Saturday, September 5, 2009

School of Rock(ing my educational boat)

So, school has now started here, and after 1 1/2 days, I've already been messed up quite a bit. But first, I might as well have a short bit on my last days of summer.

Well, more like the last month. Anyway, first I went on a week-long vacation with my friend's family at a place called Lake Pymatuning, where I got to do a good bit of swimming, a bit of canoeing, and a lot of nighttime video gaming (yeah, typical me, right?). The best bit about the whole vacation, though, was that my friends and I (more my friends than me) created a raft completely out of 4 foam noodles and black duct tape. What was good about it is that even though it was quite heavy due to all the duct tape, it could actually support one person! It would sink in the water a little bit, but it would be usable as a raft to keep yourself from tiring out treading water, making it a success.

I then came back and went to a moderately new restaurant here in Pittsburgh called Hokkaido, on urging of my friend. I went (with his family, again) to the place, and it's a really large buffet with sushi, hibachi-style stir-fry materials, a nice selection of Chinese food, and a good variety of rice, vegetables, and desserts. For those of you that don't know, Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan (just a tiny fun fact about the name). As what most likely is pretty obvious due to my liking of Japanese food (and really all the foods above that I just named), I love the place.

After that I returned to the homes of my parents, gave some gifts that I got in NZ to people in the US (I still have some to give out, trying to meet up with people can be difficult), and got used to my surroundings of Pittsburgh again. I spent most of the rest of the time biking around, going to some of my favorite shops like a place called Frick Park Market, until the day I finally had my hair cut. I still am not 100% used to this new style, hehehe...ANYWAY! The day after the trip to the salon, I got my driver's permit. For those of you NZ readers, the Pennsylvania Learner's Permit is similar to the NZ Learner's Licence. I'm only allowed to drive if there is a fully licensed driver in the front passenger seat, and I have restrictions on when I can drive.

So, that's all the summer things taken care of, now I get to talk about SCHOOL. Now, I could just say what my schedule is, explain all of the information about CAS, PSP, and such, or I could just say that right now I'm confused. I think I'll go with the latter. I had a half day on Thursday where I got to see my first few classes, but I truly started, 7:30 start and all, on Friday.

Now, this one single school day had so many contradictions, for a moment there, I thought I was going to collapse. First, it turns out the school had put me in the WRONG GRADE. Instead of being a senior in 12th grade like I was supposed to, the school (due to them not having processed the Fairfield transcript yet) decided that I didn't take a year of school in the year I was gone, and shoved me into 11th grade. I've pointed out numerous times that I didn't want to have to repeat a year, but luckily for me, this will be taken care of extremely quickly. Second, I'm no longer in the most advanced chorus class. Why is this so much of a problem? Well, I've been in the most advanced class since freshman year, and I don't think I should be moved down because of a year in a different country. It turns out that it leads to the third contradiction, which is Chemistry. Before I'll explain this one, I'll talk about how it leads to it. This will be a bit complicated...

Chorus 4 (the most advanced) takes place 2nd period in the day. Currently, I have Calculus AB AP in 2nd period. That class takes place both at 2nd and at 7th period. However, 7th period is the second period for Chemistry 2 AP, as those science classes need 2 periods (on certain days we have labs in the second period). So I could just simply switch around the chemistry, right? WRONG. The other placement for Chemistry 2 is...2nd and 3rd period, which would clash with Chorus 4.

Thinking about that predicament brings me to my third contradiction: Whether Chemistry 2 is really the class I want to take or not. As I want to go into computer science (eventually leading into video game design), it turns out that physics may be more useful for that than chemistry. However, that leads to its own set of problems. First, I don't know whether the physics periods will cause extreme clashes with my other subjects, as I currently don't know when those classes take place. Second, even though I feel like I learned a good amount of physics in New Zealand, I don't know if the standards are similar between NZ and the US. So I may end up wanting to take Physics 1 instead of Physics 2, but (third problem) my transcript did count for Physics, and taking Physics 1 may not count as taking a 4th science, which I may need to graduate. Yet, if the standards are drastically different, Physics 2 may be too difficult for me to handle.

So now I'm on to the fourth problem, and that is a moderately big one: Languages. I've wanted to learn Japanese for about 11 years, and that dream was cut short when my Japanese teacher at my middle school suddenly got married and moved to Guam (US territory east-southeast of Japan). When I first entered my current high school, they didn't have Japanese. However, they started the Japanese program the year I was in New Zealand. So for my first two years, I took Spanish because that was the only language my middle school had, and I knew more about it than say, French or German. Now that I'm back, I have access to a Japanese program, but as I remember next to none of the Japanese I took at my old school, I would have to go into Japanese 1. I've also started looking at colleges that have Japanese-related things as classes (not as a major, either as a minor or just as normal classes), but I then remembered hearing that to take classes like that in college (I don't know if they meant as a major, or minor, or just classes, or whatnot. This mainly occurred to me as I've been writing), you need 3 years of that language. That means that even if I was in the US in 11th grade when Japanese started, I still wouldn't be able to go into it, possibly. Yet, that's still not the only problem here. Right now, I'm in Spanish 5. I feel that I really don't like Spanish nearly as much as I like Japanese, and I've wanted to take Japanese for so long, so it seems like it'd be an easy choice to make, especially since there would be no class-clashing problems. However, I'm worried about the impression that I make if I go from a class of level 5 to a class of level 1. This is mainly my ridiculous anxiety striking here, but I don't want to appear as someone who just wants to go to a different class because the different class is a lower level, therefore being much easier. Though I'm most likely simply overthinking that.

Finally, we arrive at the final problem. This one encompasses all of the others, and asks, "Am I just going crazy because this is my first time back at this tough school in more than a year?". All of the problems I've thought about all have this question, and with all of the changes I want to make, I am also being held back by this question. Even the problems that seem clear cut have this question arising (I'm quite sure that chemistry is not used in computer programming, yet I still hesitate). And, of course, this is all due to my habit of second-guessing everything, and being a bigger worrywart than Neville Longbottom in the first Harry Potter book. So, naturally, I am trying to find every possible problem with every possible path for me to take, leaving me in the single state that I said at the beginning of this post, which is a state of confusion.

So, that's the end of this post. For those of you in the US, I'll see you guys around. But for my friends in NZ, thanks for continuing to read my annoyingly long posts. And for those NZ friends of mine who are in school right now, whether you're Kiwi, Australian, Japanese, South African, British, German, and just about every nationality that I've met in NZ, I hope you're enjoying, have enjoyed, or will enjoy your mock exams, as I think those are coming up (or have already happened, or are happening). So yeah, thanks for reading, everyone!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Does the Path End Here?

So now that I'm back and all, I will have various other posts relating to New Zealand. But in the midst of those, I decided that I would write about my time here in the US for a good bit for my Kiwi friends. Of course, I have no problem with US people reading this, as it might give them a new view of how my life is. As this is like a second pilot, I won't write a whole lot, but at least I can write a bit.

Anyway, I might as well go over things from my flight back to the US for this post. I had a total of 3 flights: Auckland-LA, LA-Chicago, Chicago-Pittsburgh. On my way to the airport I had a nice talk with my Jackman parents about various things from the US "Cash for Clunkers" program to ideas for upcoming blog posts (Especially "The New Zealand Post of Lists"). After a nice bit of conversation, we finally got to the airport, where I met up with Cory, the other student from the US. I also had a nice bowl of ramen from the same-named restaurant as I had before the South Island trip, and I had the same ramen: Miso ramen with beef. Very tasty, but also very thirst-causing. Good thing I had my Kathmandu camelback that still had some water in it, which helped a great deal. I eventually went through all the security and got to the gate, and after a lot of thinking about my time in NZ, I got on the plane. The plane ride was great. Everything was nearly exactly the same as my flight to NZ, except about 1/3 the way through the flight, all of the on-demand stuff stopped working. Luckily I stiill had the radio working for a while, which allowed me to listen to a variety of Japanese music in the genre that to me sounded the most like pop. As it wasn't true radio the songs repeated after a while, but I loved listening to it because I like tons of Japanese things. The flight still had those great socks that you put over your own feet after you take your shoes off, making the ride very comfortable, and once again I quite liked the food they served. The flight lasted around 13 hours and 30 minutes, perhaps a bit longer, until I arrived in LA. There I parted from Cory as we went through customs, and I waited for my baggage to arrive. My bags took a while to arrive, but I eventually got them, put them on a cart (they were quite heavy, maybe close to 50 lbs (20 kgs or so) each), and headed for one of the customs officers. I expected to have my bags put through the scanners, but apparently that wasn't necessary, though I had declared all of the things I had brought back that were NZ things (namely some greenstone jewellery, and possum-merino gloves, among other normal shirts and such).

