Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fire and Ice, Plot Progression, and a whole lot more...

WARNING! This post is RIDICULOUSLY LONG! Make sure you have enough time before you read the entire thing! Also, there will be no pictures in this post since it’ll already be hard enough to upload the amount of pictures that I have taken, even without the dial-up connection I’m using. Instead I will later post a post completely composed of just pictures and captions.

Now with that taken care of, let’s begin… and man do I have a lot to say…

Let’s start out with the first thing addressed: Fire and Ice, or rather, hot water and snow. That’s right: I managed to experience the parts of both summer and winter while in neither of the respective seasons! It all started on Friday of 2 weeks ago… I finally managed to get myself prepped up as much as I could for the trip. I got out enough money to pay for lodging and mountain passes. However, I didn’t have ski goggles, a headband/hat, or snow pants. Luckily, as we drove there, we were going to rent skis off of the mountain anyway and we stopped at a nearby rental place. I was first thinking of buying some snow pants when I looked at the price tag…275 NZ$...Z0mg! And like that, I ended up renting a ton of stuff: skis, snow pants, goggles, boots, poles, and unfortunately a helmet as well. I did buy a headband anyway so that when I got back I would have something to remind me of mountain skiing, as well as not have to use Mom’s on every Allderdice ski trip. The reason why I found renting a helmet unfortunate was because it defeated the purpose of having a headband. The reason why I like wearing headbands so much is that they leave my hair open to the air, and when I’m skiing down a slope my hair gets to fly behind me. Obviously it wouldn’t fly as much as on my previous ski trips, since my hair was cut since then, but it would still fly. Anyway, we rented our stuff, left, and went to a backpackers’ lodge. Since I was with AFS people, I was allowed to stay there. I started walking to where our room was, when I was pleasantly surprised…by a room full of climbing walls! W00t! I dropped my stuff off in my room, and we then went to the nearby bar/grill restaurant. We had lunch there, and then for the heck of it, drove up to the mountain to take a look around. We got to the top, and even though it wasn’t really snowy, it still looked good. There were also quite a few good views of the land below. We threw some snowballs around, then went back down part of the way, where we stopped at an info center that basically showed a bunch of stuff relating to volcanoes around the area (since where we were was on Mt. Ruapehu, a volcano), where we looked around at a few things I found only moderately interesting, then we went back to the lodge. The other students that were with me on the trip were 2 people from Germany named Matthias and Henry, a girl from Belgium named…well I think her name was spelled Saara or something, but it’s kinda like saying “Sarah” except with more emphasis on the first a (as well as making it really short-sounding), and barely any if any at all on the second a. The last student was one from I think Switzerland (but I’m not fully sure) named Toby.

When we got back, Henry, Matthias and I paid an extremely small $15 each for use of the climbing wall. We learned how to belay each other, and one of our leaders, Grant, belayed me since Matthias and Henry constantly belayed each other, shouting instructions in German. I started up a few walls, and some of them are much harder than they look. But my favorite part of the whole room was a little area that jutted out…The fun part was on the inside. That area was for bridging/chimneying (whatever you might want to call it). For those who don’t know what that is, chimneying is going up a relatively closed in space with no handholds or footholds whatsoever, only using your own body to slowly shimmy up. It is an exhausting task, but it’s surprisingly fun to go straight up by only pressing yourself between 2 walls. Throughout the trip I did the chimneying 5 times. We had a good dinner with an interesting chocolate/orange cake for dessert. We then went over to the bar to watch rugby (union, not league. In NZ most people refer to union as “rugby” and league as “league”. If you want to know the difference, look it up on Wikipedia. This post is long enough as it is). I can’t remember both teams, I only remember that Waikato was playing (the team we were rooting for, basically our area here in Hamilton). We ended up winning, but I also spent some time playing pool. It was quite fun.

