Travel Blog- New Zealand

Wellington, New Zealand. Feb 2. (or, The Day I Met Kevin Gould)

You don’t have many opportunities in science to meet your science icons. And in anthocyanin research, there aren’t really that many science icons to meet. But February 2nd would be the day I met my icon of the past 7 years, Dr. Kevin Gould (Box 3). Fortunately I had ample time to prepare, having spent a full hour in the Duty Free shop at the Auckland airport. I waited in Kevin’s office for about 15 minutes, coated in $1000+ of duty free makeup and wearing my most respectable pair of green pants; at some point during this wait time, however, I fell dead asleep (in fetal position), in one of his office chairs. I was awoken by the sound of a man’s voice screaming “OH GOD!”- I thrashed awake and literally fell out of my chair. And that is how I met Kevin Gould, Anthocyanin king of the world.


Box 3. Kevin Gould is to anthocyanin research what George Washington is to America. Basically, if you are one of the 7 people in the world whose lives revolve around red leaves, he is the equivalent of a celebrity. When I get home, I am going to add him to my Science Celebrities wall (immediately adjascent to the Science Hotties wall).


After becoming acquainted with the university, the lab, and my new office, I began the task of hunting for a flat (or if I pronounce it like a New Zealander, “Flet”). I absolutely fell in love with the very first people I met- Sascha and his partner Elise. Despite the fact that I would only be staying for 3 months, and that they had had “heaps of people” looking at the room (note: New Zealanders also use the word “heaps” in practically every sentence), I knew in my heart that they would pick me… they are my roommate soul-mates (note the increasing soul mate tally below). My third roommate is Jonathan/Jono– I’m not quite sure which one he technically goes by. More detailed descriptions are provided below.


img_8077-smallSaschaJohno Flatmates: Elise (left) works for the Ministry of the Environment. She has a law degree. I am impressed with everything she does in the kitchen, even when it is just opening a can of tuna (really– it looks 100 times more delicious when she opens it). Last night I watched her make yogurt with milk and bacteria in a thermos. Sascha (middle) is getting a masters in ecological restoration. He is going to save an island from ecological ruin for his master’s project. He has the oldest soul of anybody I know. Jono (far right) is an attorney for the Ministry of Social Development, and writes contracts to make sure non-profit agencies get money from the government. The first thing I ever told Jono was that his spirit animal was a mangy wolf.


img_8158-smallPictured at right is my room- I have a totally sweet view of the city, a balcony, and I can even see a sliver of the harbor through the skyscrapers*. And you may not be able to tell from the picture, but my room is HUGE, so if you want to come visit me there will be plenty of room for you to sleep. Elise will feed you.


*There is one particularly scary skyscraper you can see from my apartment that is huge and black, and has the giant glowing word “BROTHER” on the top of it. I call it the Ministry of Truth. I try to smile at it when I walk by.

Soul Mate Tally

4


February 14

Today is Valentines Day. And despite the fact that I ended my previous entry boasting about all my new soul mates, I don’t have a date. Unbelievable, right? In fact, this just happens to be the first day since I left the States where I am completely alone. It’s not a bad thing–interacting with new people has been thoroughly exhausting, and I am thankful for the time alone to refuel. So in the spirit of the day, I’m going to pour a big mug of wine, eat a bowl of Elise’s bacteria yogurt, and dedicate tonight’s entry to love.

elderly_woman_520People who are close to me know that I worry a lot about my eggs. Being 29 and unmarried, I feel like there is some kind of reproduction demon sitting on my shoulder constantly screeching, “your eggs are going to SHRIVEL AND DIE”. It’s not like this is my fault– I actually really, really want to get married and have a family. Things have just never worked out. I mean, I LOVE lots of people (I’ve practically lost count of all my soul mates, especially when counting the animals), and I have even loved a handful of men. But for one reason or another, the cards never fall quite right (for details see Box 4).


