Thursday, May 24, 2012

5 more weeks.

The past couple weeks haven't been terribly eventful. 
I've been taking walks by the waterfront, watching sunsets and hanging out at hipster cafés. I met some sweet new Kiwi friends who told me I stick out like an American flag in my running shoes and purple fleece jacket. I bought a pair of cute boots so people will stop staring at me.
I finally got around to taking pictures of these sweet city sculptures.
And I've put all my shorts back into my suitcase for storage. They say it's getting on to be winter here. There's a nip in the air and my flat doesn't have central heating. But check out that sunshine. This is the most pleasant transition into winter I've ever seen.

I just realized a couple days ago that my semester is almost over. We only have two more weeks of class until exams start. I'm having a hard time coming to terms with that. After a couple months, we're just settling in, making friends, finding our favorite restaurants. And then we're yanked away back to the States. It's such a conflicting experience. First Wellington felt foreign, all the way across the world from my home. I was homesick, thrilled, and lost. Then I got used to it and life got dull. I scampered down to the South Island and found myself missing the city's bays and cafés. When I came back Wellington felt like home.

Soon it won't be home anymore. In just five weeks I'll be on a plane back to Pennsylvania. I'll be displaced again, to a new semester and a new house in Ohio. After that I'll be transient again, looking for a place to live after college to start a real life with bills to pay and no essays to write.

Thank goodness for study abroad. None of that seems scary anymore. I could live anywhere and do whatever I want, as long as I have some money for food.

But I am going to miss Wellington quite a lot.

(This weekend I'm headed to a yoga retreat in Otaki! We'll be cooking vegan food and chanting a whole bunch. I hope there's lots of incense.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

sweet as.

On Friday night, I headed towards the bars on Courtney Place. I walked past the bars and climbed the steps to a yoga studio above a bagel shop. Hot Yoga NZ wasn’t much compared to Wade’s class at home. I’ve honestly never found a class as good as Wade’s. I'm gonna go ahead and say it might just be the best in the world. But it was cheap, I did a lot of restorative breathing, and I probably lost at least 10 pounds in sweat. Overall a good time.

Early Saturday morning I ran 15 miles along Wellington’s waterfront. Waves caught the sunlight and sprayed up onto the sidewalk. A light breeze sent clouds scuttling away across the sky. Everything was easy and bright. It only took about two hours. Not too shabby.

After the run I gallantly set off to erase every health benefit I’d accumulated in the past 12 hours.

Our lovely Arcadia program staff had another awesome activity for us: a pavlova-making lesson. (Remember how excited I was about pavlova? It's probably one of my favorite things about New Zealand.)

A Wellingtonian named Matt graciously opened up his home to introduce us to the sugary side of Kiwi culture. 
He even had balloons to celebrate Trevor's birthday and a full table spread of Kiwi snack food: marshmallows, gummy Eskimos, mini sausages, fairy bread (what Kiwis feed their children: bread with butter and sprinkles), and some kind of mysterious cream-filled sponge cake called a lamington (pink thing in the back right corner). Everything was deliciously processed and full of white sugar.
Matt walked us through how to make a good, fluffy meringue. Good God. It's labor intensive. We used a hand mixer, because I assume electric mixers make food taste worse.We took turns beating the egg whites and sugar together and taking breaks to nibble on candy. After about half an hour of whipping (Matt: Beat the hell out of it!), pavlova bakes in a barely-warm oven for hours and hours before it's the proper crumbly consistency. A whole lot of love has to go into a good merengue. Matt chuckled and pulled out two a couple he'd prepared the night before. We split into two teams to decorate, and the claws came out. Lemon curd and tangerine slices were flying.
Our team went for a classic Kiwi motif with subtle hints of accent color.
The birthday boy's team got creative with sprinkles and letter-candles. They came up with "Happy Dr. T" and a lemon curd face.
 A striking resemblance.
Silly decorations aside, Matt's pav was delicious. We sat around the living room eating and chatting and playing with balloons.
Since lamingtons, fairy bread, and sausages have gluten I opted for a second serving of pavlova. I had a fantastic sugar buzz vibrating in the back of my head as we left that afternoon.

On Sunday I woke up with a sugar hangover. My friend Loren's birthday party to go to that afternoon. It was supposedly going to be a tea party, and there were rumors of a cupcake decorating contest. The thought of sugary treats made my teeth hurt. I'd only have a couple nibbles.