The next day, we went up to the mountain with hopes that we would be able to ski a bit, but there were also some thermal pools a bit of a distance away, and we brought swimming clothes as well in case we couldn’t ski. At the mountain, most of the lifts were closed, but we still had hopes so we stayed there for a while. Grant and I walked up a small (quite small relatively) part of the mountain just to look around, and I had some fun rolling and penguin-style sliding down the hill. Everyone else was just sitting inside drinking hot chocolate and eating chocolate fish (A big Kiwi thing, pink marshmallow shaped like a fish dipped in chocolate). After about an hour, we left to head for the thermal pools. It took a while to get there, and we stopped at a Subway along the way there (mmm…Italian herbs and cheese bread with ham, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and red onions…). We finally got to the place we were looking for. There were private mineral pools and a public freshwater pool. We decided to go into a private one, but we had to only stay in it for 20 minutes max, and we couldn’t dip our heads underwater for risk of getting some disease, I can’t remember what it was… Anyway, as some of the readers may know, I don’t go very well with anything hot. Everyone else got into the pool moderately easily, but I had to edge into it pretty slowly. It felt kinda good, but I did feel a little pressure from the heat on my lungs or chest or something (it just felt kinda weird, not totally uncomfortable). I did notice that the mineral water kinda made your body a little more buoyant. I managed to last the 20 minutes. We had cold showers, and then went to the public pool. It wasn’t as hot as the mineral ones, but it was still pretty warm. I couldn’t even dip my head underwater there for a different reason: When I did, it burned. Remember, I don’t do well with hot things nearly as well as cold. Anyway, afterward we went back to the van and went to New World (kinda like Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh, it’s a food store) and bought some ginger beer, ginger ale, orange juice, and 2 boxes of ice cream dipped in chocolate on a stick, 4 bars peppermint, 4 bars vanilla. I had one of each on the way back as well as some Twisties (spiral-shaped puffy corn snacks extremely similar to Cheetos, except Kiwi). We got back, and I did more climbing along with Henry and Matthias. We had dinner (both nights it was lasagna that people brought from home), and went to the bar again to watch rugby again. This time it was Hawke’s Bay vs. Canterbury, but unfortunately Canterbury won. Also I didn’t get a chance to play pool since there were a ton of people there, and a few guys were at the pool table throughout the entire 90 minutes of the match. But that was the second day, yeah…

Third day! We hear that the ski fields are GOOD!!! Well, good enough to ski on, anyway. W00t! We pack up most of our stuff, planning to leave after we get back, and move out! We get there, and are some of the first on the lifts. And let me tell you, Mt. Ruapehu totally OWNS anything around Pittsburgh, and maybe in the Appalachians too. When I get up the first lift, the sight is majestic. There’s also a few lodges as you head up the lift as well. I get off a lift, to go straight onto a second one. That takes me, Toby, and Saara even higher. The view is awesome, and we begin skiing (and in Saara’s case, snowboarding). We find even more lifts, go up them, ski down, for a long, long time. Eventually we go back to one of the upper lodges (I haven’t fallen yet, and am slightly disappointed) for lunch. We meet Roxane and Grant (who are just sightseeing, since Roxane has a bad ankle [they are the leaders of the trip]) as well as Matthias and Henry. We get some lunch (hot chips, hot wedges, and a Powerade, oh and a chocolate muffin. Healthy, eh? At least I had a nut/yogurt bar), and immediately head back out. We all ski (or snowboard in Saara/Henry’s case) together for an hour or so, but then the other 3 guys leave to go somewhere else, and Saara and I just go around aimlessly. It remained that way for the entire rest of the trip, and we are trying to get back to the van, when we kinda have to take a roundabout route thanks to some lack of speed making it impossible to get over a small ridge. We then start going down in an area where it’s really hard to see (then again, the visibility was quite poor throughout most of the trip), and some place where the lack of ski/snowboard tracks means that barely anyone has been there that day. We go round, and we go on a long trail down the mountain in an unfamiliar area. However, once we get to the bottom, we see a familiar sight…The parking lots at the bottom! We had made it! We also get a bit of a last laugh by calling out to the rest of the people who are looking up at the original lift, trying to see us fly down, and we come up from below them, ftw! Van ride back, nice last view of Ruapehu, we return our ski stuff, and head home.