I then got back to the arrivals area of the LAX airport, and headed over to Terminal 1, where I needed to go. It was quite a long walk, but everything worked out well...until I saw the line at the ticketing area. that line was the longest line I have ever seen. There were quite a few zig-zag areas of the line that allow it to have more people...and they were completely full, with the line going out along the wall and out the door of the terminal. Thinking "oh boy, this is gonna take a LONG time", I got in the back. When I got to the truly marked queue, there was a place where it split into a place for people who had e-tickets (which was not very full at all, maybe 15 people in line), and an area for people who needed to buy tickets (full to the brim). I told them I had an e-ticket, but they forced me into the line for the people who needed to buy tickets. I was quite frustrated, especially when I saw people who were also going straight into the other line. I soon found out that the only reason I was in that line was because I had a cart for my luggage. I complained to them a bit, told them I'd give them my cart if I could go in that other line, and carried my heavy baggage to where I thought I'd be able to go. Yet, one of the workers saw that I had no idea not having a cart would save me time, and, knowing that I basically wasted a moderate bit of my time only due to lack of knowledge, jumped me straight through to a ticketing officer to check my baggage. That was more than I had expected, and I was very happy for it too. I then went to security, and with a few small kinks (like the guy having to check my passport for a long time due to the fact that I had bug spray on it from an exploding bottle of said spray in Coromandel), I finally got through to the gate. Unfortunately, I had to kill 3 hours. To add insult to injury, my flight was delayed half an hour, which made me worry about whether I'd get to my connecting flight on time. Not wanting to think about it too much, I went to McDonalds and bought a McGriddles (I had exchanged most of my NZ currency back to US, but I kept every possible denomination at or below a 20$ bill), which was something that they did NOT have in NZ. I knew it was unbelievably unhealthy, but it still tasted great, at least for something from McDonalds. I then read through the 3 hours to my flight.

The plane I was on for that flight had a very strange smell to it, and I was really tired (I hadn't slept on the Auckland-LA flight as I liked the features they had on the plane). That smell, however, made me feel a bit sick, and it was very hard to try to fall asleep. Instead, I was stuck in a state of moderate subconscious, where I could feel myself recuperating a bit, but not a whole lot, but time also went by more quickly. After what seemed like an age of waiting, we landed in Chicago at the Midway airport.

Luckily for me, my next flight was at the gate right next to mine, and I only needed to wait a half-hour. I'm glad I didn't have to go farther, because the Midway airport was confusing. I then got on my flight to Pittsburgh. At that time I was not tired whatsoever (the subconscious state on the LA-Chicago flight helped more than I thought), and I had a good conversation with the guy in the seat next to me. We ended up talking for most of the flight, and we also talked for a while after the flight ended and I was walking to baggage claim. For a joke, I decided to try to get my hair in front of my face as much as possible so my parents wouldn't recognize me. I saw them a bit before they noticed me, and the effect was fun enough. After getting my stuff, we headed home.

That's all I'll write for now. I plan to continue this for a good while, especially because I think my Kiwi friends might find it interesting to hear about school here as I'm in it, instead of me just talking from memory. Thanks for your continued reading!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The New Zealand Post of Lists

So, now that my exchange is over, it's time to point out what I believe were the top bits in various categories.

Top 5 foods I tried for the first time in NZ:
1. Pavlova (light, fluffy sugar, usually combined with sliced kiwifruit or other fruit)
2. Weet-Bix (small bricks of grain and wheat + milk and a sprinkling of sugar = aweesome breakfast)
3. Goody Goody Gum Drops flavor ice cream (green bubble-gum flavored ice cream with gumdrops throughout, extremely tasty)
4. Steak and Cheese Pie (one of the unhealthiest things in existence, but very good savory flavors)
5. Hokey Pokey (sort of candy-ish substance that's hard and crunchy, the flavor is very hard to describe. Put in many things, from ice cream to cookies)

Top 5 Kiwi Statements/words:
1. *insert adjective here* as (most commonly Sweet As, basically saying whatever the adjective is very strong of that. Sweet as is also used as saying everything's ok)
2. Kia Ora (standard Maori greeting said by a whole ton of people in NZ, from schoolchildren to news anchors)
3. She'll be right (classic Kiwi, not worried, everything'll be fine)
4. Fair Enough (I know that's not really a kiwi statement, but I heard Kiwis say it a whole lot more than anyone I know in the US)
5. Keen (once again, I've found it used much more commonly in NZ, statement meaning "in the mood to)

Top 5 foods that are present in the US, but different in taste:
1. Peanut Butter (in NZ there's much more of a pure peanut flavor, not sweet at all, unlike the US)
2. Chocolate (Due to there being Cadbury and Whittaker's chocolate, it's much creamier in the case of Cadbury, and much more flavorful in the case of Whittaker's)
3. Honey (not as sweet, but it really works well with chai tea. Not only that, but there's more varieties of it here, the most well-known being Manuka)
4. Milk (I'm not sure how to describe how the flavor is different, but it's quite noticable when you compare them. And I'm comparing 2 of the same type here [like skim vs. skim, etc]. Perhaps that's why milk isn't used as a beverage nearly as often?)
5. Sausages (NZ barbecued sausages are freakin' awesome! Though, it's much less common to see a spicy sausage, unlike the US)

Top 5 Sports I tried for the first time in NZ:
1. Cricket (confusing to learn, scary to bowl, painful to field, yet really fun, and batting is quite interesting, especially since I always forget not to drop the bat after I hit, hehehe...)
2. Orienteering (who knew running up and down endless hills with a map just to punch a card could be so fun?)
3. Rugby (much more fluid and more strategic than Am. Football, you need a lot of endurance to play for a long time, both cardiovascular and pain)
4. Paintball (only did it once, on my very first day in NZ, but I had a whole lot of fun, especially seeing how hilarious it was to pop out from cover and shoot at someone who was trying to come towards you [while they're far enough away, of course]. Also, good practice to try to learn a little ballistics)
5. Athletics (Can't say I liked it a whole lot, but I didn't play a whole lot of sports in NZ. Even though I fail miserably at the high jump, it's quite fun anyway, and my favorite non-"hurl-object-as-far-as-you-can" event)

Top 5 Places that I went to in NZ:
1. Queenstown (the unbelievably touristy area in NZ, it has tons of different activities like luging, bike riding, bungy jumping, skydiving, etc... AND it still has some nice Japanese food, hehehe...)
2. Milford Sound (I don't usually call land beautiful, but this is one of the few places where I would use that word)
3. Lake Taupo and the nearby mountains (Tennis, Tongariro Crossing, Skiing, Swimming, Great meat pies. 'Nuff said.)
4. Christchurch (A nice bustling city with a grand cathedral in the middle of it, as well as being near the ocean)
5. Hamilton (Had to put the place I lived on this, and it's not too big, so you don't need to worry about taking a long time to get to places. Right on the Waikato River too, so great place to kayak, and the Hamilton Gardens are a good place to go too. Much more I can say, but I don't need to)

Top 5 Kiwi Activities:
1. Bungy Jumping (expensive, but the greatest rush you'll ever have in my opinion)
2. Going to the Beach (whether the sand is black or white, I like trying to ride waves on either side of the island country)
3. Tramping (I'm not the biggest fan of it, and I've never done a multi-day one, but I do like the Tongariro Crossing and other mountain walks)
4. Lazing About (Almost ALWAYS time for some of this, and it's nice sometimes to spend a day doing nothing but reading and such)
5. Pickup Cricket/Rugby/Soccer (Common especially for teens wherever you are, nice thing to do at random times)

Top 5 things NOT to expect to find much of in NZ:
1. Amusement Parks (There's only one, which is Rainbow's End near Auckland. It also has only one roller coaster, and it isn't that impressive)
2. Busy Schedules (Kiwis are commonly laid-back, even if there is a packed schedule, people don't often worry about it)
3. Root Beer, Grape Jelly, Reese's Candy of any kind (Some are rare, some don't exist at all)
4. Flat Plains (There are some, but there are quite a few rolling hills, and a ton of mountains around. And if they're flat, they're commonly covered with trees)
5. Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Wizards (The Lord of the Rings was just a movie based on a book. Filmed in New Zealand, yes, but still a movie.)

There are many more lists I can make, and I will make more. But as I have a terrible memory and I can't always come up with good lists on the spot, I'll make more as more come to me, but let you read these as they are now.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Someone find the Ocarina of Time...

Four hundred ninety-five thousand
Three hundred minutes,
Four hundred ninety-five thousand
Moments so strange

Four hundred ninety-five thousand
Three hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure an exchange?

