Thursday, October 4, 2012

I’m world famous! …in New Zealand.

A few months back, when it was technically summer here in New Zealand, I jumped at the chance to be on TV. I was hanging at my hostel when the owner asked what everyone was doing the next day and who would want to get free admission into a local amusement park for a couple hours of sitting in the stands while a crew shot a commercial. I was excited; I would be on TV and get to go into the park without paying? I figured it was a “score” moment if ever there was one.

The next day I took extra care with I outfit and put on makeup for the first time in weeks, I wanted to make sure I looked the best that I possibly could, you know, in case this was my big break and I was “discovered.”

We arrived and made our way to the new bird show stadium where we were directed to sit within a certain section and pretend we had just seen a fantastic show with exotic birds flying all around. I placed a huge smile on my face, not hard with how excited I was to be there, and made sure I sat straight (shoulders back, chest out).

It was really interesting watching the film crew do their work and set up the camera and other film equipment, I have never seen a production like this performed. I tried to pick out the director, producer, and figure out what roles the other people were there for.

I wasn't discovered, but I’m ok with that. You can clearly see me with my bright teal sweater showcasing my brightest smile, to the right of the words over the bird man’s shoulder. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ready? Ready!? Jump!

I have been remiss in keeping up with some of my more exciting adventures here in New Zealand (I blame this on poor internet access, see previous blog post for a better explanation).

Back in January I was traveling around the South Island, which has some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. Before I left on my year long OE (overseas experience) I had a few things I knew I wanted to do while I was here. Towards the top of the list was to skydive.

While in Franz Josef I went out to the local bar with a group I had been traveling with. A promotion was going on that night, buy a pitcher and enter to win a two for one sky dive with a local company. I thought this was great and had one of my new friends enter with me. We sat there enjoying the company, me anxiously waiting to hear the results and hoping to win, my friend praying our ticket wouldn’t be picked.

The end of the night came, they pulled the first ticket and disappointment rolled through me when my number wasn’t called. But, as luck would have it, you had to be present to win, and the first number wasn’t there. Again I had my ticket clutched in my hot little hand and waited to hear what the next number to be called would be. The next winning ticket was called out and I sat in silence for a split second before jumping up with a huge smile on my face to go collect my prize. I was ecstatic, my friend was not. It was a good thing the sky divers were there to talk her into it.

I'm really excited we won!
The next afternoon the company came and picked us up. I was surprisingly calm and quiet as we drove the half hour to the airport. On arriving we watched the crew set up and take another group up before we dressed and got ready to go up. My nerves started jumping around and I was having a hard time staying still. We were instructed on what was going to happen and before I knew it, we were strapped to experienced divers and climbing up into the sky.

We were dressed and ready to go.

The plane circled at 1200 feet and the man on my back started to make his way to the open door, careless of the sudden upheaval happening within my stomach. And before I knew it, we were out of the plane and falling towards the earth through the clouds. Some might think having your free fall through the clouds is not ideal, but I beg to differ. Having it so lets you concentrate more on the feeling and excitement of falling and not on the ground that you are quickly coming to meet.

Almost as soon as we were out of the clouds, and the ground came into view, I was told to pull the release and the parachute jerked us into a glide. The serenity that came over me from floating through the sky was so unexpected and breathtaking. Being able to see for miles and miles on end was an experience I will always remember, the quiet of just your heart beating after the excitement of your free fall. There is something very peaceful about seeing the world from above and slowly coming back to it.

You really can't help but smile :)

When we got back to the ground I was exhausted. It was such an adrenaline rush that I had nothing left for the ride home and fell asleep on the couch waiting for my ride back to the hostel. Once back, everyone asked how it was, and the only way I could describe it was that it was the most exhilarating and calming experience I have ever had. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

If you build it, they will use it.

As my time in New Zealand starts to wind down there are a few things I am excited to get back to in the States. Pizza, the rest of my wardrobe, my family and friends. But there is one thing that I have missed the more than I miss watching Jeopardy!

Wi-Fi. Or internet access in general.

It was cultural shock coming from the US, where I can go just about anywhere and get a wireless signal, to New Zealand where Wi-Fi is still a hotly treasured commodity. I found there was rarely a place I could go and get a free connection. If I bought a muffin at Starbucks I could get a half hour, but that would most likely be extremely slow due to everyone using their free thirty as well.

So how did I post my blog entries and keep up with email and Facebook? I, prepare yourself for a major shock, paid for internet access! And it wasn’t easy getting it. There are various internet providers and I found that when I went from one hostel to another they wouldn’t all have the same one. This had me opening accounts with at least three different companies.