My resolve fell apart immediately.  First Loren had a selection of terrific tea, along with fruit kebabs and hummus and more fairy bread. She even walked me through all the foods so I knew which ones were gluten-free.

Then the cupcakes came out.
Another sweet contest ensued, this time with lots of frosting-nibbling and sugar-sprinkling.
I went a little overboard this time. My theme was "everything." I even had candy dinosaurs.
But my sprinkle explosion didn't stand up to the beach scene or the giant marshmallow tower.
Or the cupcake of death.
Thank goodness Loren had ice cream and more cupcakes to console those of us who didn't win the final vote.
I walked home from Loren's with a deep desire to brush my teeth. It was absolutely delightful.

So friends, you might want to rethink going out to the bars for your birthday parties. Explore the possibilities of tea and cupcakes.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

shake it out

Wellington has a Sunday morning fruit and veggie market on the waterfront every week. It's one of my favorite weekend activities. Half the town comes down for a stroll by the water and slammin deals on free range eggs. Asian guys with machetes hack heads of lettuce in half and toss them into sale bins. Giggling Kiwi kids and their dads zoom around on scooters. When it's not raining, there are usually a few guys playing bongos and accordions in between the crêpe booth and the taco stand. 

I love the community energy. Even on the loneliest of homesick Sundays, a walk through the market makes me feel connected to something. I can buy an apple and a coffee, chat with the barista, and go away much happier. 

This morning was sunny and cool. I went to the market for some spinach and zucchini and then stumbled upon a gluten-free bakery stand. I was at peace with the world. I came home to drop off my apples and zucchini. I shoved them in the fridge and sat down at my desk to read. 

The flat shuddered. 

I jumped up and looked around. Did the fridge just fall over? I ran into the kitchen. Nope. I looked outside to see if someone had dropped something on the roof. 

My brain digested the situation. So that's an earthquake.

Since the horrible earthquake in Christchurch last year, New Zealand is full of public service announcements about earthquake preparation. But I wouldn't have the slightest idea what to do in case of a real quake. The ground in Ohio or Pennsylvania never moves. I suppose I should've secured my chandeliers and crawled under my desk instead of shrugging and doing nothing. 

It was bizarre. Even when I'm feeling most well-adjusted to living here, something inevitably butts in to remind me that I'm not at home. If you'll excuse the horrid metaphor, I feel like the earthquake was trying to shake me up. I was definitely unsettled for a moment. Then I pulled out an apple and walked back outside to finish my reading in the botanic gardens. 

Shaky or not, it's still a terrific country. 

Friday, May 4, 2012


So I've been back in Wellington for a couple weeks since my South Island adventure. I've told people about the trip over and over again, showing them the whole reel of pictures I took on the road. Plus I've been blogging about it. I even have a picture of Queenstown on my desktop. 

Maybe it's the constant reiteration, but the trip's already starting to feel stale. Looking at my pictures makes me feel itchy and anxious. The towns on my computer screen seem tacky and plastic. On the edges of the scenery shots lurks a horde of pushy Asian tourists with expensive digital cameras. The South Island is still extraordinarily beautiful, but I feel like I didn't experience a real part of New Zealand. I felt like a camera-slinging American jerk.

For the past two weeks I've been carrying this itch around inside myself, worrying that I'm on the path to ruining my own experience abroad.

So the other day I met a friend for tea. He's a history major at Victoria - a really intelligent and thoughtful guy. We talked about the man-made illusion of wilderness on the Kepler Track and how every hostel in the South Island was crawling with Germans. I told him that I felt like a hack of an independent traveler for visiting such a touristy part of the country. He pointed out that places like Queenstown and the Milford Sound aren't necessarily inauthentic. The tourism industry is a huge part of New Zealand's economy.

But, he told me, there are other parts of the country that don't have a strong tourism infrastructure. There's less affluence and relatively few hostels. Kids ride bareback on horses to school. These places aren't necessarily more authentic than the tourist towns. They're just different. He advised that I visit the North Island with an open mind, avoid Auckland, and prepare to see a lot of rural farmland.

"Don't worry about where you go," he said. "After all, traveling for me is usually more about the drive than the destination."

I sipped my tea and relaxed.