Box 4. Graphical illustrations and statistical analyses of my failed relationshipspie-chart1Results of chi-square analyses:

a) I am significantly more likely to break-up with somebody than be broken up with or experience a mutual breakup (chi2 = 7.6; p = 0.022)

b) There is no statistically more probable reason that I will break up with somebody (chi2 = 4; p = 0.4)


The good news is that I think I have enough baby fat on my face to pull off a few more years of being cute. And I am often told that I look young for my age (the dimples help a lot, I think).

Figure 19. See how cute I am?

Figure 29: I am cute.

But all joking aside. Reproduction is a serious matter. It’s the driving force behind life on our planet, after all. So I don’t blame my brain for turning up the heat–it’s just doing its job. The problem is just that I am absolutely terrified of having a bad marriage, or worse, marrying somebody I don’t really love. I even have a reoccurring nightmare, where I find myself in the day before my wedding, and I am marrying some random person from my past (like Brent Sutton, or Lalith Samaraweera), and thinking,”what the hell– I don’t love Lalith. Why am I marrying him??? SHIT, the wedding is tomorrow?? Everybody is here???? SHIT!!!”. Thankfully, I always wake up before the actual ceremony takes place. I think that the day I go through with the wedding in my dream will be the day I die.

One strategy I have learned that helps me not worry so much is to quit thinking. Seriously. I have all but fired my rational mind from thinking about love, because it has never, ever been helpful in making a decision. It makes you THINK it is, just because it is using up brainpower, but really, it’s not doing shit. Besides, according to Malcolm Gladwell in “Blink”, decisions as complex as mate selection are better left to your subconscious mind anyway, because that’s its job– to take in infinite variables and make decisions accordingly. So basically, I am just floating around life right now waiting for my subconscious mind to bind me to another human being (hopefully somebody like this guy– he looks AWESOME).

Happy Valentines Day, everybody.


Feb. 28. What I’ve been doing for the past month

If you don’t count sleep, my time in New Zealand can be broken up into thirds- 1/3 at work, 1/3 at home, 1/3 walking some steep-ass hill trying to get somewhere. I will talk about each of these in turn.

WORK This is my office. My desk is the one littered with beverages. The neat and tidy navy blue chair belongs to my office-mate Julian. Julian comes from France. He likes to take long lunches, and makes very good jokes with his limited English. He studies wasps and ant interactions. He looks eerily like a French version of Spencer Bissett.img_8405-large1


img_8213-largeBesides Julian (and Kevin), the only other person I really interact with at work is Ignatious (Iggy) Menzies. Iggy is just starting a PhD in my lab, working on an experiment related to mine. He has a knife blade for an earring, but he is a total sweetheart. His wife is also my soul mate (I haven’t even met her yet, but I can tell).

On the research front, most of the past 3 weeks at work has been spent trying really hard to come up with a good project idea that melds with Kevin’s grant. Unfortunately, Kevin made me swear that I wouldn’t tell anybody what we’re doing. So I am going to say a sentence that rhymes with what we’re really doing, but doesn’t give away any ideas.

We’re studying feather-headness in torpedoes for his pawns with fin-grease lemon-culled repents crow duck fun.

Try to steal THAT.

HOME No matter where I end up in May, I have decided that I definitely never want to live alone again. The Precious Queen Daughter (my cat) and I have lived by ourselves for most of the past 6 years, which has been nice for establishing our mother/daughter pair bond, but mostly, it has just been freaking lonely (no offense, Precious Queen). img_8409Now, I have 3.5 totally awesome room mates (the 0.5 is Thom, left, who lives with us “whilst” he looks for a job.). Most nights we just sit around and drink wine, or walk somewhere in the city- but no matter what we do, it is always super fun. Everybody is all laughs and all hugs (except Jono, who gets quite rigid when hugged). I love them all more and more every day.