WARNING AGAIN: This is NOT the end of the post, not even half way through! There are many stories to tell! Prepare to continue relentlessly reading the ridiculously reaching recollection (alliteration hehe…)

I get back, and I find out something quite good: I have a 4th family set! This family is known as the Cooks, but I don’t have a chance to meet them until I get there for the first time. After 2 days of school, that day comes. Jenni (the support coordinator for those who may have forgotten) takes me to the Cooks, but I don’t stay there for long. The Cook’s house is quite a ways from Fairfield, so the Kelly family allowed me to use Sean’s (the student in Thailand at the moment) bike. So I drop off my stuff, then Jenni takes me to the Kelly’s house. I let Cameron know I’m there, I get Sean’s bike from the shed, and start the ride. Unfortunately, some mishaps occur. The main mishap is that the bike seat, being somewhat old, must have loosened a bit, and started to strangely angle when I hit a bump. By angle, I mean that the back of the seat dips down, kinda like the bike seat is a seesaw. That makes the ride a bit longer, and it is a half-hour later by the time I get to the Cooks. And since Fairfield College is near the Kelly’s house, that means I have a half-hour ride to school. I get some quick dinner at the Cook’s house, and we head to a political meeting.

Before I continue, I’ll talk about the Cooks a touch. There are 2 parents, Christina (everyone calls her Chrissy) and David, and they have 4 children: Zoe, who is 18, but is on an AFS exchange in Mexico at the moment; Asher, who is 15 and goes to Hamilton Boys High School; Jonty, who is 13 and also goes to Hamilton Boys; and Bella, who is 11 and goes to Knighton Normal School (strange name of a school, but there you go). They have 4 cats, Caramel, Pompy (I think that’s how it’s spelled), Sassy, and Justin. Sassy likes sleeping on my winter coat when it’s lying on the bed next to mine. The Cooks have a dial-up internet connection, a trampoline, and a ping-pong table (or as they say here, table tennis since ping-pong is actually different than table tennis here). Anyway…

Chrissy, David, Bella and I go to this meeting at the Hamilton Celebrating Age Centre, where the current candidates for a few seats in Parliament are there debating. We come in a bit late, but we aren’t noticed too much. The parties that are there are Labour, National, NZ First, Kiwi, Green, and Republican. The Labour and National parties are the main parties, and there are 2 members of the National party there. People are asking questions, and the topic comes to education. I remember how I managed to get close to passing some of my exams that I didn’t know anything about, and actually passed a few of them, and I come up with a question. Now here I kinda pulled a bit of a political thing myself, not telling the whole truth about my assessments, but I’ll explain that after I tell you my question. A paraphrased version of my question is this: “I’m an exchange student and I’ve noticed how you were talking about giving each child equal chances to get an education. Well, I’ve recently had some assessments that were meant to be similar to what we will receive this year in our NCEA exams, and I managed to get through a good amount of them passing, including some with very good marks, on topics that I know next to nothing about. Now if I can pass an exam on a topic I don’t really know, it’s a bit hard to say whether the standards truly test students on the education they receive. I know you’re trying to help give all kids an equal chance for an education, but do you have any plans for making sure that the standards will fit to show that their education was good, and if not, do you have any plans to improve the quality of education that they receive?” Now 2 things were funny about what happened. 1st, they all assumed I was a university student, making various comments that hinted at that, and 2nd, they all basically dodged the question. Now the political not-full-truth-telling that I did was that I did get through a good amount of assessments…for someone who came into the assessments in the middle of the school year and knew nothing about them. Some people call that lying, but I was at a political meeting where people were attacking each other (verbally obviously), making shady statements, and dodging questions. So basically, I’d just call that politics. It was still quite funny though.