The a la carte options for internet are great for travelers though. What isn’t great is the amount of money these options cost. Not having paid attention before to the amount of gigabytes I use on a regular base, I foolishly thought I would be able to get by with 560 megabytes a month. I went through that in a day uploading pictures. In the two months I was traveling around the country I tried to find the places I could get some free Wi-Fi, which turned out to mainly be McDonald’s. I’ve never eaten so many Big Macs in my life. When I couldn’t get to a Macca’s (as the Kiwi’s call it) I paid for the service at my hostel…I don’t know how much I spent for internet in just two months and I’m scared to think about it.

And you would think the situation would improve at a residence, but not if you live in certain areas. Where I have been living for the past 7 months we have yet to have Wi-Fi connection at the house. I was told they ran the lines, but for some unknown reason, have not yet offered the service to the locals living in the area.

So, New Zealand, what gives with this whole lack of access to the inter-webs? After a bit of research (a news segment) I learned there is only one under seas connection cable in which all of the countries internet access comes from. For a nation that wants to keep a breast with the change of times and keep with modern technology it has to improve their connection to the rest of the world and a second cable would help with this, create competition and hopefully bring the cost down to something people don’t have to take a second job to fund.

I hope, for all Kiwi’s and visitors sake and sanity, a second cable will soon be funded.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Keeping up with the Maori

The Maori culture is alive and strong in New Zealand. The Maori are the native people who were the first to settle here in Aotearoa sometime in the 1200’s. Due to the extreme remoteness of the main two islands, the Maori were able to create their own distinct culture that was uninfluenced by another society until the Europeans came over three hundred years later, in the mid 1600’s. Even after another three hundred years it is obvious how the first people to live off this land still influence the culture of the nation.

In the past months I’ve been living in New Zealand I have seen the Maori influence in many ways, not just in the souvenir shops. They are very proud of their history and make a point in keeping their traditions strong in the community and the nation. In protection of their own interests there are two Maori parties in the political system, the Maori Party and the Mana Party.

It is a new concept for me, coming from the States, to see an indigenous population have so much weight within their native land. Back home I have learned about our Native Americans, what they ate, where they lived, and how they lived. But I cannot tell you my country has adapted certain aspects of their culture as our own; the Native Americans practice their traditional way of life on the reservations the government gave the tribes in compensation for taking their land without thought to whom might have been living off it first. In New Zealand I see the Maori continuing to fight to keep their customs from becoming tourist attractions.

In schools the language and customs are continued to be taught.  The children learn through songs and the national anthem, use the language when learning to count. Noodle necklaces are not made and popcorn not used for holiday decoration at Christmas time because the Maori do not believe in using food as a play object, this includes play dough because it is made from flour.

It is true New Zealand is the only place Maori is and ever was spoken and some wonder if the time should be spent on continuing to teach children a language no other nation speaks (I’ve seen the debates on the news). There are also those who argue the culture shouldn’t be taught in the schools, it is not every child’s heritage so why should they need to learn it? But I disagree with this, to an extent. It is part of the history of the country, and that the children should learn and take pride in that.

There are aspects of the Maori culture the country has whole heartily embraced. The most famous would be the Haka performed before each rugby match. The Haka is a challenge, used when tribes would meet a new tribe or group of people and they wanted to know if they were friend or foe. It was designed to be intimidating, which it fully excels at.

It is wonderful to see a country that still remembers and celebrates the traditions of a nationality that makes up about fifteen percent of the population; it would be a shame to see the extinction of the Maori’s rich and unique culture. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Second Breakfasts and Round Entry Doors

I went to what may eventually turn out to be my heaven. A few weeks ago my friend, Lisa, and I took a day trip out to the site where Peter Jackson filmed part of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies, Hobbiton. What an exciting experience!

On arriving, we examined the gift shop and tried on the Invisibility Cloak (I think it has to be given to you from the Elves, because we could still be seen in it). And how can you visit Hobbiton and not have Second Breakfast? So up we went to the cafe where we enjoyed a delicious meal of bacon, banana, and pancakes with warm maple syrup. As we were sitting there talking and waiting for our meals the owner of the farm came over and asked where we were from. It was nice to hear the story of how the films came to be shot on his land from the man who green lighted it.