Another unexpected benefit of living with people is that I have ample subjects on which to practice my hair cutting skills. As everybody in the world knows, the economic situation in America (and every where else) sucks. And when depressions hit, we all know that botanists are the first to go. But no matter how poor people are, they will always want haircuts, because looking good is critical for procuring a mate, and finding a mate is our greatest instinct in life. Right? Right. Below, my New Zealand haircutting portfolio.sascha-haircutconnie-haircutthom-haircutelise-haircut


WALKING I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I spent 1/3 of my day walking. Nobody here has a car, and all of the places I go are too close to take a bus, but too far to be just a leisurely walk. And if you take a look at a topographical map of Wellington, you will quickly see that biking is practically impossible. So I basically always end up at my destination panting like a dog (in fact, that is how Sascha says he knows it’s me coming up the stairs). Yesterday I took my camera with me on my walk to school to take pictures of my route. You will notice, it is all hills (and they may not look steep, but they SO ARE).

walk-to-work1And the torture doesn’t even stop when I get to work. All of the New Zealanders I live and work with are super environmental, and despite the fact that my building has NINE stories, there are all of these signs posted around the elevators chastising the people taking them. One sign on the fourth floor literally reads, “These lifts are STUPID. Everybody can take the stairs, even YOU”. And so of course I feel like a lazy goob standing there waiting for the elevator with my coffee. So I either take the stairs and leave a hazardous trail of spilled coffee behind me, or I am given the stink eye by everyone and their mom. By the way, I counted yesterday how many flights I could run up before panting begins. I made it 3.5 flights. Has this improved since I arrived? NO. I think my body is done building muscle tissue for good. Sort of like a leaf- once it’s an adult leaf, it can no longer adapt to sun/shade- it’s stuck. That’s kind of how my body feels about suddenly having to walk places instead of driving. Except in the case of the plant, it ends up dying in the end.


March 14

I had a realization yesterday: research is not as important as my brain is making me think it is. Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time planning and thinking about projects, but have very little in the way of results to show for it. This drives me insane. I have been labeled an over-achiever more than once in my life– but I think that it is not so much that I want to do better than everybody else, so much as I just want to do my best. That is a trait inherited directly from Randall Lee himself (Figure 1). But still. I have to come back to what my good friend Aristotle always says… virtue lies in moderation. Work must be balanced with fun and relaxation. That is easier said than done for me. On this trip, I have been worrying SO much about whether or not I get all my stupid research projects done here that I am stressed out all the time, to the point that I forego some really fun trips with friends, spend my weekends in my office feverishly planning projects, and am having reoccurring nightmares where Kevin is telling me over coffee, “You’re just not quite as productive as I thought you would be”. And I now realize that that is all completely retarded, in the grand scheme of things. I mean, I don’t really foresee myself lying on my deathbed wishing I’d cranked out more publications on red leaves. You know?

This is a great time to have had this realization for two reasons. First, this weekend Elise invited us all to go with her to her parents’ bach (that’s New Zealand speak for “vacation house”) on the beach. Second, when I get back, I will be accompanying students and faculty from Lewis and Clark University on a 10 day trip around the North Island. Our resident botanist at VUW had to back out at the last minute, and they had already paid for his accommodations, so guess who got asked to come along!!! TOTALLY sweet deal, right????? img_8703-largeI will post pictures from both of those trips when I get back. We are going to see glow worm caves, volcanoes, hot springs, geysers… oh MAN!!!!!! It’s going to be freaking awesome.

Which reminds me- if you are wondering why I haven’t posted any scenic pictures of New Zealand on this blog, it’s because I still haven’t actually left the Wellington area yet. Come to think of it, I don’t even have many pictures of Wellington. The picture at right is one of the few pieces of evidence which proves that I have ever even been to New Zealand at all.

More to come at the end of March.

p.s.- D, in case I can’t get to a phone tomorrow, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!! I LOVE YOU.


March 20. Never too cool for school.

Sometimes I find myself thinking that I’ve gotten a lot cooler since I was in high school. I wasn’t a huge dork or anything, but I certainly wasn’t particularly popular or out-going, and I definitely wasn’t very confident. So when I imagine going back in time and doing it all over again, equipped with the security and confidence that comes in your 20′s, I’ve always thought that I would be just, a completely different person. The first thing that this trip made me realize is that I am completely delusional– I am every bit as insecure as I was when I was 15 years old.

highschool

Figure 39. Me in high school (right). I am wearing overalls because I wanted to be as cool as my best friend Natalie (left), and she liked to wear overalls. As you can see.