The next day, I started heading off to school on Sean’s bike. I still hadn’t had a chance to fix the seat yet, so the half-hour ride was kinda annoying, having to keep moving the seat back into its original position. However I eventually got to school. At school, I finally found out the results of my English mock exam, which it turns out I got an Achievement with Excellence, the highest grades! W00t! With that I’ve finally decided that I think I’ll want to go into journalism, since I like critiquing things, and many people have said I have complex opinions on certain things. I also seem to have done well in all of my English classes, whether here in NZ or back in the US. I’m thinking now to become a video game critic, since I like things involving electronics and video games. So it seems I’m going to have to learn programming and journalism when I get back. But back to the previous topic…I got an Excellence on my English exam. Yeah…On my bike ride home, I stop at the Kellys, and ask Cameron if he has a wrench, which he does, and he helps fix the seat. The ride back is quite uneventful, and my time at home is normal.

Next morning, ride to school. I’m riding on the ridiculously gravelly and just plain rough roads (not very hilly, but still a pain to ride on, especially since people in cars yield even less to cyclists than in Pittsburgh, and that’s saying something), and I’m about half way there. Suddenly, PSHHH! I feel air on my face and a green slime is coming from my bike tire. Oh, for crying out loud, the road punctured my very old front bike tire! I sit on the sidewalk, with my finger over the hole which is slowly filling with the slime which is apparently some temporary solution. I begin riding again once the air loss has stopped, but then, soon after, KA-CHUNK! To add insult to injury, the bike seat angling problem returns from beyond the grave! I’m really annoyed, but I still have to get to school, so I just head to school. Yeah, normal school day, nothing new, head home, rant about bike. David offers to let me use his bike to get to school, since I desperately need a bike to get to school because by walking it would take like an hour and 20 minutes to get there. The next day, I ride David’s bike, and it’s really good! The brakes are really squeaky, but the tires are good and the seat is comfortable! I ride to school uneventfully, head home uneventfully, lather, rinse, repeat until Friday.

Chrissy and David are going to Lake Taupo (A lake on the way to Ruapehu) to relax for a few days, and AFS-approved friends Liza and Richard come to take over the parenting job. On Friday, Asher and I go to his church’s youth group, and it’s quite fun. We do a bit of bible study, a bit of volleyball, and a Pirates of the Caribbean-style Survivor game set. Most of the games are good, but my favorite was what I call the 5-position game. The leader calls out a phrase and we have to go to the position she describes. There’s “Captain’s Coming” (salute), “Lighthouse” (two people raise and touch hands and say “beep, beep, beep…”), “Man Overboard” (One person goes on hands and knees, another places foot on other’s back and acts like they’re looking over a ship), “Periscope” (Lying on back, foot in the air), and “Lifeboat” (Groups of 3 or 4 get in a line and act like they’re rowing). There are 3 teams, green, blue and red. I’m on the blue team. We kinda fail the 5-position game after a while when some people get a bit confused, but it was fun anyway. We have a worship (not at all traditional, rock band style with clapping and contemporaryish singing), have some cookies, and head home.

Next day, we just stay at home, but at night we play Cranium, which is undoubtedly one of the most fun games ever created. Sunday we go to Hamilton Zoo, see a bunch of animals, and at one point, a Kaka (kind of bird with reddish-brown feathers and a long curved beak) lands on my shoulder. I have my hoodie on and my hood is up, and the Kaka (who was led to us by the zookeeper in a free-flight sanctuary) jumps onto my head, and starts eating a walnut that it was given by the zookeeper. It jumps onto my other shoulder (my left), and jumps to Asher. It then jumps back to me, jumps on my head again, and continues eating the walnut. After wiping its beak on my hood, it flies off with a loud squawk. When it was on my head, Liza took a picture with her phone. I’m hoping I can get that picture to post. We come back after a while, David and Chrissy come back, and we go to the 21st birthday party of someone only David and Chrissy have heard of.

