’ve done most of the major assignments, and I’m wasting the day, recuperating from my birthday celebrations, I figured I would use this time to recap all that’s happened.

In July, I flew out to Brisbane for the weekend, right after I did my initial presentation for my research project. I purposely planned it this way but it did cause me a bit of stress, everything worked out in the end though. I met up with my friend Nathan, whom I had met travelling through Europe. He basically drove me around everywhere for the weekend, along with his girlfriend (now fiancee) Anne and her son Samuel. We went down to the Gold Coast, well known for its beaches and theme parks (and strip clubs). Then we headed north, going up the Coast, looking at the Glass House Mountains, and the reason I went to Queensland, the Big Pineapple. Sadly, it wasn’t as big as I would have liked it. I should point out that Aus has this odd obsession with Big Things http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia%27s_big_things They did however, have a delicious ice cream bar, and I had a pineapple parfait. They also had something called the nutmobile, but we did not ride that.

Visited with another friend in Bris, Bec, who I had met in NZ. Unfortunately, she was starting school again, while mine was still out for another week. We made the best of it, using the morning before my flight to walk around the city, and even went up the clock tower at city hall. Brisbane is not as flat as my beloved Melbourne, so I had the same huff’n’puff problem as NZ.
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I couldn’t leave Aus without seeing its two greatest natural icons, Uluru (Ayers Rock- the white man’s name) and the Great Barrier Reef. In September, I flew out to Uluru (via Alice Springs) to meet up with Lena, another Canadian from Toronto. Proof that it’s a small world? Lena met my friend Andrea in the TO airport on their way to Aus for school (Lena goes to Macquarie, in the Sydney suburbs), then I met Andrea here in Melb via the Victorian Consortium for Public Health. Then I discovered Lena was on the UofT fencing team with Alison, my high school best friend. Anyways, we stayed at the Outback Pioneer Lodge in Yulara, the closest town to Uluru. The very annoying thing about Uluru is that there is only player in town when it comes to accommodation; all 5 types of accommodation are owned by the same group and as a result, they are incredibly expensive. The OPL was the cheapest, it’s partnered with the YHA (the chain of hostels that I usually stay with) but the rates are still above average for a hostel. Particularly when it was advertised as a 4 person room and turned out to be a 20-person dorm with “dividing walls”. Unfortunately, that was our only option as we wanted to do the Anangu Aboriginal tours to watch the sunrise at Uluru. It’s a tour company run by Aboriginals, and provides a unique experience (hopefully that little promo will help to assuage my social conscience). It really was a cool experience, the tour itself was only 2km and was given in Pitjantjara (one of the dialects in the area), then translated into English. Alwyn, our tour guide, explained all of the plants and their uses. He also disturbed a fire ant nest (i think it was fire ant- if you get stung, the initial pain hurts like hell and doesn’t stop for a couple of days) as a demonstration…We got to try a spear throw, and a fly flew into my mouth.
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There was also an afternoon walk at Kata Tjuta (“many heads”) but that was run by AATKings, one of the major tour operators (seriously, at the OPL pickup area, almost all the buses were AATKings, including the airport shuttle). While interesting in itself, it definitely wasn’t the intimate experience of that morning’s walk. It did however, take us to watch the sunset back at Uluru, where people watch the rock change colour. I would have preferred to see the sunset from the other side, I do like a good dramatic silhouette of the setting sun. It turns out it actually does rain in the Outback, and our Night Sky Show to see the stars was cancelled due to cloud cover.

After Uluru, I travelled onto Cairns by myself. I spent a day out on the reef, via a pontoon. Now, some of you may remember that for awhile, I wanted to be a marine biologist, mainly to hang out with Flipper. It’s a good thing I chose a different path. I did a morning snorkel with the marine biologist, Amanda, just in the roped off lagoon area (it was meant to be for beginners) and loved it. So I ended up signing up for an afternoon snorkel that went further out on the reef in hopes of seeing a sea turtle…or a shark. However, I didn’t quite anticipate how tired I was, and may have freaked out a little upon hearing the other kids on the snorkel say that we had to make our own way back to the dock. It didn’t help that my mask was continually filling up with water, thanks to my oddly-shaped head. Amanda had a lifesaving ring with her if people got tired, and guess who was the dork who was hanging on the entire time. I felt really inadequate when one of the kids was able to hold his breath and dive down to swim through the reef. But the trip was still fun, even though I was alone and surrounded by Contiki kids (yes, even though the 2 friends I stayed with in Bris I met through Contiki, I feel too old for that tour company now).

