Posts Tagged ‘University Study in New Zealand’

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Alex: Ta Moko

November 9, 2011

On November 4th, I got a Maori-style Ta moko. It is the greatest experience I’ve had, in New Zealand or elsewhere.

I’m not sure how to talk about this. I’m not sure if I can separate the experience from the well of emotion I feel about this, so I think I may just not try. I apologize if this gets a little too real.

It’s no secret that I came to New Zealand to research my final project on Ta moko.  It is also no secret that I love tattoos.  I could talk about those two things alone for entire volumes, but I won’t.  No, I have a specific event to talk about.  I came here hoping above all other things to get a ta moko.  The style means a lot to me, and I’ve poured dozens of hours into learning everything about the style, the culture and the people.  I feel connected to it in a way that I have never felt connected to an art form before.  And it is an art form that I can wear on my skin, so I was dying to carry it with me my entire life.

So I do.  I made my appointment, and I showed up just five short days ago now.  My artist, Brad, had drawn the pattern a few days before, and proceeded to redraw it and without any sort of ceremony, began tattooing.

I had forgotten how painful tattoos are.  The pain fades with time, our brains are pretty good at that, but it was most certainly painful.  I think that it was more painful than my previous tattoo, even though it was farther from bone.  As he tattooed a swirling circle of protection on my shoulder, I felt my entire arm shake.  My bones vibrated in time with the machine, as if we had merged for that brief, excruciating moment.  When he reached the thin skin of my underarm, I was almost certain the tiny needles would tear my skin apart.

But the art began to take shape.  There was a moment where, between the pain, my staring at the lights, and beginning to see the tiny forms appear, I actually began to tear up.  I’m a wimp, I know, but I can’t explain it.  This art is something I’ve only ever read about and seen on others, but to experience it was transcendent.  It was spiritual.  It was beautiful.  It is intricate and detailed, and yet broad and sweeping.  It is everything I had imagined and more.  It is still difficult for me to reconcile that something so beautiful is a part of me.

I try not to get terribly personal on this blog.  This post is going to fail at that.  I apologize for breaking format, but I had to get his out, and it’s not the sort of thing I can sneak into regular conversation.

I’ve never really felt like I’m attractive, and that’s my issue.  It’s because I’m overweight and my culture tells me that means I’m unattractive.  I get that.  But now, I get up every day, and I see this beautiful piece of art on my shoulder and I feel like I’m on top of the world.  I’ve never in my life been excited to take off my shirt until four days ago. It is liberating and a little terrifying.  I’m excited to have other people see it.  I’m excited to have other people appreciate my body, even only a small part of it.

Perhaps I have some deep-seated fear of being boring, and having a tattoo allows me to reassure myself that I am at the very least not boring, even if being interesting doesn’t make me attractive.  Whatever it is, I’m okay with it.  Tattoo enthusiasts will talk about a “tattoo high,” that once you get one, you keep craving more.  I had that with my first tattoo, but this most recent one has made me feel so incredibly good that I cannot wait to get another.

I apologize for this being so personal.  This body image issue means a lot to me, and it is difficult for me to discuss it without involving my personal struggle with it.
This may be one of my last posts on this blog, as my journey is nearing its close.  I am sad to leave, but I will be glad to be home.

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Kelsey: Rugby madness!

November 6, 2011
So many people (including myself before this trip) from home have no idea that there is a “Rugby World Cup” (RWC) and that even the U.S. has a team! Well it just so happens that the entire RWC was held in New Zealand this year and there were numerous games played all around the country including in Dunedin. I had seen an All Blacks game in the beginning of the year (remember when I forgot my camera?) and wasn’t keen on seeing anymore rugby at first, but that was before I watched any of the RWC games and fell completely in love.

I watched most of the games online but when I got the opportunity to go to one of the games with Steph and Dan, I took it and it was so worth it! We had the choice to either have the cheaper tickets or tickets that were 10$ more and have the chance of getting better seats so we took that latter option and ended up getting front row tickets to the game with England vs Georgia which was so cool to see! Games atmospheres are a bit different here but being at a RWC game was definitely cool and it was crazy to see how big these rugby men (and how good looking they are ) up close.

