Sorry for the delay on this end; I didn't get an Internet hookup until today and things have been busy! Here's a quick summary of things thus far though, since I should do this before I forget everything.
Feb 12-14: The Plane Ride Over
First of all, I am happy to report that I did not pay attention to the advice of the study abroad program and travelled a day earlier than I should have, meaning I missed the killer snowstorm that paralyzed a lot of the United States (and, from what I hear, gave CWRU the first snow day in recorded history, or something). The other study abroad students without such foresight ended up arriving days late and at the expense of an extra thousand dollars, as Air New Zealand apparently believes if you live in a non-tropical climate it's your own damn fault. Kinda amusing so long as it's not happening to you.
The most newsworthy thing about the flight that I wasn't expecting, I suppose, was that the All Blacks were at LAX waiting to get onto the flight to Auckland! For those who don't know, the All Blacks are the New Zealand rugby team who are the de facto celebrities and gods hereabouts, and I immediately became everyone's best friend around here when I mentioned the fact that I saw them. (By comparison, it's like being from Pittsburgh and saying the Steelers were at the airport with you.) The Fijian rugby team was also on my flight to Nandi, where they were announced by the stewardess and greeted with a mad cheer, and were subsequently met by a mad cheering crowd at the Nandi airport when we landed because of their recent victory.
As for Fiji itself, I didn't see too much but what I saw from the airport etc was quite lovely- the place was covered in rolling green hills and they had a local group playing music in the waiting lounge who was quite good. This was also the stop where I was hit with humidity and felt warm in my sweater and socks for the first time, and felt perfectly alright taking both of them off. (The socks have not been put on since in New Zealand, though the sweater is needed at night/ in the early morning.) It really looks like a lovely country to visit someday when the situation isn't quite so volatile, to be honest, as right now there are still a few too many police officers with too-new uniforms patrolling around.
All in all, I arrived at Auckland International Airport around 2:30pm on February 14th, which was about 30 hours after I'd started my journey. I was understandably a bit tired and anxious as to how things would work out, so after wating in a very long time in line I was relieved to finally be able to talk to the customs official and be let in the country.
"This visa says you're a student. What are you studying, eh?" he asked. (Kiwis like to add "eh" to the end of their questions. It's very nice and Canadian of them.)
"Physics," was my prompt reply.
"Ah," he said, "can you tell me what Boyle's Law is then?"
"What?" I asked him, a little confused. I was pretty sure I had heard him correctly, but somehow did not expect to travel accross the world to have a conversation about physics with a customs official!
"Boyle's Law," he repeated, with a bit of a twinkle in his eye.
"It's a principle in thermodynamics where if you have a gas at a fixed temperature, the pressure and volume of the gas is also going to be a constant."
"Right it is!" the agent said, handing me back my passport. "Welcome to New Zealand."
At this point, those of you who remember me in thermodynamics class last semester may recall that I am fond of asking, when the material seems a little abstract, of asking what the point of the lecture is. So Professor Akerib, if you're reading this, next semester if anyone asks you the same thing let them know thermodynamics is useful enough to give you entry to New Zealand! And thanks!
February 14-15: O'Rorke and Surrounding
I was the first student to arrive at my residential college, O'Rorke, which meant that it was just me and the RAs for the first few days. Luckily this wasn't a big deal as I was meeting the American students for our own special orientation on the 15th, but it was definetely quiet in the building until today when everyone started showing up!
My room is a nice, roomy single on the 11th story, which is the post-grad floor. Post-grad for us really just means "non-freshman" as most people who live in dorms here are frosh, and it's nice to live up here because our rooms are bigger and we get a nice common room and things like that. My room is also extra-exciting in the sense that I get my own little balcony, and when I stand on it I can easily see the bay and half of the Aukland Harbor Bridge. Prime real estate! The res college library is also about ten paces away from our common area door, which was also a great source of excitement. It's not like I plan on hanging out there exclusively, but I never realized until now that one of my life goals was to live with a library a few scant meters away from my room.