The next day was out into the rainforest (not the Daintree but nobody told me the specific name) via cable car into a little town called Kuranda. From Kuranda, it was to the RainForeStation for a wildlife park (even though I’ve now been through 4 of them), an Army Duck tour and an Aboriginal dance and dreamtime walk. Then it was two more flights and I was home. One last note, Cairns Airport = not helpful.

I just coded my first variable on SPSS! It only took me an hour to figure out how to tell SPSS to pick out all the MSM cases and it turns out I had it right the first time but I did it!

(If you’re wondering why this is coming in as a note instead of updating my facebook status, I’m at MSHC right now and they’ve banned it. So it’s a post on my blog instead which imports into facebook.)

Also, RIP Ted Kennedy.

Yesterday, I may have started a small flame war with Jacqui, over who had the most nerd credibility.  I immediately pulled out the race card. Plus, I wear glasses. Those two things tend to be closers.  But I got to thinking about it, and what truly makes a nerd? List time! (shut up, I know I overuse this gimmick) (And no, not all of these apply to me. Please add to the list)

1. You’ve stayed awake during a policy lecture.
2. You’ve had your picture taken with an obscure celebrity and waited over an hour and a half for it.
3. You were eternally grateful that the patient was lying down on the table and couldn’t see you screwing up.
4. You’ve blown up/broken/hurt yourself in the lab.
5. You wear glasses, yet you keep straining your eyes by spending all day on the computer, watching tv and reading.
6. Your hand has been in some weird places (non-sex related)
7. You have a favourite version of Number Six from BSG.
8. You are a leaf on the wind.
9. You’ve thought about getting a science tattoo on your body somewhere but are too squeamish to actually get it done. Bonus points if you sucked it up and got it done.
10. You’ve worn a costume outside of the house when it wasn’t Halloween.
11. It had to be pointed out to you that wearing a lab coat outside the lab probably wasn’t a good idea. Nor is it a fashion statement.
12. You took multiple photos with a cardboard cutout in multiple poses.
13. You have a piece of clothing or kitchen item that says “Science, it works, bitches.” (“Talk nerdy to me” and other similar sentiments also acceptable)
14. You’ve stuck your hand in a bucket of formulin to retrieve your specimen and not gagged on the smell.
15. You’ve worn 2 pieces of argyle clothing, non-matching, at the same time.
16. Your BSc includes an H on the end.
17. You’re a grad student and your research won’t help you get a job.
18. You’ve pushed something upstairs/uphill, only to have fall back down, and then you thought about the forces of gravity and friction as it got further away.
19. You mock others for not knowing who Cthulhu or Captain Jack Harkness are.
20. You welcome our squid overlords.
21. You’ve understood a math joke on someone’s tshirt.
22. Your own family won’t acknowledge you when you’re nerding it up.
23. You buy a Simpsons trivia game for a male relative, and then trounce the competition when you’re the only female playing.
24. You made up your own LOLScience.
25. You’re Asian. Bonus for being in a field already saturated with Asians ie medicine, maths, engineering.
26. You wish David Attenborough taught your zoology class.
27. You’ve held up a real skull (doesn’t have to be human), and done the Hamlet soliloquy.
28. You’ve read a scholarly article at a bar. (Borrowed from the Grad Students aren’t Bad people, they just made bad choices facebook group)
29. Even the nerds think you’re a nerd.
30. Been in the library until the 2 am closing, and it wasn’t midterms or finals.
31. Saw a bull (at the semen collecting facility) ejaculate into a rubber vagina, and all you could think of was “That’s really pointy”.
32. You’re a Canon girl, and secretly make fun of those who buy olympus.
33. You tried to name your cat Buckyball but were shot down by your flatmate.

The Science Personality Quiz that’s in the National Science Week 2009 Program that Danielle questioned me on.

Have you submitted more than one myth on the Mythbusters website this week? I stay off the Mythbuster forums now, there’s too many crazies on there.

Have you ever popped a Mentos into someone’s Diet Coke as a revenge attack? I’ve always wanted to try it but I can’t stand the idea of cleaning it up.

Do you ever wonder what happened to the promise of x-ray vision? Sometimes.

Have you ever wanted to create a robot to do your household chores? It’s called a Roomba. And a dishwasher.  And I don’t have either.