The rest of the games I just watched on TV, and continued to grow as a fan and great timing to be an All Black fan because they ended up getting all the way to the final, and winning! Me and a couple friends were down in the Octagon (downtown Dunedin) watching the final game and when the final seconds passed with the All Blacks beating France by one point, the town went crazy with everyone screaming and throwing their hands in the air in excitement. The town was painted black with the bars absolutely packed (mind you, it was still a Sunday night!) and when me and some other girls went home around 2 AM, the Octagon was still absolutely packed with people.
It was a very unique and exciting experience to be in New Zealand (where rugby is the determinant of the country’s happiness pretty much) with the RWC going on, let alone when New Zealand actually wins the entire tournament! It’s been so much fun to be a part of the excitement and the whole tournament and the celebrations. This country is so in love (and borderline obsessed) with rugby it’s great to be a part of that passion.
GO ALL BLACKS!
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Kelsey: Camping the Caitlins

November 3, 2011
One adventure I went on about a month ago was me and other 3 girls (Anna, Tor and Steph) all hopping into Dan’s car (after particular packing by Anna) and headed down to Purakaunui Bay where we would spend the weekend camping. We got to the camp ground just an hour or so before sunset so we had plenty of time to set up camp before the sun went down. Us girls left it up to the men to find out when of the spots on the campground was going to be the best for the weekend. The men proceeded to do the most manly thing possible and drive through a stream that they didn’t bother to check the depth of before, hit a rock on the way over while making a huge splash and realize that it will be even harder to get back over stream after their ride around the beach. Before going back over they actually decided to check the water depth and where there weren’t very many rocks.

After the tiny river debacle we started setting up the tents and ran into another problem. One of the two tents that we brought required 3 poles, of which we only had 1. So instead of setting of the tent in the grass by itself, we were forced to place it in between 4 trees so conveniently placed in a cluster so once again we handed the reigns off to the boys to do their fancy work and the tent ended up looking like this…

In order to actually get in the tent you had to crawl on your stomach and slip up into it but it worked fine for the whole weekend and we were lucky that we didn’t have to do that for both tents! After the tents were set up it was time to gather some firewood and sit by the fire to relax before our planned day the next day. Throughout the night more and more people showed up that were friends with Dan’s friend who we met up with so by the time we went to bed it was a party out on the campground with people everywhere and music thumping. We managed to get a few hours of sleep before getting woken up by the early bird campers and the sunrise. 

Saturday morning me and Anna got to walk on the beach before most everyone else got up and then Steph and Tor met us down on the beach where we walked around for a bit and got a bit close to a couple sea lions. After some breakfast Dan, Anna, Dan’s buddy Jay got suited up in wetsuits and went diving to sea if they could spear any fish or gather some Paua.On the way over to the place where they would all be getting in the water we were all walking over some rocky areas and Steph (behind me at this point) decided that she was going to walk on the grass instead and pretty much stepped on a giant sea lion that proceeded to growl at her which made her jump and literally run across these rocks screaming.  They didn’t get to spear anything but gathered about a dozen or so Paua that we watched them gut and got to pick out our favourite designed shells since Paua shells are known for their colourful shells. 