After examining the surrounding yard and landscape, a scene that cannot fully be appreciated through a photo, we were called to the coach bus that would take us to the location. On our way the guide pointed out the vegetable patch, catering area, and where the makeup trailers were located. He also asked us some questions about the movies, the prize to be a leaf from the tree above Bilbo’s house. I won, which surprised me, as I thought others on the tour would know as much as I did. I was wrong and continually proved my geekish obsession with the LOTR movies by correctly answering all the trivia our guide shot at us, though much quieter so as not to come off as a know-it-all.

Hobbiton was much larger than I was expecting. My thought was there would be a few Hobbit holes placed here and there, which maybe I would be able to recognize. 

Nope! The place a huge with Hobbit holes tucked here and just visible over there. 

Our guide directed our group through the neighborhoods, giving us time to check out and take as many pictures we could of the detail given to each property. 

We were lucky to have visited on a day when it was not raining, but there was still mud all around, making the trek up and down the Hobbit hills a little difficult at times. But we had an enthusiastic group eager to see all that we could and were able to do just that.

Each house had their personal accessories scaled to a certain measurement, one set just for that house and none other. This was done so each filming shoot would look correct to the eye and pieces wouldn't look too big or too small. The attention to these small details was very impressive.

At the very top of the hill was where we found Bags End, the family residence of Bilbo Baggins. Here we could see just a smidge of the entry way into the house, the only one where more care was taken to finish the interior. This was the closest we were allowed to get to the door, the gate was closed and we weren't there on party business.

We learned the tree above Bilbo's house was not a living one, but a tree made just for the movies so the leaves would constantly be green like in summer. 

Just after visiting Bags End we were able to step into the next Hobbit house. I have to say, it wasn't what I was expecting, but fun all the same. I knew it was just a shell, an exterior designed just for shooting scenes, but the inside was nothing but dirt and strategically placed items that could be seen from the window. It was a great place to have a photo opportunity though.

Since we were on a working sheep farm, our tour ended with the chance to feed some lambs. They were lopping and playing in the paddock next to the gift shop when we arrived back from the site location, looking very cute and ready to eat. A bottle was handed to me and over ran a lamb. They were so funny and had everyone laughing at their antics. 

It was one of the best activities I have done here in New Zealand, I could hardly contain my excitement before or after my trip and took over a hundred pictures to remember the fun I had that day. Hobbiton is definitely one place I would recommend visiting.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Olympic Fever

I can’t tell you when I started to really enjoy watching the Olympic Games, it could have been when the Summer Games were held in Atlanta in ’96; I don’t remember watching before then. The flame was carried through my hometown that year, but I was on my first overseas trip and missed the event. The pictures made it seem like it was a great time though.

As I've mentioned before, I’m not one to watch a lot of sport; I’d rather be playing or at a live game, otherwise I have a hard time getting into it. I watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Whenever the Olympics come around though, summer or winter games, it is the only thing I watch. And, even though I am not in my home country, this year proves no different.

The 2012 London Opening Ceremonies were a treat to watch, I loved the flow of the story being told and the history behind each scene. Starting with the green fields which transferred to the factories of the industrial age before moving onto the rich history England has in children’s literature, I was glued to the screen not wanting to miss a minute of the show. I loved how they used the hill to display the participating countries’ flags and was pleasantly awed when the petals were lit and rose to form the flame.

It is an interesting experience to be in another country during the games. There are differences, obviously, in how the events are broadcasted. The events I have normally followed have been harder to keep track of, and sports I rarely have an interest in seeing have been all over the TV. It has given me a better appreciation for these sports, but I want to follow my team and know what they are doing. Thankfully they have an app for that and I have been able to catch up on what medals we won.

Me with my homemade American flag!

I have to hand it to Team GB, not only have they been bringing home medals, but you can just take a quick glance at their kit and know they are part of the home team. I think it was a great idea to have such consistency in design throughout the various sports and wish Team USA would have had the same notion; it would be so much easier to follow my countrymen and women instead of constantly scanning for my flag or another symbol to indicate what country they are representing.

As the Games come to a close I can’t help but become a bit melancholy. For the past two weeks the world has come together, putting their personal feelings aside for pure enjoyment of sport. This hasn’t always been the case, but I’m glad we have been able to come together and celebrate the truly spectacular athletes and cheer our countries on to glory.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

It's Premiere Night!

I’ve always enjoyed going to the theater and watching movies on the big screen. When the lights dim and the previews start playing there is little that can divert my attention from the images streaming from the projector. It’s not an activity I do all the time, only when a movie comes out that I think is going to be great or, for one reason or another, one I really, really want to see. It’s just something fun to do when there is nothing else going on.

Here in New Zealand, going to the movies is not just something to do, it is an experience!