I’ll admit, my personal life is pretty much non-existent right now but there are a number of reasons why I hate straight guys.  Mostly because straight guys have this air of obliviousness around them, and the cute ones are always fans of the LA Lakers.  One guy thought a moa was a mammal; that door was shut pretty quickly.  It may also have to do with the fact that so many straight guys are hell-bent on denying certain rights to certain minorities.  Pierre Trudeau once commented that the eyes of the state do not belong in the bedroom.  But what about when the bedroom comes before the eyes of the state?  It astounds me that Kevin Rudd refuses to even acknowledge a debate on same-sex marriage.  He has actually said that marriage is only between a man and a woman.  Every time he’s on Rove, he will not even answer a tongue-in-cheek question – who would you go gay for?  Instead, he cops out and says his wife.  Come on, K.Rudd, we all know you want Swannie (Hahahaaaa).  And this is what passes for the left in this country?  Ruddy, it’s not just about religion, it’s about equality, equity and recognition of a partner to make medical and financial decisions.

So, instead of a boyfriend, I’ve decided on the next best thing; a gay husband.  Currently, I use the term ‘gay husband’ as a term of endearment for my best gay guy pal.  However, the irony metre runs pretty high when we, not being romantically involved, could get married to circumvent Australian immigration (and thus, literally become my gay husband), but he could never marry his boyfriend, according to current legislation.

Canada has had gay marriage for a few years now, and curiously, the country has not fallen into complete ruin (global financial crisis notwithstanding).  It’s even a bit of a tourist attraction, with approximately 150 couples coming in from the US every week, although that number has dropped since some of the American states started recognising same-sex marriage. Gay marriage has been around for a lot longer than you think.  Denmark legalised it back in 1989, albeit with a prohibition on adoption and calling it a registered partnership.  Baby steps.  However, 60% of Australians support gay marriage.  So maybe the legalisation of it will help the remaining 40% to realise that the gays are here and it will be normalised into mainstream society.  In the US, it was once illegal for a black man to marry a white woman.  Today, a product of a black man and a white woman is now the most powerful man in the world.  One day, there will be a gay person in that position.  I’m waiting for the day for the bicurious minority female to rule this world.  Sexuality isn’t an either or, it’s a spectrum (One of the first clues about gay hubby was that he didn’t flinch when I talked about this. Any straight guy would have).  Sure, I’m still not used to the in-betweens, it is a lot easier to place people in one box or the other but sexuality is a fluid medium.  Homosexuality occurs frequently in the animal kingdom; I’ve even seen it encouraged in a laboratory setting (bull semen collecting but that’s a story for another day).

Where would we be without the gay fashion designer?  Without the indie female rocker?  Without Neil Patrick Harris?!  Where would I be without my gay husband?  They certainly make the world a lot more interesting, and a lot more colourful.  Love is hard enough to find.  If you’re lucky, you’ll experience it a couple of times and discover the right one for you.  This world is filled with sadness and heartbreak, loneliness and dark nights, why should we deny the expression of love to others who have had the incredible fortune to find it?

(Although happy couples, hetero or homo, should probably stay away from this cynic…)

The natives of NZ (Aotearoa) are the Maori people, a culturally fascinating group that has been integrated much better into society than the Aboriginals of Australia.  When I say integrated, I mean that they are not as diminished socially, not that they have been assimilated by the European settlers.  The main reason that they have done a lot better than indigenous groups in Australia, Canada and the US?  They fought back, which I actually think has to do with the fact they are a warrior group.  When they first came to NZ from Polynesia, there was another group that starts with M that I can’t remember that lived here but the Maori killed them all and took over the land.  It’s not to say that it’s a perfect system, they still have objections to Waitangi Day, a day celebrating the signing of the Waitangi treaty.  The original European settlers that signed it thought it meant they could ‘own’ the land while the Maori interpreted it as they could ‘rent’ the land.  However, there’s a huge difference that I’ve noticed between the Australian Aborigines and the NZ Maori (ok, the Pacific Islander- Samoans, Tongans and Fijians- too) are actually visible.  Like, they work in every kind of job and among the whites; you just don’t see that kind of thing in Melbourne or Sydney.  There’s also a requirement to have a Maori person on their ethics committees (see, qualitative research class wasn’t completely useless for me!).  I saw ‘Samson and Delilah’ right before I left so I may have been more conscious of it when travelling.

