New Zealand I: Christchuch
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. 🙂