After being there for a bit we decided to go back to the campsite to have an early lunch before heading out on the ocean for some more activities. Lunch consisted of the Paua that the boys got which I thought was pretty gross (VERY fishy tasting) but the boys loved it. After lunch we all got wetsuits on in preparation to go out on the kayak and hopefully get a bit of fishing in. It was me and Dan to go first since Dan has the most experience and I called dibs. We carried the kayak out there to about waste deep and Dan is giving me this worried look and says that he’s not sure we should be attempting it and we could try later, to which I replied that it’s totally fine and I didn’t feel like dying today anyways. But knowing both my stubborn personality and Dan’s adventurous personality, we decided to just go for it anyways with his warning that I will be doused in the front seat and that I shouldn’t panic if it seems as though we’re going to flip. We walked the kayak back out to about waste deep and I waited for Dan’s signal to hop in the kayak, missed the first time but eventually got settled in and started paddling for my life. The waves coming at us were about 4 feet taller than I was sitting in the kayak and were pretty scary so every time one came up Dan yelled “stop paddling and lean forward!” to which I did for about 7 or so waves. We had one last wave to go before we were pretty much in the open sea and it was huge but I did what I was supposed to and tucked my paddle in, leaned as forward as I could go in that tight wetsuit and all I hear from Dan in the back is “Oh shit I’m going over!” to which I turn and see him flying off the side of the kayak. He pops back up between waves and me not knowing what to do in this situation just staying in the kayak and him yelling “you’re going over on this one!” and sure enough, the next wave, despite my efforts to stay in I was thrown off the side and got tossed around a bit with the kayak rolling over top of me and finally popping up to see the paddles and kayak floating about 10 feet from me and Dan frantically looking for me. I wasn’t hurt one bit but I was a wee bit shaken up from it so Dan just grabbed my hand, shoved the paddles in my other hand and dragged me and kayak back to land. After reassuring everyone that we were all good, we just had to laugh and say “THAT WAS SO AWESOME” and continue to retell the story from our point of view. Unfortunately no one else tried to go out on the kayak because the waves were just too strong, we instead grabbed the surfboards and rugby ball and played around for a bit on the beach and in the water despite the sun not being out at all, it was still fun. 

After drying off and putting on many layers to warm up, having a quick cat nap time, we made some burgers for dinner and tried to gather as much dry wood as we could before one of our camping partners gave us a giant machete to demolish some of the trees around us for our fire that night. We tried or about and hour and half to get our fire started and getting more and more frustrated (hence; more and more wine) before we finally got the fire started with some help from our machete friends. A lot of sitting around the fire and hanging out with every body before it was time for bed again.

Sunday morning we all woke up to watch the sunrise, which was gorgeous, and had some breakfast before taking down the makeshift tent and normal tent and packing up the car again. Once the car was all packed up again the boys had the idea of checking out some other beaches and hot spots before heading back to Dunedin. We headed down to see Parakanui Falls, which was a short walk and a waterfall. We then stopped at this ropes course that the boys were talking up which ended up being a lot of fun. We were just playing around before we started at the beginning because there was no regulation of it and it was pretty well hidden in the woods. It included us walking on tightropes about 20 feet off the ground, climbing ladders, sliding down poles, balancing, swinging on ropes and sliding through wooden triangles (my favourite, NOT) and many other activities on this old ropes course. After completing many of the activities we got back in the car, did some “donuts” on the beach (which was hilarious with 5 people in the car) and stopped at one more beach and Nugget Point and saw the gorgeous lighthouse and rock formations before heading home. 

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Alex: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

October 28, 2011

Yesterday, I did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was life-changing in a way I thought not possible.

I am not a fit man. I am technically obese (I’ll spare you my rant on that system). I also do not handle heights well. I’m not petrified by them, but I certainly do not seek them out. So the idea of an 20-kilometer alpine mountain crossing was not the most attractive idea I have ever heard. I am so glad that I did it.
I’m having trouble articulating this experience in the usual way, which is to say circuitously. So, I’m going to cut straight to the action, and hopefully that will spring my brain into its usual florid, overly philosophical tone.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is 19.3 kilometers long. It climbs up between two mountains, Mount Ngaurahoe (Mount Doom) and Mount Tongariro (not Mount Doom, but also awesome). It takes somewhere in the ballpark of 7 hours, if one does not summit either summit. Experienced a walker as I am, this was massively daunting to me.

But I did it. I soldiered on up the full hour of stair climbing. I kept my cool when I felt as if the wind would literally rip me from the side of the mountain. I walked in shorts in snow up to my knees. I saw massive heights, and in the face of them choked back my abject terror and took in the most incredible scenery I’ve ever seen.