Anyways, Kia Ora (pronounced Ki-or-a) is a common greeting in NZ, which explains why a blond skateboard punk said it to me while crossing the street and I was like “say what?” (Not that I speak to teenagers; talking to undergrads is something I do only when necessary).  It literally means ‘good health/to your health’ but is also used as a term of agreement and has entered the NZ English lexicon.  Of course, that meant it appeared on highway road signs, so I thought it translated to welcome.

My last day on the Contiki was a bit of a Maori culture lesson.  I had seen some stuff at the museum but my enthusiasm had waned quite a bit after the giant squid so I couldn’t take any more in.  Around Rotorua, there were traditional buildings, like a marae (gathering house) that was more intricately carved than the one in the thermal village because of the European tools were more refined.  If you want a great Maori experience, I’d recommend the thermal village – Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao (yes, that’s spelt correctly).  It had been listed on my activities sheet as Whakarewarewa, then it turns out you can just call it Whaka (woka).  A few oddities about Maori language- there’s only 15 letters, each word ends in a vowel, and -wh sound like -f.  So before I learned I could just say Whaka- I kept calling it the Fukawhaka place.

Whaka is a Maori village that is unconventionally powered by geothermal activity.  They cook, bathe and base their activities around the geysers and mud pools.  The baths are communal and reinforce family bonds, as in the parents hand off the infants to the grandparents and they take them for the night.  The tour guide was great, he went through all the bits and pieces that make up life in the village.  The hot mud is used for treating arthritis about once every 3 months.  The poi are props used to enhance dances by the women but were traditionally used by men to strengthen their wrists for weapons.  He did oversell the sweetcorn; cooked in one of the watery pits as they normally reach 100C.

That night, dinner at the hotel was a hangi dinner.  Hangi refers to a cooking method of using the underground heat to cook the food but because it was in Rotorua, the food was cooked above ground using steam.  While a dash overcooked, there was a lot of variety in this West meets Maori fusion.  Then there was a show demonstrating Maori culture.  Until recently, Maori didn’t have a written language, it was all passed down in the oral tradition.  So they are very expressive through song and dance; history, love stories, poi dances and greetings were all covered, including the one I had been waiting for all throughout NZ; the haka.  The haka is a war postural dance done by the men to puff themselves up before battle.  It gets the blood flowing, adrenaline pumping and the body movements make them look bigger…and a bit crazy.  The guys in the room got pulled up onstage to participate in a haka, and the lead man told them if they got lost, to just make funny faces and scream.  The NZ rugby team, the All Blacks perform a haka before every test match.

Pictures- sorry, I can’t seem to get the direct link in here, WordPress likes to frustrate me with that.

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Setting out from Auckland, I began Part 2 of my NZ adventure by joining a Contiki tour. Yes, I can hear you snickering. Contiki? you say, but isn’t that the one with a dirty reputation? I’ve learned Kiwi Experience is worse. Besides, I had a great time on my European Contiki tour, and I don’t have to worry about transport and getting lost. It did however, differ quite a bit from Europe, in that it was younger and almost entirely Australian, mostly from Victoria. Also, instead of everyone starting and stopping at the same point, I was part of a new group, about 20 people to join the 25 already on board. As well, I was one of the two to leave in Rotorua, while everyone else went on to Welly, and then to the South Island. So it was a different experience, and I’m slightly jealous of the people who are still travelling at this moment. While I liked my experience alone, it is always nice to have someone to travel with.

Anyway, the first 2 days of the Contiki tour were in Paihia, in the Bay of Islands. It has the feel of a seaside resort, the small town feeling that I enjoy visiting but could never live there. A group of us in the new crew took a cruise among the islands, spotting bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) feeding among the reefs. There was an option to swim with the dolphins, but only if they are not feeding, or if there isn’t a baby in the pod. There was a baby in the pod. So no swimming with Flipper. He was adorable though, he kept rolling on his side to look at us, and he was the only one who jumped out of the water, what a show-off 🙂 The scenery here was pretty much the same as everywhere else but I still had enough ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ in me for the islands. We were actually supposed to stop at one of the islands for lunch but because the government was doing a poison drop to kill the rats in an effort to conserve the native bird species, we weren’t able to. So the cruise felt a little long, 4 hours is a long time to be out on the water. Luckily, it was a calm day and I didn’t have to resort to my travelling pharmacy and Gravol.