In school days, in beach trips, in hair length
In mountain crossings,
In meters, in petrol, in tramps, tours, or sights

In four hundred ninety-five thousand
three hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love? How about love?
How about love? Measure in love

Families with love
Families with love

Four hundred ninety-five thousand
Three hundred minutes
Four hundred ninety-five thousand
Places to stay,

Four hundred ninety-five thousand
Three hundred minutes
How do you measure the life
Of a student who’s away?

In days they revelled
Or in times that they cried
In lies they dispelled
Or the things that they pride

It's time now to sing out
Tho' the story never ends
Let's celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends

Remember the love
(Oh you got to, got to)
Remember the love
(Remember the love)
Families with love
(Measure measure your life in love)
Families with love
Families with love

Yep, that's a mutilated song for you. As I sit here in my final full day, I look back on what things I've done while I've been here. While at first it seems like things have only been going on for maybe a few weeks, after looking back, I've actually done quite a bit of stuff. From working at the Rally New Zealand to giving an extremely unpopular speech to my school peers, I've done many different things. I've made friends, made mistakes, attended events, dispelled U.S. misconceptions, and have seen a huge variety of different people. I consider myself lucky that I got to be with 5 different families, who all seem to have different styles of life. I've had some nice laid-back time with the Jackmans and Gibsons, combined with more active and outdoorsy lifestyles of the Kellys and Cooks, and I've always had a moment's reprieve with the Taylors before going into a new style of living. So, I'm betting many people will wonder if I've changed or not. Personally, I don't know. I leave the final decision of whether I've changed or not to you, my readers (and you non-readers too) who haven't truly seen me in person (Skype doesn't count, hehehe) since I've left.

I've gotten my trusty school transcript (4 copies, actually), my NCEA exams, and my online math backing me up so I don't have to repeat a school year. I've got my flights all arranged, and I'm excited to spend that 18 hours or so of time in the air. And when I arrive back, I have no doubt I'll find unexpected changes to people and places back home. Apparently my school now has a new principal (yet again), my old school has new buildings that would be fun to visit, and I've got family and friends to catch up with (not like anyone expected anything different). I'm also looking forward to going back into normal things that I do back home, like fencing and actually challenging schoolwork (yes, I'm actually looking forward to that). Of course, I've still got a good month to fully return to the U.S. style before school starts, so I have a good bit of time to fully adjust.

I'd like to thank all of you people who have read my blog from any point in time, whether from your own accord or my constant persuasion. I'd also like to thank the AFS Waikato South chapter for hosting me and working to make sure I didn't change cities in the middle of my exchange. And even though they already know this, I would also like to greatly thank my families that I've been with while I've been here. Without host families, exchanges aren't possible. No matter how good the program, everyone always needs loving families to stay with, to treat you as their own child or sibling, and to help you live in a foreign environment. It's these families that make exchange programs the experiences that they are. If you were in a hotel, you'd be living like a home country citizen in a foreign country, and you would miss out on more than half of the things that make an exchange like this so memorable. So thank you, my 5 families in New Zealand, for making my exchange the experience that it was.

Yet, even though I'm heading back, the path for me, the ambassador, is still not over. Re-entry can be just as hard as first arrival, but I think that with the experience I have behind me, I'll have the ability to handle it quite well. I'll be seeing many of you readers once again pretty soon, probably wishing something along the lines of...

"Good morning! But in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!" -The Truman Show

P.S. I'll still post a while after I arrive back, with various things like pictures and my feelings as I re-adjust to U.S. life.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Contradicting Cases Concerning Conclusions

Sorry I haven't posted in a long time, but there hasn't been any single big thing to merit a post so far. But as I'm now in my final month, I believe now is a good time. But before I get to the title topic, I need to just talk about the entire second term at Fairfield College. Luckily, it's not like a ton happened.

If I had to sum up the main points of term 2 in an annoyingly simple poem or whatnot, it'd be this...

Speeches are fun
while camp's expensive,
so many days off
make me apprehensive.

Those are most of the points of the things that happened at Fairfield this past term. But because I'm evil, I won't even cover those yet! Instead, I'll go chronologically. Anyway, the beginning of term started with me starting to think about getting my final grade sheets together, as well as meeting a few other exchange students (Japanese, w00t!). However, those thoughts were quickly shoved aside as the entire swine flu (ahem, sorry, now I mean H1N1) fiasco started. For those of you that don't know how big New Zealand's role was, it was important because some students at Rangitoto College, a school that was nowhere near Hamilton, had come back from Mexico, and they had this particular strain of influenza. Soon afterward, a primary school nearby had to close for a week on advice of the Ministry of Health, because a moderate amount of their students had gotten the virus. Rumors were flying frantically around Fairfield about whether we'd be closed as well, but we never did. Our teachers set plans for what would happen IF we had to close, students always joked that whenever another student was absent, that they had swine flu, and classes sometimes got eaten up just talking about the virus and its progress around the world. However, it eventually died down, just as any other thing would, even though it was constantly reported on the news.

Now I'll come to one of the four points I mentioned: No school days. I'd say half of the weeks in the term had a day off at one point or another, and on one week, I actually only had 2 days of school. That was due to having no school on Monday, then I personally didn't have school as I went to the Waikato University Law Student for a Day program. I actually found most aspects of the tour quite interesting, and that's part of the reason why over this term break I'm planning to go watch some random trial. I also got a free shirt (jeez, got one at Global Game Jam seems that every time there's an event at Waikato University that I attend, I seem to get a free shirt), free chocolate, and a bunch of random souvenirs, including one faulty flash drive that for some reason could only hold 8 MB, and didn't even work on any computer that I tested it on. Anyway, I then had school on Wednesday and Thursday, but on Thursday a combination of burst water pipes and a drug bust made Fairfield close for Friday. Probably one of the luckiest (or in some ways, unluckiest) combination of events in one school week that I've ever had. The later weeks also had teacher-only days, so we kept having constant 3-day weekends. Now, while that's good in terms of not having to do schoolwork (Not like I ever get much here), it does cause problems for me because I'm already worried about whether these classes will actually help me in school back in the US. All of these no-school days slowly eat away at the time I have here to learn.

Now, I'll go to the next chronological point: That line "while camp's expensive," has to do with my PHD class. If you remember from a previous post, that was the class where I did kayaking. Well, in the second term, we no longer got to do that as it was getting colder, and we had to move to a new topic anyway. We started out with a short unit on sports and its effect on society, but we then quickly moved into risk management. The highlight (for most of the class, AKA mainly just not me) of the unit was the fact that there was a camp near the end of the term that students who wanted the credits for the unit would need to attend as well as take a normal written test to show that they knew good risk management skills. I wouldn't have minded going on camp (as they had rapelling, rock climbing, and kayaking), if it wasn't for 2 things: 1, it would have cost me a good 115 NZ$ if I remember correctly. At this time, ever since my south island trip I've been trying to be as frugal as possible, and that camp would not be good for my wallet. 2, the camp took place during the school week (Wednesday to Friday), so I would miss days in classes, which could be crucial to understanding certain topics. With both of these reasons at my disposal, as well as the knowledge that PHD was probably the only class that wouldn't transfer in any helpful way, I decided not to go on camp. The reasons were good for all parties, and everything worked out fine...if it wasn't for the fact that the week that they went on camp was the week I had 2 days at school, so instead of getting 2 extra learning days, I only had one extra day in my classes (they left in the afternoon after school, so we would still have class on Wednesday). Though, according to some of my friends, the camp was a moderate disaster anyway, and the place that they went to I had already gone to with the Cooks, so I wasn't too worried about it.

Next point! Speeches! The speeches were no doubt my favorite part of term 2. Our English classes required us to give a speech to the rest of our class, trying to persuade the class in one direction on a topic of our choice. Now, I had a lot of fun with this, as did my best friend here, as we thought our topics that we picked were absolutely hilarious (to us, anyway). My friend's topic was why people should hate him (which another one of my friends said "shouldn't be too hard to pull off", as my friends and I weren't exactly the most popular students at Fairfield), and my topic was "Why Fairfield College needs Improvements in Homework". Now, you may be wondering, why did I choose this topic of all things? I had a couple of reasons. First, I thought it would be hilarious to infuriate nearly my entire English class against me (as many didn't like me due to my active class participation), but I also believed that the improvements that I had proposed would actually help Fairfield students in the long run. I had the idea when I was thinking about Fairfield's homework compared to Allderdice's (which, if you remember, is like 15 minutes at Fairfield, while having 3 hours or so at Allderdice). I first was joking about it to my friends, but I ended up sticking with it as I actually could form quite a good argument. Unfortunately, our time for giving our speeches kept getting delayed due to all of the no school days, so it took an age and a half before I could finally deliver my speech. I had a lot of fun saying it, even though it was 7 minutes long, and I ended up only being like 1 tiny thing off of an Excellence grade, which would have been the only one in the class I believe. Either way, it turns out that I'm in the SPEECH FINALS! The speech finals are where the 2 or 3 best speech-givers in each 12ENG class all give their speeches to the ENTIRE YEAR 12 POPULATION. Basically, I get to say my unpopular speech to over 200 different students, some who know me well, others who have never heard of me. Some would call it proverbial suicide, I just call it fun. There's also a chance that my friend's speech (which, like mine, got Merit) may be in the finals as well, and that would be really fun to listen to as well (he loves saying his speech, as it's absolutely hilarious and annoying). So, the speech finals I'm hoping will take place before I leave Fairfield.

