February 26, 2002
Life down here on our planet’s underbelly is good, very good. The weather’s warm, the people are nice, school’s getting started, and I’m rapidly getting accustomed to the kiwi swing of things. This place is like Portland in a lot of ways – very green, temperate climate, blue skies, lots of parks – but the pace is a bit slower, and the people are friendlier. Even though New Zealand is famous for it’s sheep infestation, I can honestly say I’ve only seen three of them since I arrived, which is a bit dissapointing.
Adjusting to the culture isn’t too hard, although for the first few days I was having a tough time with the accent – I was surprised to hear it every time I talked to someone, because there isn’t really anything omnipresently weird enough about Christchurch to remind me that I’m not in some quiet Portland suburb.
The three things that have really different are the toilets, table etiquette, and driving style. The toilets are odd because they don’t have a couple of buttons instead of levers, and I haven’t been able to discern which direction the water drains because they’re the super efficient type which do a whole lot of wheezing and spraying about.
Table etiquette is a little strange. The proper way to eat is with the fork in the left hand, and the knife in the right, at all times. When I was buying some items for my dorm room at the local shopping center (“centre”), the checkout clerk asked me why Americans don’t eat with their knives. I hadn’t noticed until she pointed it out, but everyone here eats in a two fisted style that would probably be considered impolite back in the States. Regardless, I’ve been building up the manual dexterity to wrestle food about the plate with both utensils, and I expect I’ll probably be giving demonstrations when I get back home.
People in Christchurch are terrible drivers – and I don’t think it because they drive on the wrong side of the street. They’re actually terrible drivers. It’s almost funny: if people here were any more laid back they’d fall over, but put them behind a wheel and suddenly they’re raving maniacs. I think Christchurch is trying to replace all of it’s traffic lights with roundabouts, which makes traffic move a bit more easily, but *really* f’s things up when people forget to look right or just stop in the middle of it for no particularly good reason.
University and residence orientations were pretty enjoyable. It’s nice getting to know folks, although most of them are quite a bit younger than me, and it’s a little odd resetting my brain from work mode to school mode. There’s about 120 people living in our residence hall, which has four buildings and a nice little quad in the middle. It’s the smallest hall on campus, which is nice. I like it that way. The administration also seems to have a pretty open and realistic view of drinking and what-not – they fully expect freshmen (“first years”) to go out and get loaded on fridays, and while they don’t encourage drinking, they talk plainly about having a big meal before going out, and who to contact if you get stuck in a bad situation. They’re good folks.
I’m about a 10 minute walk from the campus rec center, which has a pretty ok climbing wall. I’ve been going down there every couple of days, which has been quite enjoyable. Membership at the rec center is free for us international students, which is a heck of a deal – it’s very well equiped, with a pretty good athletic sciences department in the middle.
I’ve also developed a reasonable tan. It’s quite sunny most days, and I suspect the ozone is a little thinner above this country than it is back in Oregon …
Classes have been good so far. I’m taking philosophy, math, linguistics, management sciences, and art theory while I try to weasel my way into the photography department. Unfortunately, the photography department only takes two international students per year, so the competition is a little stiff …
Anyhow, I should get back to reading my philosophy texts and pick up my room a bit. If any of you feel inclined to send me a letter or package of any sort, my address is:
If you’d like to receive a post card or something, send me your address and I’ll get right on it.
February 14, 2002
Cheap plane tickets and procrastination are two things that shouldn’t be mixed if you want to have a stress free traveling experience. Unfortunately I’m a cheap procrastinator, so I seem to be really good at backing myself into awkward situations. Lets take this current journey as an example.
Instead of buying plane tickets as soon as I was accepted to the University of Canterbury, I put it off until mid-January. I have two good excuses, though – my trip to Hong Kong and the Christmas season took a little wind out of my sails, and I was also trying to negotiate a cheap “round the world” ticket, which would let me go from Portland to Christchurch to Frankfurt to New York (or Rio de Janeiro) and back to Portland in time for next Christmas. But alas, no one had an RTW ticket that would fit comfortably in my budget, so I had to do some one way ticket hunting.