I have always remembered when I was last here and went to the theater to see Mission Impossible. I was so impressed with the look of the theater; it was a visual throw back to the days when live theater was still king and moving pictures were just gaining in popularity. Best of all they had a room sectioned off for families with young children and babies, so you didn’t have kids running around and babies crying while you were trying to enjoy the film you paid good money to see. I didn’t think theaters could get any better than that and was a little disappointed to go back home to my typical movie theater.

This trip around my expectations have been blown away. New Zealand theaters have really raised the bar for a great movie experience. They have put in comfortable seats with armrest large enough to share and isles wide enough for people to walk past without you having to angle your legs to the side. The theater also assigns your seat, or allows you to choose your own at the kiosk, so you don’t have to worry about arrive 20 minutes before the start time to get a good view.

The snack selection beats anything I would find in my hometown theater. At one theater you walk through the snack area and pick up the items you want then just wait in line to pay, a much quicker way of getting the treats you want. They have an area where someone will make you an ice cream sunday, you can pour your own soda or pick up a bottled drink, and the popcorn is already packaged and ready for you to grab a box.
The thing I really find awesome about going to the movies is the LA Premiere viewing option. The tickets are a bit more expensive, but I think you get a really neat experience for your money. I never thought I would spring for the fancy LA Premiere ticket, but the other day found myself shelling out the money for a ticket. And I have to say it was worth it.

Our night started off by entering the theater through a separate entrance, taking a set of stairs leading to a private area above, able to look down at the snack area. We walked up to the bar and placed our snack orders and were then directed to have a seat on one of the couches. When our movie was set to start, an usher approached and leads down the hall to the theater and showed us to our seats.
Our seats were in a completely different section of the theater, set in the back with a lower wall to separate us from the cheaper seats. Why were our seats separated? Because they were Lazy Boys. That’s right, you get to prop your feet up and lean back just like you would if you were home. And you have armrest all to yourself, no sharing here.

Included in your ticket price is a non-alcoholic drink and popcorn that will be delivered to you at your seat. There is also a whole food menu with gourmet pizzas and burgers for to select from and selections of wine, beer, and adult drinks to go with it. And it will all be brought to you either in the first half of the film or second half, your choice. Oh? So your ordered dinner and are worried about eating it in your lap? No worries, they have a little table you can place everything on with a low light to see what you are eating.
It was really cool being able to watch a movie in the theater and have the chance to put my feet up and stretch out a little. Having my food delivered right to me and when I wanted was downright awesome. Is it something I’ll do again? Probably, but only as a special treat and outing for an important movie. Other than that, I am perfectly fine with the usual movie going experience here in New Zealand.

In fact, I think it is one of the things I’ll miss the most when I get back to the States. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I am All Black

It takes a lot to get me excited to watch any sort of sport. I spent my high school years going to basically every football game…and not because I had a crush on one of the players or because I enjoyed watching the game. I was one of those band geeks, so I didn’t have a choice on whether or not I went to the game, it was mandatory. After so many years of watching live sport, I became apathetic when it came to watching any sport on the television.

While here in New Zealand I have seen a lot of rugby on the telly. Notice I’ve said “seen” and not “watched”. I just happen to be in the same room as when these matches are playing and have picked up how the game is played. Knowledge of the game still doesn’t make me want to sit down and follow every play.

My lack of interest in watching the game in no way hindered my interest in actually going to a match, and when I heard the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national team, would be playing in a town near me I actually got excited to see to see them.

Ok, so I was actually excited to see big, fit men do the Haka. But what hot blooded female wouldn’t?

We didn't have seats, but our view wasn't half bad.
Turns out, I missed the opening festivities, including the Haka, but surprisingly this didn’t dampen my excitement at seeing a live match. We were “seated” in the Green Zone, which meant we were standing. I tried to follow the game, but jumping and standing on my tip toes to see anything that was going on down on the pitch meant I missed a lot of what was happening.

And still this didn’t dampen the experience. There I was in the middle of the excitement, the crowd going wild with every point the All Blacks scored, cheering on their home team to a killer victory over Ireland, 60 to nil! Being from Irish heritage, I was conflicted over who I should root for, earlier in the night I saw all the Ireland fans dressed in their green, white, and orange regalia and wished I had my own, they looked like they were having typical Irish fun. But standing in the middle of the Green I figured it would be best for my own protection I kept my those thoughts to myself.