Which leads me into my title topic, the contradicting cases concerning conclusions. What does this annoying alliterative sentence mean? Well, my mind's split into two sides: One that is excited for me to get back home, another that is quite apprehensive about leaving. Many would call that normal, but I'm posting about it anyway to share my personal thoughts. First, from the side that is excited: The main aspects that are good about me coming back home is that I can finally actually see many of my friends and family once again. While I've had more friends here in NZ that read the blog than friends back in the US (Friends, not family, I know my family's reading), I'm pretty sure that most of them haven't forgotten that I exist. I've been keeping in contact with some of my closest friends, and it'd be great to actually see them again. I also have actually found that I appreciate Allderdice's much stricter system in school, because I've found that most aspects of Fairfield (basically everything except for the necessity to go outside to move between classes) have made my academic ability worse. The classes here are much easier even though my age would have put me in them, my procrastination has been getting worse and worse (something tells me my parents are going to read me the riot act on how I am the one who controls that =P, yeah I know but it's hard to motivate myself when the work does nothing to help me and is forgotten by everyone, including the teachers), there is little discipline in many of my classes, and I really find that having 2 lunches actually isn't really necessary. I'd also just like to see my pets again too, not just my friends and family, hehehe...

Now for the apprehensive side: The school here has not been very helpful on many fronts for my education, and I'm in the middle of an online math class to avoid repeating 11th grade. The system for grades here is also drastically different, as the only real grades that seem to exist here are those for NCEA internal and external assessments. While I have not had problems on most of the internals, if you remember, I took the external assessments after only being here for 4 months. I couldn't do most of the assessments, and I failed half of them. Will my university hopes be destroyed because of the school change on my exchange? Due to my own academic problems at home I already was in a somewhat precarious situation (at least I think so), and having unfair time for assessment preparation is not helpful when I'm trying to get the 11th grade year equivalent. I don't want this exchange to turn into a university disaster. Also, many things that have changed about me I most likely won't notice. I don't know how I'll have changed in the eyes of others, but that is probably just me being pessimistic, as I don't think any changes will have been bad.

Those sides of me have been arguing over the past week or so, and they'll continue over this 2-week term break and the last 2 weeks of Fairfield that I have. How I'll feel when the final day comes, I don't know.

That's the end of the official post, but just as a little extra, you might be interested in what improvements to Fairfield's homework I outlined in my speech. For those of you that actually like reading the blog, feel free to read on. If you're only reading this post because I or someone else actually managed to persuade you to read a post (which is extremely unlikely), feel free to stop now.

There were 3 improvements to Fairfield's homework that were outlined in my speech.

First, that there needs to be a bit more of it. Why? Homework is a symbol of many jobs in the world, as quite a few have some sort of deadline for some sort of work that you can't do during your normal hours. Homework can also help many people understand a topic better, and for those who are going to a university, more homework more often can allow you to be better prepared for the upcoming workload that universities will no doubt have.

Second, it needs to be more important to people's grades. There's no point having homework if no one will do it, and if not doing homework leads to not getting credits, that will definitely motivate many people (not all, but many) to do their work. Also, later in life, if you decide not to do the work at your jobs, then you'll most likely get fired. Having more motivation in school will make you more motivated when you leave.

Third, the homework itself needs to be of better quality. This can be done in 2 ways (not options, but both need to be implemented): First, tie the work in to the notes. Many students at Fairfield seem to have different times for doing homework and studying notes FOR THE SAME CLASS. That makes no sense, as homework should reinforce the notes. Some students even need to learn new things in their work, which is also illogical. Second, the work needs to cover all topics covered in class. If multiple topics were covered in class, but only one topic was covered in the homework, the other topics will be wiped out of the mind like dry erase marker off of a whiteboard. If only one topic was covered, make the work shorter to cut down on the mindless tedium while keeping the helpful repetition. These would cut down on total time that students spend doing work.

Well, those are the improvements that I put in my speech. Now, one last thing on a much more serious note.

Even though I'll be doing this as well on my last post, I'd like to thank all of you readers for actually reading the things that I have written. But this note isn't for those people, it's for the ones who don't. I made this blog so my friends could see what an exchange was like, and so they could know what I've been doing. But it seems that over these past 10-11 months, most of my friends haven't even bothered looking at a single sentence of what I've written. I know my posts aren't that interesting in some places, but I put hours of time into writing these. Lack of time is an excuse that is only valid for one person. The rest have no excuse whatsoever. Even if they just read a few sentences, then that's fine. But so many people have treated my writing similar to that of some types of school reading: Something not to be read, but to get a small summary from someone who actually bothered to look through it. But in this case, there are so few sources of that information that people just don't know anything. I know that people shouldn't care about everything that happens to me, but it has been really hurting to see that many of the people I consider friends couldn't even spend a second reading about what has happened with me here. I've managed to speak a little with some of my friends, and they've said often that they have nothing to do. Yet even with nothing to do, they can't bother to read even a small bit of a single post. As I said earlier in the post, I have more friends in NZ than I have in the US who are reading my blog. Family doesn't count, I know that my family reads my blog often, and I'm happy for that. But I truly have very very few friends back in the US who will actually read about my time here. Because of that, I have refused to talk about my time here to anyone who hasn't read the blog, with a single exception for which the excuse of little time actually fits. I actually probably will not talk about it even when I get back until they read something at least.

That's all from me now. That last bit some might call emo or something, but that's just truly how I feel. Thanks for those who are actually reading.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Superb Southern Sabbatical

Ok, this post is my longest yet. Get ready...

I've just returned from my excursion to the South Island! That trip was awesome! It was 11 days, and I'll tell you about 'em all...

NOTE: All pictures will be in the next post, as this post is long enough as it is.

Day 1: I got to Auckland Airport at about 10. After checking in my bag, I bought some ramen in a miso broth. It was really really good, and quite cheap for airport food too. I flew to Christchurch from Auckland at around 11:30. It was sadly only an hour-long flight. I like long flights... Anyway, I arrived in Christchurch at about 12:35. In the airport, I walked about aimlessly for about a half hour, then ran into another person who was on the tour. We then sat about for about 20 minutes and I started reading The Runaway Jury, one of the 3 books I had brought. We then saw 2 others, who were planning to go straight to our accomodation. I went with them, and we arrived at the Meadow Park Holiday Top 10 park, where we got our room keys and I found out I was meant to bring silverware, a plate, bowl, and cup. I worried about that for a bit, until I found out from our tour guide that he could supply me for that night. For dinner we had roast pork, potatoes, garlic bread, and salad. For dessert we had peach crumble and ice cream. I had mainly crumble and ice cream, as I'm not a big fan of peaches. After dinner, we talked about the activities ahead as well as got "buddies". Now these buddies weren't paired like you may think. Instead of A-B and C-D, it was A->B->C->D->A. The person you buddied with was someone you had to get a small gift for to remind them of the tour. So I then spent the rest of the time talking and reading until I went to sleep.

Day 2: Wake up at 6:45, get a shower, head down to breakfast. Breakfast is the same thing every morning for every day on the tour except one. There's toast and cereal, with peanut butter, Marmite, various jams, english muffins and crumpets. Crumpets with strawberry jam are really good. Anyway, after breakfast and having everything packed, I volunteered to be one of the 4 coach-packers who pack and unpack the suitcases and food from the coach at every accomodation stop. We packed the bus, and headed to Christchurch. In Christchurch, I immediately went to the Christchurch Cathedral, and went up the tower. Man, going up those stairs is not for one with claustrophobia. It is just a small cylinder with somewhat steep steps. A long cylinder. Then you get to some even steeper steps, just like a ladder, then you're at the top. The view from that tower is great though. Anyway, after I got back down, I started walking aimlessly looking for a store that would sell me cheap plastic stuff for eating on and eating with. What ensued was a 2-hour aimless walk around Christchurch, the last 20 minutes being a frantic dash to the Warehouse that finally got me the stuff i needed. Then, after a frantic run to the bus to be on time, 3 other students were really late. We almost missed the next bit, but luckily we didn't as it was a big game of LASER TAG! W00T! 20 minutes of running frantically around a dark room firing red dots at each other was REALLY FUN. I wish we could have had a second game, hehehe... ANYWAY! After that little tad of awesomeness, we got back on the bus and drove 3-4 hours to Kaikoura. We learned that Kaikoura means something along the lines of "Food and Crayfish" as Kai is Food and Koura is Crayfish. Hmmm.... We then went to our accomodation, where we had dinner which was spaghetti bolognese as well as salad. Dessert was various small cake slices and cookies. Afterwards, I went to the spa pool, where...there was this drunk woman who kept just randomly talking to anyone, interrupting in my conversations with other tour members. Soon she left, and apparently she was found in the lodge a little later...unconscious. That was kinda weird.