So that’s the procrastination bit. Here’s the cheap bit: I’ve found that the people at the check in counters will happily reassign your seats if there’s room on the plane – you probably won’t get in to first class, but they’ll move you towards the front of the economy cabin (which is quieter) and give you an isle or window seat – which means that the cheapest possible bit bucket tickets can usually translate into quite comfortable seating arangements.
I have three places I go for cheap tickets: Azumano Travel, Priceline, and Orbitz. Azumano is a “real” travel agency with offices in Portland, and some of the agents really enjoy the hunt for cheap trips. Priceline is the company which used to run the terribly irritating William Shatner ads on television – you get to bid on vaguely described tickets, but you have to be a bit flexible to get the best deals. Orbitz is an interesting site which is currently fighting lawsuits from a couple companies, because it’s run by a consortium of a good number of the world’s major airlines who use it to dump their cheap tickets.
For this trip, Orbitz worked out the best. $1200 for the most direct one way trip to New Zealand on one month’s notice is a pretty damn good deal. Portland to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Aukland, Aukland to Christchurch – I would leave on the 13th of February, endure a 12 hour lay over in LA, and step off a plane in Christchurch on the 15th, ready to kick some academic buttocks for the first time since leaving Simon Frasier University in 1998.
The trick with Orbitz is to use the multi-city option if you’re going to be hopping around on your journey … if you’re willing to endure long lay overs on some of the hops. My Portland to Christchurch ticket was running in the neighborhood of $1600 for a pre-packaged plan, but the multi-city option hacked off a $400 chunk, and all I had to endure was 12 hours in Los Angeles. It’s almost like getting paid $33 bucks an hour to wait. I can do that.
Of course, I also ticked the option box for “flexible flight schedule,” which means my flights could be moved around without my permission in order to get the cheapest possible fare. Of course, a few days before my supposed flight out of Portland, I get an e-mail with an update: My flight leaves at 7 AM on the 12th, not the 13th. Of course, the other tickets weren’t bumped up … so my painful 12 hour layover became a terrifying 36 hour ordeal.
And, par for the course, a day earlier I had agreed to assist on an evening shoot on the 11th. The photographer was a good friend of mine, and I thought it would be nice to work with him one last time. Besides, I thought I had another day to pack …
To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember much of the night of the 11th, except that I managed to pack or throw out about 95% of my stuff over the course of about 10 hours. Only a few things kept me reasonably sane – Nova, who’s extraordinarily good at planning things; Frank, the fluffy white cat; a pot of super-strong french-pressed coffee; and Poncho, who walked from downtown in the cold and wet at some god aweful hour of the morning to help me pack, and escort me to the airport, like I did for him almost exactly a year ago when he was leaving for the University of Christchurch.
The flight to LA was uneventful. There was some breakfast concoction, but other then that I was zonked out from the time we rolled away from the terminal until we touched down at LAX.
Another travel tip: Avoid LAX if at all possible. It’s a terrible airport. Dingy, run down, funny smelling, and in several other ways nasty. “Customer service” representatives are assholes, and it’s laid out in the most inconvenient possible way. But take my opinion with a grain of salt – I’m usually pretty surly after waking up.
Two hours later, after getting hassled by soliciters and the LAPD (the shuttle bus ran a red light), and lugging my 23094823049823 pound board bag all over heck and back, I finally arrived at Izzy & Pete Han’s pad for a bit o’ chillin’ and nappin’.
I took some rather entertaining pictures of Izzy to send home and freak people out — no, he’s not really a gangster, it’s just funny to dress him up like one, and give him tequila, Airsoft guns, and a big bag of powdered sugar. To compensate for his time, I took Izzy out to a nice italian dinner … then I slept the night through.
I’m going to go take a shower, call the shuttle bus, and in other ways prep for my 14 hour intercontinental flight.