It starts out awkward, but then we find the ping-pong table that they have. Asher, Jonty and I spend most of our time eating or playing ping-pong while everyone else talks, and my feelings of awkwardness cease as I meet some of the people. It was a nice house too, and the family who lived there had their own vineyard. Dum dee dum, we have Labor Day on the last Monday of October, so we have no school, W00t!

Tuesday, I go to school, and I find that we have a new Computing teacher who will actually teach! So now in Computing we are working with Visual BASIC, but most of the people are confused, and I’m confused a tad, because even with hour-long classes, learning a new language is long. On Wednesday night, Asher and I went to Ventures, a kinda Kiwi version of Scouts. We learned 9 different knots/lashings, played bingo for chocolate, and made stretchers and raced them. It was quite fun, and some of the activities they have planned I am really excited for (LaserZone Laser Tag and bowling ftw!!!)

I head home and see that something has happened to Asher. On his way to school (he and Jonty bike as well), he was in the cyclists’ lane, and some woman opens her door right in his face! He flipped, and ended up getting a tooth knocked out and hurting his nose. He still hasn’t gotten a cap for the remaining tooth piece back yet, and now the woman has said it was Asher’s fault. With some talking to the senior constable, Chrissy convinces the police to start an investigation. That’s right, Wright fans, we are going legal! We’ve gotten 4 witnesses whose testimonies equal with Asher’s, and the woman doesn’t even know we’ve got the police investigating yet. Thanks to the witnesses, the woman can’t change her story without cross-examination revealing contradictions. So yeah, that is good. On Wednesday, in the FFC notices, I see that there are auditions taking place on Friday for next year’s musical! I find out info, and since the audition is pressure-less and the song doesn’t matter, I actually managed to come up with a good audition piece. But more on that later, because the audition took place after this…

On Thursday, I got to leave school early so Asher and I could head to a match in the Under-17s Women’s FIFA World Cup! We arrived about 15 minutes through the match of France vs. Paraguay, but France was winning 3-0 already. It was actually quite fun to watch, though the players were overly dramatic (rolling 6 times after getting knocked over? Wow…). France ended up winning 6-2. It turns out there was a Japan/USA game before that, where Japan won 3-2. People are going to kill me for saying this, but I actually am rooting for Japan on this one. Japan has 3 more matches soon, and I’ll be going to the Japan/France one on Sunday, but USA/Paraguay will be interesting too, but I’m not sure if I’m going to see that one or not.

Last Friday (a.k.a. yesterday) I had my audition that I was completely ready for. It was quite easy, since I just sung an excerpt from "Domine Adadjuvandume festina", a very fun song to sing. I managed to do the reading part of the audition really easily as well, and it was quite fun. Right after I had done my singing part however, the woman who was listening immediately said "Why aren't you in the choir?" But I am planning to check out the FFC choir next Tuesday, should be interesting... Anyway, after school, I went to youth group again. This time we played soccer instead of volleyball, and we had small groups in which we had extremely unhealthy but tasty cookies known as Mallo Puffs. But we played the same Survivor style games, but there was a 4th team, yellow, and I managed to win the 5-position game for our team! W00t! I was the only one left from blue about halfway through, but I made it all the way to the end and won! It was quite exhilarating for such a plain youth group game, hehehe…

Finally, earlier today I went to watch Jonty and one of Hamilton Boys’ cricket teams play cricket against another Hamilton Boys team. Cricket is a somewhat confusing sport. You have 2 batsmen, and one is bowled to at a time, depending on what side of the bowling crease they’re on. There are 2 wickets, and the object for the fielding team is to hit those wickets while the batsmen aren’t there. The object for the batsmen is to score runs by running between wickets, basically switching places. Only 2 batsmen, no more, no less, are on the pitch at a time, and there are 11 players on each team. These high school games involve 1 inning, which is 1 round of batting per team. There are things like overs and such, but I could spend another page or 2 talking about cricket, so I’ll just gloss over the rest.