Day 3: The whale watchers had to get up at 6, but I got to get up around 7 for my SEAL SWIM! There were 3 optional activities we could do, which we had all planned beforehand: Seal swim, Whale watch, or Dolphin swim. People who did none of them would go to look at a seal colony from afar. As I already said, I did the seal swim. After breakfast, we walked down to the place where we would be fitted with our equipment and such. it was the first time i had ever put on a wetsuit. It was quite...strange feeling, but after a while I got used to it. We drove out to a shore where a boat took us to a rock about 200m offshore, where we got into the water with our snorkels, wetsuits, masks and flippers, and froze for about 5 minutes. During and after that time we spent looking around in the water for seals. At first we couldn't find any, but then we found a good spot where some seals were lazing about. After floating there for about 20 minutes they actually started moving around more, but the best part came when all but me and one other person was in the boat. We had about 15 minutes left but I checked out the spot again, and I suddenly saw a large splash in front of me. Surprised, I looked around, but I couldn't see anything. It turns out a seal had actually JUMPED over me and almost landed on top of me! Too bad I couldn't see it though. I did see a ton of seals swimming around me beforehand though, and it was really cool how they could propel themselves so quickly yet make sharp turns on a moment's notice. After that, we got back, and I got my buddy gift, a pocket knife with a paua shell decoration on one side. We then started driving, for a total of a 6-hour drive to Motueka. In that time I finished The Runaway Jury, and resumed reading Death's Jest-Book by Reginald Hill, which I had started before the tour. That night, a group of kids including me were meant to help with dinner. My job: cook 7 kg of shoestring 50 minutes with 1 stove-oven. It didn't work out well. After trying to shove a ton of the fries in one oven, I realized it would'nt work very well, and dumped some into 2 frying pans, and started frying them. Another student came to "help", but the only thing they really did much of was eat the fries straight out of the pan. I was starting to get a bit stressed. Later, 2 more students arrived and did NOTHING except eat the fries, and even brought a jar of mayo for it. I started getting really stressed, and the people eating just said "Oh, just enjoy life." That was probably THE DUMBEST response I have EVER HEARD. The students ended up eating at least 150 of the fries. Then the tour guide came in and said "if they're hot, it's good enough". So I dumped the ones in the frying pan into a dish, and I took the ones in the oven out, intending to fry those as it was better for getting them heated up. Then even MORE people came in and started eating the fries that I had taken out of the oven to be put in the pans, and I suddenly had 6 Chef Ramseys on my back ranting at me how the fries were cold, tasted raw, etc. etc. etc. Finally another student came in and actually helped by assisting me in shoving everyone out of the room, and they DIDN'T eat any fries whatsoever. That student helped me the entire way through, through all the rest of the fries, which didn't all get cooked until dinner had already started. But at least the ordeal was over. And with salt and pepper, the raw-tasting fries actually were pretty good, with the raw taste adding something not too bad to it. Dessert was fruit salad with whipped cream. I spent the rest of the night reading, as there wasn't much else to do.

Day 4: We had to get up at around 6:30 this morning, as we were heading to Abel Tasman National Park to do some hiking and sea kayaking. After getting up, I quickly got some breakfast, and decided that my raincoat would be a good thing to bring as it was drizzling before we even left. We drove to Abel Tasman Watertaxis where there were guides, kayaks, and other various types of boats available for use. Our group was split into two different groups, one that would hike to our destination and kayak back, while the other kayaked there and walked back. I was in the group that kayaked first. We got a quick bit of instruction on sea kayaking, and we not-so-quickly got our things into the small holding cells in the kayaks in plastic bags. The area was covered in gravel, and as I had to put my shoes and socks in the hold as well, my feet really hurt as we carried the kayaks to the trailers that would take them to a beach. We then got into another trailer that was led by a tractor (there were 2 passenger-trailers, with 3 tractors. One of them didn't have a passenger trailer, only a trailer that held kayaks. It kinda reminded me of Allderdice Crew for some reason) which took us to a beach. We then got the kayaks out, and walked along the beach to get them at the edge of the water. We got paddles, got quick lessons in paddling for people who didn't know how, and we got in and set off. It's a good thing I had my raincoat, as we were given 3 things with the kayak: A sprayskirt (keeps water out of the inside of the kayak), life-vest, and a pullover jacket with a hood. The reason why the raincoat was good was because of the jacket. The jacket was wetter on the inside than it was on the outside, but with the raincoat it actually felt quite warm. Anyhow, my partner and I (the kayaks were doubles) started paddling out onto the water. We actually went at not too bad a speed, and since I had control of the rudder we didn't even have to worry about steering with the paddles. It was a long kayak ride, full of other people splashing each other for no adequately explored reason, while my partner and I just kept on paddling. There was a light drizzle the entire time, but I didn't mind. About 4/5 the way through the trip, everyone was told to stop and line up their kayaks side-by-side. At that point I started feeling a bit of apprehension. Quite right too, as we were all meant to STAND UP in our kayaks while not capsizing them. Let's just say we barely managed to do it, with one person almost falling out. Afterwards, we finally arrived at Apple Tree Beach, where there were no apple trees. Instead we just ate the lunches packed the night before, had some hot MILO, and changed out of some of our wet clothes. Some people who didn't have the area to dry their feet and get their socks and shoes on decided to walk back barefoot. Knowing I wouldn't be able to stand that, I found a dry spot (took a while), dried my feet and got my trusty Merrells on, as well as replacing my swimsuit with khaki pants. Ahhhh, nice and warm. We walked back through even more drizzle, and some extra mud. Took about, say 2 hours I'm guessing to get back to Watertaxis. Back there, we were given a nice amount of food, consisting of bowls of Pineapple Lumps, wine gums, small rolls that reminded me of mini beef wellingtons, and corn chips. That was a nice surprise, and I went through about 9 of those meat and pastry rolls. We then drove back to the Motueka Holiday Park, where everyone dried off, warmed up, and prepared for dinner. Dinner that night was roast chicken, peas, and of course, salad. Dessert was raspberry-chocolate logs a la mode. After dinner we waited for the other tour group, AFS2 to arrive. My group was AFS1, and AFS2 was a day behind us. As we stayed 2 nights at Motueka, AFS2 arrived. I saw 1 person who was from the Waikato North chapter who was in AFS2, but that was the only person I recognized in that group. I played a bit of chess on the giant chess set nearby, then read some more, and got some sleep.