The students I am accompanying on this trip are mostly 19-20 year old biology majors from Lewis and Clark College in Portland. I mean, these are kids that were still learning how to spell when I was graduating from COLLEGE. And yet–despite being the accomplished, educated, and self-confident woman that I now am, I am completely, paralyzingly, terrified of not being accepted. It’s just like I’m back in freaking high school all over again, except I’ve completely lost everything I’ve learned. Here is a sampling of real live thoughts that have actually gone through my head in the past 3 days:


clueless_l“Anne never laughs at my jokes. She totally hates me.”

“Shit- I just sat by Micah on the tractor for 4 hours, and now I am sitting by him again at dinner. He is probably totally sick of sitting by me right now. Should I move? No, that would be too awkward. Just sit it out. You can do it.”

“Man, I wish Lauren and Naema liked me. They are so cool.”


maori

Anyway- social phobias aside- I am having a great time on this trip, and we have seen HEAPS of cool things. Like the man at left. Not really, but maybe his dad. We spent the first two days of the trip at a Maori marae (Mow-ree muh-rye). The Maori are the native people here, though they actually speak and dress like normal Westerners now (at least all of the ones I’ve seen). A marae is kind of like a conference center, where they welcome people to come and stay and learn about Maori culture. We got to learn some pretty cool skills, like how to make rope and decorative flowers from flax leaves, how to sing a couple Maori songs, and about some of their environmental practices.


maori carving

*DID YOU KNOW* that in Maori tradition, all bodily fluids are sacred, and need to be returned to the earth (i.e. buried in a hole). ALL.

Their environmental practices are very similar to those of Native Americans, for example, taking only take as much as you need, being respectful of the land, plants, and animals, and to retain the dignity of everything that comes from the earth. An example of the latter (I thought this was cool): if one cuts down a tree, one must make it into something that the tree would be proud to be. Like an ornate boat or knife. Or this super creepy totem pole (left) that I had to sleep under at night. Basically, one must not shame the tree by making something shitty with it.Cape Kidnappers

While in Napier, we also took a tractor tour of the Pacific coast. It looked like the Grand Canyon, except with an ocean where the Colorado river is supposed to go. There were all kinds of fossils sticking out of the sediment layers, but they were mostly boring fossils like cockle shells- nothing like skulls or trilobites or anything. We also got to observe a nesting gannet colony, which had some pretty neat mating/feeding/territorial behaviors (they’re related to boobies, if you’ve noticed the similarities).


Gannets


The past couple days have been spent in the Taupo area- which is a highly geothermally-active area of New Zealand. There is steam coming up everywhere out of the bushes, where boiling water is surfacing from the aquifer (the water is heated underground by friction between the submerging tectonic plates). There are also all kinds of geysers and calcified/silicified creek beds, which are really beautiful. Except they all smell like sulfer, and the gases are laced with arsenic and antimony.

img_9256-large

Today we visited a geothermal power plant, which uses steam from underground thermal vents to make electricity. Immediately adjacent to the power plant was a prawn farm, which we also visited. The prawn farm is located next to the powerplant because prawns have to be reared in warm (28C) water, which can be really expensive to do in cool places like New Zealand. But not if you can use the runoff from neighboring geothermal powerplants. We got to do all kinds of fun things at the prawn farm, like witnessing how prawns are reared and harvested, feeding prawns with our bare hands, riding bicycles shaped like giant prawns, and fishing for prawns.Prawn Park


6 Responses to “Travel Blog- New Zealand”

  1. Having 2 blogs is confusing. . . I’m going to go back to the brush now.

  2. more please.

  3. Do you have any photos of the prawn bicycles?

  4. You know so many interesting infomation. You might be very wise. I like such people. Don’t top writing.

  5. It is simple to see that you are passionate about your writing. Great job!

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