The fielding team needs to get 10 outs to begin batting, and each bowler can only bowl a certain number of times. The ball is quite like a baseball, but harder and fielders don’t have any gloves to catch the ball with. They must use their bare hands. Any ground hit that goes out of bounds counts as 4 runs, and any “Home run” style hit that goes out of bounds without bouncing scores 6 runs, but the batsmen don’t leave to switch with another until they are out. The batsmen keep their bats with them and also wear padding, unlike in baseball. Why the game’s called cricket, I don’t know and neither does anyone I spoke to. It’s a mysterious game, and it’s also at most moderately interesting to watch, and games last a long long time (4 hours at least for local games, international test matches are always 5 days).

So, you have managed to reach the end of the post. I applaud you for your patience in reading this really long post, but just to make sure, if you leave a comment, add an asterisk or other unusual symbol to the beginning of the comment to prove to the world that you had the patience to read through this. It’s not like I don’t expect you guys to read the whole thing, it’s just that I’d like to know people are reading all of the adventures that I’ve had while I am here. Once again, I applaud you for your patience, and thank you for reading this post.

A little bit of funny things about this post, I started out typing it in Microsoft Word, and it reached 7 pages, and is over 4,500 words! Take that, usual English exam essay requirements! And some Allderdice students think that a 700-word essay is long, ha!


mom said...

*Read the whole post, Andy (and will go through it another time or two). What fun to read of your experiences, thoughts and information about New Zealand! I give you credit for your tenacity around the family changes, bike issues, cricket-watching (sounds like watching paint dry :-)...), and blog-posting! Interesting to hear your thoughts about journalism; I believe you can do anything you choose. More later; I'm off to meet a study participant at Trader Joe's (the "low sodium tour" :-)...). Thanks again for an enjoyable post; it's almost like being with you (just almost!). Love you, Mom

j.scherch said...

Hey, I'm a journalism major too!

Have you given any thought to possible j-school visits? Such as the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism... which I attend?

Sounds like you're having fun, I wish I could go skiing.

- J

Kiersten said...

* Fun blog; wish I was there with you though. Doing some interesting things myself actually... I am in Robotics club, NHS, working, doing schoolwork, doing a job... Just keeping busy. Anyways you seem to have gotten having fun down to a science, so keep practicing...Hahahaha


scott said...

* yikes mate, next time i might consider breaking it into days! yuk....writing and video game critic eh? if you have an opportunity to rent videos, check out a flick called 'dangerous games'. may have to wait til you're back in the states. keep goin on ! scott

Grandpa said...

Hi Andy,

This is your Grandpa attempting once more to get a post to you. I enjoyed your verbosity and vivid description of your NZ experiences on Nov. 1. Sounds like you're are "involved" in a who;e shmear of things and it is enjoyable for the most part. It's great that you have the opportunity to meet people from different countries.

Continue to enjoy !

Love, Gramdpa

Will Nichols said...

Hey Andy, Get on steam... and I'm bored... Now on to important things!
Im getting a new laptop (finally) and your're not going to believe this but I'm putting Linux Fedora on it. Mostly because it looks good, and also because of Crossover Games. Crossover is an app that Colin found that allows you to play steam on Mac and Linux. If you've read my grad project blog then you know whats up with that, if not read it (or else! ^.^ ). So yeah Colin is at my house a lot more, and Max to. We want you back here because we will be able to do a 4 person LAN at my house soon.
See you

Ellie said...

* Andy you sound like you are having a great time! I haven't really talked to you since you left but i'm glad that things are going well.

If you read my blog you know what's going on in life here in Italy so I guess I don't have to update you here haha.

Glad you're doing well! Talk to you soon I hope.
- Ellie

Will Nichols said...

Hi im postiong again because noone did in a while, so something interisting, the democrats are being fascists. They want to re enstate the "Fairness Doctrine" which would prevent conservitive public radio from being aired completely. Hmmm... that sounds odly like a certian communist *cough* Stalin *cough* silencing political opponents. but yeah Obama won (big suprise) if you didn't know.

Kiersten said...

have a happy thanksgiving today!!