Day 5: Wake-up at 6! Early breakfast and quick packing! We have a lot of driving to do! *hums "Got a Lot of Livin'" from Bye Bye Birdie* Anyway, we start driving, and after about 2 hours we arrive at what seems to be just another cafe. However, we get to go to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks! Mmmmm....pancakes. Yeah, those rocks are large rock formations that have strange parallel grooves in them, that make them look like...well, stacks of pancakes. I also saw some nice gorges filled with rushing water, and a few "blowholes" in the rocks. It took about 20 minutes to walk around and see all the rocks. We got back, and started driving again. 3 hours later, we arrived at the Westland Greenstone Factory. Greenstone, known to the Maori as Pounamu (POH-nah-moo), is a stone that is well known to many in New Zealand. It is rare to go a day through a city and not see someone wearing a greenstone necklace, usually carved into some shape or other. This factory is one of the places that they carved the greenstone. In the factory, we learned that greenstone is actually nephrite jade, a gemstone with a hardness a bit over 7 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. Being a gemstone freak, I was quite interested. There are 7 main types of greenstone, all with different shades and specks of green throughout, with some also having other colors. We learned a bit of interesting history about the greenstone as well. The old Maori tribes used Pounamu for edges and heads for tools, spears, and other weapons as well. They didn't have the diamond saws and knives that the people at the factory had to carve the stone, so they used a different method for breaking apart the stone whenever they found one. They heated the stone over a large fire for a few days, then quickly put it in the ocean, where the quick change from hot to cold would crack the stone. They would then use hard stones to crack apart the stone into usable pieces. After that, they rubbed with rough animal skins and chipped with hard stones for days on end to smooth and shape the stone. Here in the factory, all they needed was a diamond saw and drill, but it still took a long time. After the brief history lesson, we got to browse the shop for various greenstone things. I saw a bunch of interesting things, like axe heads made entirely out of greenstone that were worth about 280 NZ$, but the priciest thing was a sculpture of a bird in flight, that had a hefty tag of 5500 NZ$! Not having much money on me, I bought a nephrite jade narrow-banded ring. I learned it wasn't made from true NZ nephrite jade, but that didn't matter to me as I liked the color, and even if it isn't NZ nephrite jade, it's still nephrite jade. After the interesting interlude we continued to drive for about another 2 hours until we finally reached our youth hostel at Franz Josef Glacier. We unpacked our stuff, got our rooms, and I started walking around the hostel as usual until dinner. A little before dinner I learned we were heading to hot glacier pools immediately after dinner, so I changed into my swimsuit and got a towel. Dinner was my favorite of the entire tour, penne pasta with a cream sauce and salmon, as well as...Yep, salad. Dessert was PAVLOVA, an iconic New Zealand dessert. For those of you that don't know what pavlova is, it's basically sugar, egg, and air. Pavlova is often served with ice cream, whipped cream, or fruit. We just had whipped cream. Throughout the night I had 4 slices of the pavlova, yet we still had quite a few left, so I offered them to a family of 4 that was playing Monopoly next to me, and they quite liked it. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. After the dinner we walked to the Glacier Hot Pools. If you remember from my post "Fire and Ice, Plot Progression, and a Whole Lot More", you'll remember that I had gone to hot pools on my ski trip. However, the public hot pools there were nothing in terms of looks compared to these ones. We only went in the public hot pools, but they looked much more...natural. While the one on my ski trip had looked like a normal swimming pool, the 3 (yes, 3 pools!) pools here had plants all arond them, and the pools had the appearance of being made out of rock, with fake rocks in the pools to sit on as well. The 3 pools had 3 different temperatures: 36, 38, and 40 degrees, Celsius of course. For ease of understanding, that is the equivalent of 96.8, 100.4, and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I started out in the 38, then moved to the 40. I only lasted about 15 minutes in the 40 until I had to go back to the 38, as I'm not the most comfortable person with hot things. I spent probably a half-hour just stretching myself across a gap in the pool, hearing muscle fibers stretch. It was very relaxing, but then some other students and I decided to try something out. We went into the 40 pool, then after about 2 minutes we quickly went into the 36. The 36 felt COLD at that point, and I found the sensation really interesting. We lazed about for another half-hour or so, then we headed back to the accomodation, were I ate a little more pavlova (making up the 4 slice total), played some Scrabble, and headed to bed.

Day 6: Another early wake-up, but this time so we can head off to our HELICOPTER FLIGHTS! Yep, I signed up for a 20 minute helicopter flight, with a landing on the glacier! We headed off to the Franz Josef Alpine Centre, where we listened to a few safety precautions, then headed to the choppers. 6 people per chopper, 2 separate groups of 3 choppers. On the ride up, I was in the back seat, glad for the sound-muffling headphones that we got, because without them I'd probably be deaf. When we landed on the snow, the view was spectactular. I felt the nice chill of snow around me, and got to take in the awesome alpine air. I love snowy mountains. They're my favorite type of scenery. Glaciers are really awesome, and this one was great as well. After the landing, we got in the chopper, with me in the front seat this time. We started flying out over the glacier, when I got to see the big drop down right in front of me. It was quite the -for lack of a better word- breathtaking experience. When we got back, we had to walk back to the accomodation, pack, and set off again. We stopped by Fox Glacier, intending to walk close to it to get some good pictures, but nature was a noob, and it turns out there was a rockfall recently so no one could go. That was annoying. Still, we continued on. This time we were heading for Wanaka. However, we first stopped at one of the strangest places I have ever seen: Puzzling World. Puzzling world is famous for 3 things: its Great Maze, its Illusion Rooms, and its Psychic Challenge. I did the first 2, but I lacked the ESP and the 1000 NZ$ for the third, and I would not have wanted to do that anyway. Anyway, the Great Maze is a large rectangular life-size maze with 4 colored corners: Yellow, Green, Blue, and Red. The normal challenge is to go to all 4 corners in any order, then get back to the center. It averages 30 minutes to an hour for that. The difficult one is to go in the order I just stated above of the colors and head back to the center, taking about 1-1 1/2 hours. I did the normal challenge as I had been to the Illusion rooms beforehand and didn't have 1 1/2 hours to spare. It took me 10 minutes to get to every corner...and 25 minutes to get back to the center. Man, it's harder than it seems! All the winding turns, bridges, and dead ends make it hard to remember your path. Now to the Illusion Rooms, which I had done first. The first room was a room full of holograms that appeared when you looked at them at a certain angle, as well as a strange wall with 6 tubes that lit up around your hand if you moved your hand near to them or touched the wall. I still don't understand how that works, but I have a theory or 2. The second Illusion Room was a room where you looked into a smaller room that appeared normal. However, people who walked from wall to wall in that room suddenly got bigger! That's because the room was angled, and its checkered floor pattern hid the angle. The third room was the creepiest. It was just filled with deep impressions of famous faces. However, because of the way they were displayed, they looked like they were jutting out from the wall, and ALL of them followed you around as you looked at them. Very very creepy. The final Illusion room was my favorite. It was a room where the floor was angled, so everything suddenly appeared off-center. Thanks to that wall, you could see strange things like a golf ball rolling UP a pool table into a pocket, a chair slide that slid UP stairs, and water that flowed UP a slope into another trough. The other 2 things was a set of stairs that when you stood on them, you appeared to be standing upright at an angle, and a swing that at its resting position hung at a strange angle to the ground. It was definitely the most interesting room of the bunch. Now, I didn't do anything else, but I'll explain the Psychic Challenge. Somewhere in a 100m radius of Puzzling World there were 2 promissory note pieces. The challenge was that the ambitious psychic would ask the owner of Puzzling World any questions about their location for 30 minutes, but the owner would only THINK the answers. The psychic then had an hour to find the notes. If they found them, they would gain their 1000$ entry fee, as well as 100,000$! However, if they couldn't find them, they would lose their money and the money would go to charity. 7 psychics had tried since 1994 when it started, and none had ever prevailed. Anyway, we drove then to Wanaka, where we stayed at probably the worst of the accomodations. I then went into town alone to look for a restaurant, preferably Japanese. I couldn't find one, but then as I walked about with 3 other students, we found a Thai/Japanese place. For dinner I had 12 salmon maki sushi, also known as roll sushi, as well as a nice bowl of rice. 2 of the students went to the Cinema Paradiso to see Changeling, but I wasn't interested in that since I don't like horror movies, so I just headed back and *shock!* read. At the end of the night, I was just reading, reading, reading, and then went to sleep, preparing for an interesting experience the next day...

Day 7: Today, I jumped off a bridge. I jumped, 43 meters high (141 feet), down to a river. But more on that later. We woke up early in Wanaka, had breakfast, packed, blah blah lathered rinsed and repeated our previous 5 mornings' routine. Then we drove to the Kawarau gorge, and...the KARAWAU BRIDGE. Mean anything? Possibly yes, possibly no. But it meant a lot to me, because that's where I did my BUNGY JUMP! Yep, I decided to jump haplessly off a bridge with a cord made of tons of latex strings as my only lifeline. And before you start ranting at my spelling of "Bungy", it truly is spelled like that when referring to the jump. That is because the guy who popularlized it, AJ Hackett, decided to call it that with the "Bung" from bungee cords as they were very stretchy, and the "y" as in "Why are we doing this?" I was also the first to jump that day. I chose not to splash in the river as I didn't really feel like getting wet on my first jump. After a little time waving to people and ensuring all pictures were taken, I recklessly jumped forward into a swan dive. Man, that ground rush was intense! The 1-second fall felt like 5. Yet, I felt no pain whatsoever, no stretch from the tautness of the cord. All I felt was the blood rushing to my head as I grabbed for the pole that would bring me to the raft that was floating on the river. I then bounded up all the stairs back to the bungy center, and got my free shirt, but declined pictures and DVD as they were way too expensive. I then watched everyone else jump. One student was hilarious in their jump as they screamed their entire way down, and when they inadvertently splashed into the river, they screamed some more. The reason why they splashed down was that they kinda tumbled off of the platform instead of jumping forward like I did. I was told to jump forward so I wouldn't splash, and apparently that student didn't hear that. With my new shirt on, we headed out to Shotover Canyon, where we got to go on a JET BOAT RIDE! The Shotover Jet is one of the greatest jet boat rides in the world, and rightly so. We rode at around 40-50k an hour, going quickly through a narrow canyon, drifting around corners, and doing a bunch of 360 degree spins! The ride lasted about 20 minutes, and it was definitely one of the most fun experiences I've ever had. Once again, however, I didn't get any DVDs or pictures because of the price. After that, we headed the remainder of the distance into Queenstown, known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. We had a free night that night, and I scouted around for a certain type of restaurant. Based on the past parts of the blog, try to guess what that restaurant was...Yep! Japanese! And I found two different ones, but I went to the one that was just that little bit cheaper. Also I wasn't very hungry anyway, so I didn't have much to worry about. I had a nice set of 6 mini maki salmon pieces, with an extra bowl of rice, and it came with some really good miso soup too. After dinner I kept walking aimlessly until I just decided to head back to the accomodation, where, after a long time, everyone came back, and a bunch of people decided to watch American Psycho on TV because we only had 2 channels.