We were unable to summit Ngaurahoe, as it is quite steep and quite snow-covered, and requires crampons andice axes, of which we had neither. We did, however, summit Tongariro. It was perhaps the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. The snow was deep, the wind was strong and the heights were dizzying. The sky was clear, and the view in every direction was overwhelming. As I crossed a small, snowy ridge blasted by the wind, with nothing on either side but a steep slope down to a rocky demise, I had to keep my hood closed tight around my head just to limit my periphery and keep my cool. Only once we reached the summit and I was able to sit and hold firmly on to some rocks could I relax enough to keep my heart from beating out of my chest.

The view was absolutely worth every moment of terror. From here, one can see what seems like the entire world. The desert on one side of the mountains, and the rocky scrubland on the other. Down to the forest, and lakes Rotoaira and Taupo. It is truly magnificent.

On the descent from this summit, I saw the the huge red crater and the gorgeous emerald lakes, just beginning to peak out from underneath their frosty winter covering. I was assaulted by the smell of sulfur from the many volcanic vents in the area. I slid down treacherous loose gravel trails.

After all of this there was more walking. Lots more. We descended down past the snow line, and further down to where the vegetation began again. Before we knew it we were walking through sub-tropical forest.

Every part of my body hurt at the end of the day. I was sun-burnt on every exposed piece of skin. My hips, knees, feet, legs, and back all ached from a level of exertion they rarely, if ever see. I am still sore, and I suspect this burn will last some time.

It was fantastic.
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Alex: Raglan Surfing

October 26, 2011

Two weekends ago now, a group of friends and I stayed and surfed in Raglan. The experience was the type of surreal that I am quickly running out of creative ways to describe.

I came to New Zealand with three things in mind that I needed to do before leaving. The first, my real reason for being here at all is to conduct research. The nature of that research has mutated over time, but I have certainly done quite a bit of that. The second was to get a ta moko. I’ve made an appointment. The third was to go surfing, at least once.

When we (finally) arrived in Raglan, we stayed at this adorable, very hippy, hostel. The rooms were all old converted train cars, and the woman running the desk was this French woman who carried a duckling around most of the time. Like I said: adorable place.

We drove out to a point to see some fantastic views, and split into two groups. My group went down to the beach. I swam in the ocean which was surprisingly warm for mid-spring. I think I can finally say that I have gotten the hang of swimming in an ocean. Keeping mouth closed: check.

That night we went to a bar to watch the Irish get defeated by Wales, and watch Les Bleus beat the English. I was exhausted from swimming and being exposed to sunlight, but we stayed. In between games a few of us wandered around Raglan (not a difficult task, there’s not much to wander). We found a skate park covered in graffiti that made me pine for my skateboard (bad pun, sorry).

The next day the real fun began. We went surfing.

I live, and have always lived, in a place that is thousands of miles from the nearest ocean. One needs to drive for days without sleep to reach salt water from my home. Surfing for me has always had sort of a magical mystique. I suspect this is because it was so foreign, but also owes something to my love of other board-sports.

Surfing always seemed so serene and almost transcendent. Transcendent is not a word I use lightly. In my mind surfing was the perfect way to connect with the world. Floating out in the ocean, there are no distractions. There are no deadlines, no assignments, no worries but the tide and the waves.

Before my trip to New Zealand, I could have counted on one hand the number of times I had seen an ocean, much less been in one. I am always excited to spend time in the ocean. That said, I thought I was going to die there. Within the first ten minutes of surfing, I got in over my head and was swept out past the wave break. I had no idea until I noticed that even the experienced surfers were further in than I was. I spent the next hour frantically paddling my way back in. Moments before I became exhausted and was about to start screaming for help, I caught a lucky group of waves that brought me in.

I could not wait to get back to surfing.

So I did, with limited success. I had made the mistake of choosing a board that was short and therefore difficult to stand up on. I had also wasted a significant portion of high tide out at sea.

I didn’t manage to stand up, but it was still one of the most fun experiences I’ve had. I cannot wait to go again.
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Alex: Falafel & adventure

October 17, 2011

I had an enlightening experience yesterday, which coincided with my first experience with falafel. I suspect they were unrelated, but no one will ever know.