That afternoon though, was my first adventure activity; parasailing! (and more time on a boat, I’m so sick of them now) Parasailing is actually not very scary, you take off and land from a carpeted spot on the back of the speedboat and you don’t even get wet. It’s also better to do it in tandem, the one who did it by himself that afternoon was a skinny guy was asked (jokingly) how much he weighed. Since I’m the world’s biggest chicken, I volunteered to go first and get it over with. After being laced up in all the safety gear, the sail is let out and then you’re hooked up. Lift off is quite gentle, the only time it’s scary is when the wind jerks the sail around. Or if you’re an idiot like me, you stare at the knot and become consciously aware that it’s the only thing connecting you to the boat. My hands were freezing up there but it was amazing to get the view of the islands from the air. Another pair was able to spot part of our group doing a waka; a Maori canoe trip. When you land, you’re supposed to land on your feet and sadly, I could not accomplish that simple task. Everyone else did though.

After Paihia, we headed for Waitomo (after a stopover in Auckland to drop off and pick up other tourists, and for someone to throw up in a mall bathroom). Not much in Waitomo except for the glowworm caves…and giant rabbits. There was a bit of rest time before the cave tour so I ran off to see the angora rabbits. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who went. A girl I had met in my Welly hostel had told me about them so I had to see them. They are these giant rabbits that have to be shaved otherwise they’ll overheat, and then the fur is spun like sheep’s wool. The best part of them? there was a pair named Millie and Lois (My mum is Millie, and my childhood best friend’s mother is Lois…it’s funnier when I don’t have to explain it). The caves were pretty much what you expect from caves – dark, cold, duck when needed. The other option for exploring the caves was to do black water rafting; going through in a wetsuit and inner tube. I skipped that option because I didn’t want to be freezing cold and wet and in complete darkness for 10 mins. Also, it was more expensive and I already overspent by that stage. The attraction of the cave was the glowworms but technically, they are glow maggots because they are the larval stage of some fly. They secrete this strings (i suspect, of mucus) that function like a spider web to trap food, and apparently, camera lenses if you get too close.

That night in Waitomo, we had a pizza party but I was disappointed by the thin crust offerings as I wished for something more substantial but I was trying not to consume too many chips on my trip. Not that you really need to know my food details. Anyways, as soon as we arrived in Waitomo, two of the Queenslanders ran down to the bar to find out if they were showing the “State of Origin” game. I tried watching, and was silently cheering for QLD, since there were no NSW people to argue with but I still don’t care about rugby.

The next day was off to Rotorua, and the thing that I had most been looking forward to (besides LOTR) my entire trip, Zorbing! It basically sums up as rolling down the hill in a giant hamster ball. The air temperature was only about 8C but they put warm water into the ball so you can slide all the way down. I went down the zigzag course backwards, tried to turn forwards, realised I could see the downward movement and spun back around so I could finish the course backwards. Less coordinated than it sounds. Because of the temperature difference between the air and water, you could see steam rising off the people who had finished.

Unfortunately, because of an early morning roadblock, we missed the Agrodome sheep show. I missed it at least, the rest of the group was going to be able to see it on their way to Taupo. I was so close to seeing baby lambs. Argh. Although, on our drive to Rotorua, I did spot some brightly dyed pink sheep. I’m guessing the Kiwis were a bit bored?

For the first part of my New Zealand adventure, I travelled by myself from Christchurch to Wellington to Auckland.

Landed in Christchurch on the 17th. Airport was incredibly quiet but I noticed signs saying Christchurch was the first carbon-neutral airport which makes sense because it is a tiny airport. My first morning in Christchurch was just walking around the city; it’s tiny, i think Melbourne CBD is bigger. Headed off to the free Art Gallery, liked the classics but modern art tends to annoy me. One of the other exhibits, ‘White on White’, I thought it was going to be a pretentious display of blank walls. It actually turned out to be quite fun as it was an interactive exhibit and there was only a few bits that made no sense such as the two LCD screens with a giant black dot on it. One display used shadow puppets and googly eyes to form animals (using great imagination). Nearby, a computer terminal allowed you to form your own and email the photo to yourself. I made one using the Vulcan salute. Another exhibit, I question if it really qualified as art. It was a video beamed on the walls of a room, of various body parts. In particular, it was a man’s back, shaking against a wall. An older couple in front of me giggled uncontrollably, saying it looked like someone urinating. My mind immediately leaped to something more disturbing and I quickly left that exhibit. Like I said, Modern Art Sucks.