Day 8: I got up with no worries whatsoever about when, since I had the entire day free. I had a relatively late breakfast at 9:30, then started walking about Queenstown with no real objective. I had heard about a skating rink that was somewhere nearby, so I walked over there, only to find that it was conveniently closed on Mondays. I then walked around some more, examined the disc golf course at the Queenstown Gardens where the skating rink was, and eventually headed back to that Japanese place I had went the night before for lunch. I had their lunch bento (japanese lunchbox), which was an awesome choice, as the lunchbox had 4 pieces of teriyaki chicken, 3 tempura, 2 salmon sashimi, 3 salmon rolls, a good bit of rice, salad with the traditional dressing, and it came with miso soup to boot. Very tasty. While I was eating I saw 2 other students walking past the window, but they didn't notice me. I ran into them later, and just for the heck of it told them about it. It turns out they were looking for shops to get buddy gifts for, so I helped them out a bit, and they finally decided on something after about 3 hours. By then I once again had nothing to do, so I headed back to the accomodation. There, I read (shock!) until it was time for dinner. Dinner that night was an authentic hangi. A hangi is a traditional Maori method of cooking where they make a large hole in the ground and place the food around various sources of heat. I'm not completely sure how it is, I think they burn various woods and such, but I can't remember the details. Either way, I had a nice dinner of beef, chicken, pork, lots of potato and kumara (if I haven't mentioned that before, kumara's like sweet potato), with a bit of stuffing to go along with it. After dinner I didn't bother to go out again, instead just sitting inside playing cards with a few other people.

Day 9: We finally say goodbye to Queenstown. We pack up everything yet again, and head off, this time heading for Milford Sound! We once again have a long bus ride ahead of us. We stop at a few places again, cafes, lookout points, etc. An interesting place that we stopped at was the Monkey Creek. The creek was a creek of water that was straight from a mountain spring. At first I thought it was ridiculous, but everyone was drinking the water, and I tried some as well. It was actually really good! I filled my camelback with it and it ended up staying cold for the next 2 days! And it was really refreshing too. But the most interesting of the stops we make is the one right before Homer's Tunnel. That tunnel is a tunnel about 5/8 of a mile long that goes under the Main Divide of the Homer Saddle. You have to go through that tunnel to reach Milford Sound by land. Before we got the go-ahead to enter (there was a traffic light that went green every 15 minutes), we saw a Kea to the right of the bus, and it actually WASN'T chewing through a car! Keas are heavy alpine parrots that are known for their sharp beaks that can chew through the chassis of cars. The one we saw, however, was just standing in a parking lot. As we went through, the driver randomly decided to play the Batman theme. It actually was strangely fitting, and strangely funny as well. Once we got through the tunnel, we saw a GIANT EXPANSE of probably one of the most beautiful mountain landscapes I have ever seen. I have a hard time describing such things though, so just wait for the pictures. As we headed towards the Sound, we stopped by the Chasm. Now, when we first got to the small parking lot there, I didn't see anything interesting. I went on the 5-minute walk to the Chasm, and the walk wasn't interesting either. But when I got to the Chasm itself, it was quite a surprise! I suddenly saw a river flowing FAR BELOW me. On one side there were rocks right beside me as if it was on normal ground, but the other side was a huge drop! There was also another bridge that you could get to, and you could see the river flowing into that hollow in the rocks on both sides, which gave me a bit of perspective. I took a small video of it. We continued driving down until we reached the port where we would board the Milford Wanderer. The Wanderer was a small ship that looked older compared to the other sleek crafts in the dock. However, when we got on, I liked the looks of the ship. Once again, I have pictures in the next post for description. I looked up on the menu, and found we had a dinner set for that night... Roast pork drizzled with applesauce, red cabbage, potatoes, and a dessert of peach crumble with ice cream. Scary, huh? That's very similar to another night...Anyway! Before all that we had a safety briefing, as well as tomato soup that tasted remarkably like a high-quality marinara sauce, as well as dinner rolls with butter. Tasty. After we cruised out onto the Sound for a bit, we stopped in Harrison's Cove, near the mouth of a small river. There we could do 3 optional activites: Kayak, ride in the tender craft with the nature guide, or swim. I chose to kayak. The kayaks didn't have sprayskirts so it was a tad awkward getting used to it, but I had some fun kayaking around the cove. When I got back to the boat, I changed back into normal clothes, and by then, dinner was ready. The dinner was quite good, and there was also couscous and salad. I ate about 3 small bowls of couscous since it's one of the most awesome things ever, and even though I don't like peaches, I still liked the dessert anyway. After dessert, everyone got out cards, and the ship had some board games on it. I first played probably the shortest game of Monopoly I have ever played, though it was the NZ Here and Now edition, so I think the prices were a bit higher for the game to go a tad faster. Either way, it was pretty fun, even though Monopoly is almost entirely luck-based. Afterwards I played some backgammon, checkers, and chess, in that order. Then I went to sleep in the cabin.

Day 10: The last full day. I got up at around 6:45, ready for breakfast at 7 when the engines turned on. It started out only continental with cereal and such, but they later brought in toast, and after that, eggs, bacon, sausage and hash browns. Not too bad. Then we started heading out of the Sound onto the Tasman Sea. I then went up straight to the prow of the ship, and it felt GREAT to have all that wind rushing around me, blowing my hair and my coat back. We sailed out for a bit, then sailed back in. On the way back to the port we stopped by a waterfall that had a legend that any woman who got touched by the spray would look 10 years younger. Though I had that gender problem that wouldn't fit the legend, I went out to look at the waterfall anyway. The spray did feel quite nice. There was one more thing that we got to see before we arrived back. We saw a large cliff that actually hung over a little bit. However, it appeared to be nothing much, until we leaned backwards over the boat's rail and looked at it upside down. That view gives a strangely different perspective that's very hard to describe. Whenever you're looking at something tall next time, try bending your back towards it and looking at it in that manner. Perhaps your perspective will change too. I stayed inside the cabin on the way back to the port after that, trying to rid my hands of their lethargy from the cold of the wind while I was standing on the prow. We got back to port, and quickly got back in the coach. We then began our long drive back, to Mount Cook. After a few hours we got to one of the cafe areas we were at before. Everything started out fine, but after a little while things started to get a bit...wrong. I'm not at liberty to give details, but let's just say something happened, and because of it we got delayed by about 2 freakin' hours. When we finally got on the road again, we were very late. We finally got to the accomodation, and to my dismay, we couldn't go to the base of Mt. Cook. I felt like swearing a whole lot at that point, because I really like mountains and I really wanted to see Mt. Cook up close. Instead we just got cooking right away. That night we had nachos, sausages, garlic bread, and of course, salad. For dessert we had cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. During that time we also presented our buddy gifts to each other. I got a mug with the Haka on it. We also sang each of our country's national anthems. After that there was just a random party consisting of unnecessarily loud music for a time such as 12:00 AM. I went back to my room and finished my last book, The Two Minute Rule, and about an hour later everyone came back because the party had to be stopped because of outside complaints of the noise. I found that rather funny. Anyway, the day ended with me a little frustrated.

Day 11: We had to get up at 5:30 to get to the airport by 11:45. Luckily, everything was packed. Breakfast was eaten in the same manner as before, and we got on the road. We stopped at about 8 at a small cafe, as usual, where I got a pretty good lemon meringue pie for only 2.50. Quite a good price. We kept driving, and during that time we got our group photos that were taken at Abel Tasman National Park. We also got titles for various quirks that happened for each of us during the tour. My title was Mr. Chips. We then arrived at the Christchurch Airport, where I had a whopping 10 hours to kill before my flight. I said goodbye to everyone, got a bag of Minties for free from the tour guide who was just trying to get rid of the extra candy, and headed in to the airport. I put my suitcase in baggage storage, then caught a bus into the main Christchurch area. Once in Christchurch, I looked around for a restaurant. Of course, I was looking for a Japanese place, and I did. Got some good sushi, some strange-tasting miso soup (the miso didn't taste like every other miso I've had), and a nice bowl of rice. I then walked around town until I reached the library. I took Bleachers by John Grisham off of the shelf, and read it cover-to-cover in about 2 hours. I then took a bus back to the airport, got my bag, checked it in, and went to the gate. There, I waited. And waited. And waited....until FINALLY my flight was ready to depart.