I love walking. I do it a lot. It started with my wonderful dog Maddie. When we got her, I was still in the midst of borderline exercise bulimia, and I walked her twice a day, for at least half an hour each time. Often on weekends I would spend literally the entire morning walking. I got used to it, and I’ve been walking ever since.

Since I’ve been in Auckland (and often trapped in Auckland) I’ve walked a lot to explore the city. While I love walking, seeing the city and catching up on my podcasts, this has always seemed to me like a consolation to a real adventure.

Yesterday I sat down at a kebab restaurant on Parnell here in Auckland. I had been walking for four hours or so, looking for this greenstone shop that I always manage to lose. I sat down at this place and ordered falafel, which I had never had (not a lot of middle-eastern cuisine in the upper Midwest), and a thought occurred to me. I am in another country, on a fairly unfamiliar road, eating at a restaurant I’ve never even noticed before. I’m thousands of miles and an entire ocean away from the place where I’ve spent my entire life, a place I had never left before. Not a person on the planet who knows my name knows where I am. This is the definition of adventure.

Adventures don’t require hiking over mountains or swimming in oceans or driving hundreds of miles. They just require a wild spirit and a willingness to experience all that life has to offer.

On a much less philosophical level, I learned a little something about myself that day (other than that I’m not terribly impressed with falafel). Travel, like most things, requires acclimation. I’ve never traveled before this year. Not really, anyway. Family vacations once or twice, but nothing on the scale of this New Zealand adventure. This is my first adventure, maybe it’s okay to take it easy.

There will be plenty more adventure.

The road beneath my feet.

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Alex: Sasa

September 28, 2011

Last Friday me and a group of my peers performed a Samoan sasa led by a renown Samoan dance instructor.

I’m taking a class on Pacific art. Every week, more or less, we cover a different art form: weaving, bark cloth, carving, tattoo, etc. Last week was dance. We had our lecture in the campus fale, because presumably there was going to be some sort of demonstration. The first hour plodded along, with our guest lecturer talking about the importance of preserving traditional dances and whatnot. Then as the second hour started he told us to push the chairs to the sides of the room and to choose a spot on the floor to sit.

I am terrified of dancing. I’m not good at it. I’m white as can be, I’m awkward and uncoordinated and my sense of timing is sub-par at best. But my hope was that sitting would limit the potential for me to embarrass myself utterly, since only half my body would be able to be awkward and uncoordinated. But I had no idea what a sasa was, and I had no idea what I might be in for.

So I sat on the floor and prepared for the worst. I was relieved to find out that sasa is a Samoan clap dance. I may not be able to dance, but I can clap with the best of them. Slowly he taught us the moves, making us do them slowly at first, and stringing together longer and longer sequences of claps, ground slaps and various hand and arm movements.

Then we put it all together, and a simple string of claps and slaps became something else entirely. Our instructor/leader was drumming with two wooden sticks on the back of a plastic chair, but as soon as he started counting us in in Samoan, for all I knew that plastic chair was a centuries-old Samoan instrument–I was swept away.

As we slapped our knees to the beat that he kept on his chair-drum he started shouting things–things in Samoan that I didn’t understand, things that the Samoan students in the room knew exactly what to do with. They were calls, calls which were answered in the most energetic and invigorating way possible. It charged the whole huge open-air fale with energy. It got me excited to dance. It got me excited to be a part of this group that had from which I could learn.

In that moment, all of us clapping in time, Samoan calls and answers lighting up the room, I felt totally connected to those people–people that I don’t even really know. In that moment, the movements mattered so much less than that group of people–that wonderful environment. That’s not to say that the moves fell by the wayside. If anything, I was inspired by this almost magical sasa energy to perform the best sasa a white boy from Wisconsin had ever performed.

That energy stuck with me. The rest of that day, I could not get that plastic-chair-beat out of my head. I can still hear those calls and answers in my head. Sometimes, in the moments when I am falling asleep, I feel that collective energy surge through me and I feel as if I may never need to sleep again.
Post script: Here is a link to a sasa performed at Polyfest, which is a huge Polynesian dance competition held in Auckland every year. The one we performed was considerably less complex, but hopefully this will give you some idea.
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