Before I collapsed from exhaustion the first day I went out to try and find some food (meals beyond breakfast didn't kick in until today), and accidentally discovered the University of Auckland campus. Really it didn't take much because it's right here, you walk a block and you're on it, and I was happy to discover that the first thing you fall accross is the gigantic science building which includes physics. I think I'll like the idea of being able to get to class with a mere five minute walk instead of the mile-long trek it takes back at home!
On the 15th, I needed to buy a few things so I was directed over to Queen Street, which is two blocks in the other direction. Queen Street was a delightful discovery because it is, in the words of my RA, "the only street in Aukland worth knowing." It's crammed with countless shops and resteraunts that stretch for blocks which cover anything you'd want to eat and buy, and is so diverse that often a second language is written beside English, or the English isn't listed altogether. I was amazed at how international this city is, even though America always prides itself at doing just that. (Today I was having a conversation with the international students, and felt inadequate for only knowing two languages fluently. The average for non-Kiwis is about three or four.) I ended up making my purchases at the Warehouse, essentially a WalMart equivalent down here, and enjoyed some sushi for lunch. That's another thing about Aukland: you are always guaranteed fresh fish.
I don't know if it's clear from what I wrote above, so I'll point out that one of the things about Aukland is it's huge, or at least bigger than any city I've lived in. I also live close to the center of it now, Aukland Sky Tower is relatively nearby, but the city sounds more like a lull in the background as far as noise goes (unlike Cleveland, when the silence is broken by a random car racing down the street at 3am), so I don't think it will be much of a problem. I also think you could live in this city for years and years and never be bored... Aukland reminds me most of San Fransisco of all the cities I've been too, by the way. They're both pretty big and have international populations, are on hilly countryside (some of the streets could be transplanted no problem), and they both have bays with a defining bridge crossing them.
February 16-17: Orientation Maori Style
The American program I was going with decided that it would be nice to send us all out into the bush an hour outside Aukland so we could do all sorts of fun New Zealand touristy things while we got to know each other. So on the morning of the 16th we were all packed into vans and headed out to Leigh, which is about an hour and a half drive north of Aukland. Unlike the other days the weather wasn't perfectly perfect in every way for once, it started raining lightly for a few minutes here and there only to give way to the sun again, meaning we kept spotting rainbows in the surrounding countryside.
Everyone always says New Zealand countryside is utterly beautiful and lovely and all that, and I'm here to confirm that they're right. Here's the interesting thing though: I spent a few minutes a little confused about it once we left the Aukland suburbs, as it all looked so familiar, somehow, and I didn't know why.
Of course, after a few minutes I figured it out, and felt a bit like an idiot for not thinking about it sooner. You see, last summer my family traveled to Transylvania, which is part of Romania nowadays, which looks EXACTLY like the New Zealand countryside: the hills are the same height, the forests are all of pine just like it was in Transylvania, and the bottoms are reserved for pasture just like it is there. The only difference here is you get the ocean poking through the hills on occasion and the pine forests up close reveal the occasional palm tree.
Anyway, at our orientation we stayed at a Maori house, aka the native population of New Zealand, which was definetely a great perspective on things. I now know how to get flax out of the plants in the area and make string out of it using nothing but a mollusk shell (which could be a handy thing to know someday... right?), and we did a nice amount of kayaking and snorkelling on the shore as well. We also went to a lovely beach the second day, where the water is officially the temperature where you are willing to get in but not to stay in, and were only stopped by cows and sheep crossing the road twice.
And at night, of course, it was clear and we saw the stars, including the Southern Cross and Milky Way in all its splendour. Ah, I'm going to need a whole post just to describe that sight!
It's kind of late and I could go on, but I'm going to have to end this as I have to get up early tomorrow and am still a bit jet lagged, so the bed is calling. But I'd just like to finish by saying this: I like it here. It's good for the soul, or at least mine, and I'm glad I came.
All the best to everyone, and I hope you've dug yourselves out of the snow by now!
Sunday, February 18, 2007