The energy flowing through the stadium as the teams battled on the pitch was electric and infectious and I wasn’t immune to it. When the wave came around, I threw my hands up; when the All Blacks scored, I jumped up and down and waved my flag; when half time came around I pushed my way down closer to the pitch to get a better view. And when Ireland was absolutely creamed at the end of 80 minutes of play, I yelled in joy with the best of them.

This in no way means I will now sit down and watch every match that plays on the TV. In fact, I don’t see myself ever enjoying watching a game unless I am physically in the stadium (I watch the Super Bowl for the commercials). What this does mean is I can’t wait to go to my next rugby match!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Way to Give Way!

The New Zealand people are so nice. They will go out of their way to help you find a pair of boots you know are not in the store. They start up conversations just because they are friendly. They will let you go before them when you are making a right hand turn and they are coming the opposite direction. Yea, that’s how nice New Zealander’s are.

But no matter how nice it may be to have oncoming traffic stop so you can make a turn, it just doesn’t make sense as a driving rule. And so, this past Sunday, that rule has now changed so that it is the same as with the rest of the world. That means cars will no longer be giving way when you are wanting to make a right hand turn and they are driving in the oncoming traffic. Drivers will not be waving you on you turn in front of them at a T intersection.

This has been a much discussed topic in the past few weeks, going so far as to have a tv campaign to make sure everyone knew what the changes were and when they were going to be taking effect.
Top Of The T Before Me
I had heard these changes were going to be happening when I first arrived here in New Zealand. When I had first heard about the rules I thought the person telling me was joking. They weren’t, but I still thought it a strange rule. And since I knew I wasn’t going to be driving that much before the rule change, I decided it wasn’t worth learning (sorry New Zealand). And I didn’t find that it hurt me, or anyone else for that matter…though I’m sure there are drivers out there who think I am incredibly rude for not giving way. I do think of it that I was practicing for when the give way rule would change, helping others become accustomed to this new selfishness they were going to have to practice out on the road. My plan worked, the people are fine.

Though I do think a little kindness has died this past week with the giving way rule change.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oh S---...I'm becoming my grandmother.

Last year my local newspaper discontinued publishing the weekly TV guide in the Sunday paper. Or, to be more accurate, her newspaper provider stopped including it. She was so disappointed in this, how would she know what show was coming on at what time? Never mind there was the digital TV guide through the cable.

Last week the paper with the TV guide didn't come and I found myself in a panic that I wouldn't know when a show was going to come on...never mind they have similar digital TV guides on New Zealand cable. After I realised this wasn't the end of the world, I laughed at myself for having this reaction, one so similar to my grandmother's a year before. There is no need for me to have a paper TV guide in order to know what will be playing. There is no need for me to watch that much TV. So I let it go and didn't worry about it.

But that doesn't mean I couldn't use last weeks as a lose guide for this week.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Things that make me go "Huh?" New Zealand

There are some things that make me take a second look, think a little harder, and plan just make me question why. My first “Huh?” moment in New Zealand came when I was getting a burger and fries for dinner and I wanted to, naturally, have ketchup with my fries. I am used to this being a freebee and a given at just about every eatery I’ve been to, so imagine my surprise when they wanted $1 for a small container of tomato sauce, and not even the good stuff, Heinz. After a couple different fry stops (because Hello my name is Marcie and I’m a fry-aholic) I found this to be the norm when in eatery after eatery I saw signs for ketchup or tomato sauce at various prices. I’m learning to enjoy my fries without the yummy red stuff. And to steal the small Heinz packets where I can.
On the flip side, the Kiwi’s are giving away aioli with just about everything. I had never heard of this mixture and was hesitant in wanting to try it once I found out it was a mayonnaise base. I’m not big on mayo on my…well anything. But I’m cool when it’s mixed with other ingredients or in something. Turns out this is actually a pretty tasty sauce, good on just about anything, so I understand why the Kiwi’s want this as oppose to tomato sauce.  
But I’m also wishing I packed a bottle of Heinz ketchup with me…

Monday, January 2, 2012

Obligatory New Year’s post

I’m not actually going to tell you what I did for the New Year, let’s just say it was a great time and happened in Wellington and leave it at that.
I will tell you that I have some high hopes for the coming year, which I will share.

1.       Create a career plan…or at least think really hard about what I want to be when I grow up.

2.       Have an awesome 30th birthday (I’m super excited about turning 30!).

3.       Jump out of a plane…aka Sky Dive.

4.       Lose the usual 5 pounds everyone swears to lose (though this year I swear to keep this one!).

5.       Finish writing a novel (I’ve come about half way with a few and then fizzle out…not this year!).

Hm…maybe I should put something in about learning a new skill or hobby? Any suggestions?