Not much else to see around the city before my dolphin cruise leaves from the city centre. The cruise itself was out of Lyttleton Harbour, about 15 minutes away from Christchurch. It’s a beautiful day to be outside but anytime you’re on the water, it gets cold quickly (a lesson I learned repeatedly on my trip). Not too far out of the harbour we spotted one lonesome Hector’s dolphin but he didn’t surface much. So the skipper decided to cheat a little and followed a fishing trawler. We found a couple of pods swimming after the trawler, looking for tidbits out of the net. The Hector’s dolphin is the smallest and rarest of all dolphins, with a pretty black and white pattern, with streaks of grey. They swam up right to the boat, resulting in many pictures of my own sneakers. After the harbour, I headed up the Christchurch Gondola. To be honest, I’m sick of Gondolas, I’ve done the one in Hong Kong a couple of times and now it’s just boring. The view was lovely though. There was something I could have skipped; the ride through history at the top of the lookout. First of all, it was narrated by a young girl who was over-exuberant about her city’s history. Secondly, I was the only person on the ride. Thirdly, it was cheesy. But it was included on my ticket so I did it anyway.

The next morning (the 19th) I got up at 5:15am, to catch my train leaving at 7am in the dark. The train did have an open-air carriage, so I watched the sunrise out there…in the 2C weather with the wind rushing by. That was certainly woke me up. The train went along the coastline, with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, and mountains on the other side. I even spotted a few seals along the waterline. After the train ended in Picton, I hopped on the ferry to Wellington. Now, my trip was built around the fact that everyone told me I had to do the South Island and especially the ferry. By the time of I got on the ferry, all of the magnificent scenery had looked alike. I still took many pictures but I ended up napping for a bit on the 3.5 hour ride.

Wellington is home to Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop, the director and special effects house of Lord of the Rings (and Chronicles of Narnia, and many other films/tv show), thus giving it the nickname of Wellywood. I did a tour of the city, seeing its many coastal suburbs and the view from Mount Victoria and quickly learned why they call it ‘Windy Welly’. Since much of the movies were filmed around the city, one of my stops was the place where they filmed the hobbits hiding off the road from the Ringwraiths. Yes, there is a photo of me pretending to be Frodo, except a grin replaces his sheer look of terror. My favourite stop though? The Weta Cave. The Workshop doesn’t offer tours; it’s an issue of confidentiality because of the other movies they’re working on, like the Hobbit. However, the Cave functions as a mini-museum including a short 20 minute video about how the workshop came together. It also functions as a shop for LOTR memorabilia. Upon entering, I discovered Alan Lee, an illustrator for the books and then for the films, was doing a signing later that day. Guillermo Del Toro, director of the upcoming Hobbit movie was there a few weeks ago. So I made a second trip to the Cave to get his signature and buy my ring (the One Ring). Even though I was quite tired afterwards, I still headed off to the Te Papa museum because I can’t resist a good museum.

Kiwis are mad about rugby and everyone supports the national team, the All Blacks. That night in Welly, they were playing against France and I was invited to join people I had met at the hostel at the pub. Unfortunately, I didn’t get her message in time, so I went to see ‘The Hangover’ instead. Hilarious, if crude. The second day in Welly, I met up with Keriann’s friend, Alastair. He took me to Karori Wildlife Sanctuary (aka Zealandia but I think that name is silly) to see the birds. I’m not much of a birder but since that’s pretty much all they have in NZ, I was willing to try. Of course, Welly is incredibly hilly, like the rest of NZ, formed by volcanoes and earthquakes. Me, being raised in the flat plains of Toronto and now Melbourne, could not keep up with Alastair going up and down the hills. In one part of Karori, there are boards describing the birds endemic to the area, and have buttons to hear the birdcalls since the actual birds are quite shy and quiet. For the last bird, the hihi (Maori name, I don’t remember the Anglo name), I saw the speaker sitting in the tree. At one point, they tried to mine gold from the sanctuary before it was a sanctuary only to realise there wasn’t any. But there were cave wetas inside, to which I only went inside when assured that they don’t jump on people. We spent more time at the Sanctuary than expected and only realised how close I was cutting it to my flight time. Luckily, it only took me about 30 seconds to check in and then my flight took off a half hour late.

As an aside, people need to be more careful with their credit cards. Someone had left their credit card in the express check-in machine. That’s the second time I found someone’s credit card in an airport; I found another in the Melbourne airport buying my flying magazine (New Scientist). Also, you know those new Dyson airblade hand dryers? They confuse old people. I saw at least 2 elderly women bewildered by the machines. They don’t even kill germs!

Onto Auckland, and Part 2 of my trip.