Nothing else to say other than I got back without incident. There you go! That was my south island trip! As for what my favorite day would be, it would probably be the 7th. Bungy jumping, jet boating and Japanese food all in one day. Awesome. Anyway, before I stop, I'll tell you a few fun little facts about my trip...

-Out of the 8 different hostels and holiday parks I stayed in, 5 had cats!
-The Kawarau Bridge was the site of the first commercialized bungy jump.
-Conveniently, a lot of the hostels had Scrabble, so I played that a lot throughout the tour.
-Completely by luck, I was in the same room as a certain student at 4 of the 8 hostels.
-Everyone was obsessed with playing the card game "Scum", also known as "Presidents" throughout the entire tour.
-Whenever there was a Subway in sight anywhere where we stopped, about 95% of the students had lunch there.

Yeah, those aren't exactly natural facts or anything, just funny little quirks mostly. Anyway, that was my really long post! Thanks for reading it! Or at least I hope you read it... Because whoever doesn't read it won't know about the trip! I'm not going to talk about the South Island trip outside the blog unless you have proof that you read it. As proof, you must say the name of the bird that is known for chewing through car chassis! =P

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Singing of a Loss at Stations of the Cross

This is my last post before the South Island Trip! I thought I'd just update you on the few things that have happened before I go on my 11-day excursion. Term 1 at Fairfield is OVER! W00T! I did my kayaking and pool assessments, and managed to get Achievement with Merit. I only missed Excellence because I can't roll a kayak on my non-preferred side. But, either way, it works. I've taken care of any exams that I've had, and gotten through them all, too. But now, to the topic of the title. Stations of the Cross took place at quite a few churches and other areas here, but the one I'm speaking of is the art exhibition at the Hamilton Gardens. WOVEN sung there, so that's how I was there. We were singing a piece made by WOVEN called "Dolore Sensa Misura", also known as "Grief without Measure". We didn't sing in Latin whatsoever, but what the piece was a 5-part cycle about the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. We sung in a small tunnel around the station where Jesus is nailed to the cross.

Something felt awkward about it though, as our piece was 100% secular. There were a few possible references to it being religious, but the words were completely non-religious. We sung for 2 hours on 6 nights, and every person attended 3 of those nights, except our director of course, who attended all 6. We sang through the piece about 10 times each night as well. My favorite part of the whole thing was probably the free hot chocolate at the end, hehehe...I like hot chocolate, especially since it wasn't scalding when I drank it. Anyway, the main other thing I've done recently is go to 3 night/afternoon church services, on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Saturday before Easter, for what I believe is called the Tridium, or 3 services that all connect, some not having beginnings or ends. It was made as if it was 3 services in one, starting on Thursday and ending on Saturday. I had never been to such a combination, so I actually found it pretty interesting, especially the Easter Vigil on Saturday.

So, that's just about it from me for this one. When I get back from the South Island I'll make sure to tell you all about it (and show you some things, too!). Have a Happy Easter, everyone! And for everyone who may not celebrate Easter, secular or religious, have a good...whatever you are celebrating, be it Passover or something else. Or if you're not celebrating anything whatsoever, just have a good day!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Orienteering, Airline Clearing, WOVEN Choir to Sing Endearing

Hey, everyone! Wow, it's my birth month! W00t! Now, on with the post.

Let's start out with an activity that I find surprisingly fun, that I've just tried twice over the past 2 weeks: Orienteering. Some may know it, some may not. For those who don't, orienteering is a sport where you get a map, and you have to copy down a route. Here in the Hamilton Orienteering club, they have 3 levels of routes: White (usually around 2k), Yellow (around 3k), and Orange (around 5k). Orienteering almost always involves navigating through wooded areas. The route you copy out contains "controls", or points where there's a small patterned hole-puncher. Apparently there's an electronic version now but I like the hole-punching better. Why, I don't know. Anyway, there are over 20 different controls, and they all have different numbers. The numbers match numbers on a card you're given that tells you something that the control is next to. You have to figure out where you're going, traverse by foot to the control, and punch a hole in a card that you're given. It's really fun to do because it's not only running, you actually have to do navigating too, and I think that's really fun. When I get back I want to find out more about the Western Pennsylvania Orienteering Club.

Airline Clearing. Yes, I'm getting on planes again...for the SOUTH ISLAND TRIP!!! I've gotten all the forms in, all the cash in, and now I'll be going to the south island for 11 days starting the 13 of April! But I'm not going to let you know what I'm doing yet...hehehe. Aren't I evil? I'll let you know when I get the uber-updated itinerary close to the departure date. But I do know that I'll be going to Mount Cook and Milford Sound, at least.

WOVEN is the only youth choir in Hamilton, and I'm a part of it! We've only had one practice, but it should be quite good. I heard them sing last December, and they were great. Too bad I won't be with them for the whole year, but at least I'm a member of a choir now!

Yeah, that's it for now. Have a happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! If you celebrate that that is of course. Bye!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A tad late, but hey, I can still write about it

What's "it" you ask? Well, the fact that I've passed my halfway point here. I didn't realize it until recently, but I have 5 months left here. It's quite strange how things like these go, because as I was going through it it seemed really long, but as I look back part of me thinks it went by really quickly as well. Then again, this seemed to have happened in many other situations of mine...Tongariro Crossing, Global Game Jam, the 2 vacations, the Rally New Zealand...All of them felt like they were really long-lasting as i went through them, but then right when they stopped, it felt unnaturally abrupt. It's so strange how these things all go through that same cycle. To me the strange part about it is that at usually the only things that take forever are the things you don't like, but I liked (understatement) all of those activities. Yes, even standing at a crosswalk for 18 hours at the rally. How is it that life seems to go by in such a manner? For all I know I could have an experience that no one else in the entire world could or would ever experience sometime, yet once it ended it would still seem like anyone else's moments. Everything would eventually get swallowed by the relentless advance of time, no matter the uniqueness, no matter how fun, no matter how long it lasted.

I can't think of a whole lot else to say on the subject right now, but I might as well write a small thing relating to my post, "The Night Before..." As I look back on my first half or so of my trip, was my not being knowledgeable about New Zealand as I came a good idea? I personally believe my choice was a good one. Why? Everything I saw I got to experience completely anew. In my first days, I saw a country that had an unmatched fondness and care for nature throughout the population. I saw a country that truly had 2 different sets of people that were treated as different sets, yet no one on either side had problems of racism, nor was there any negative separation. The Maori and Pakeha (used in the neutral sense) were treated as equals, and there were no apparent stereotypes directed toward either group, something that still plagues American people, consciously or not. I saw a country that had many different likings than my country's own, whether they were in work or play, in the house or out. These differences let me see my own country in a different light. Many things I thought were truly "American" were fully apparent over here, while many things I thought were common all around were nonexistent.

With these experiences at my back, and more experiences to come, I will see more new things, and as I first came prepared with an unprepared mind, I will head onward into these new things in the same manner. No premature expectations and no premature fears always leave an unblemished slate. That's a rule I intend to follow as I have in the past.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Neuron-style plan for the next month or so

Another quick update...

I've successfully switched into my newest family's house. This family is the Jackman family. They have a small 2 floor house as well as another AFS student! Ja, this is my first time having the same family as another student, although the student here has only been in NZ for a few weeks, and she is still practicing a bit of the more complicated aspects of English. Though it isn't uncommon to hear her conversing fervently with some of her Spanish-speaking friends here. Anyway, I'm settled in for as long as I'm going to be, which may be as little as 2 weeks. Yeah, I might be hopping around families quickly for a while, hence the title referencing the way neurons send messages. A.K.A. a lot of jumping around. But yeah, everything's going fine now, though I can't wait for March 5 since Athletics day with Fairfield was cancelled today, and March 5th is the postponement date. I really hope I don't hurt myself attempting the high jump...ugh

Speaking of school, FFC isn't really receiving any good media right now. There's a bunch of problems involving the principal and students randomly protesting for a reason they don't even know. Yes, they only were a part of it so they could 1:skip class, 2:yell at the front office for no reason, 3:get on TV. The "protest" started with about 16 students, moved up to around 200, as, and I quote the Waikato Times on this, "As students tried to get on TV". They don't care if their school is getting bad attention from all this, all they care about is getting on TV because apparently they'll be able to act famous or something. That's my opinion on their behavior anyway. Kinda reminds me of the song "King of New York" from some musical I can't remember... I'm doing fine though, I among other students just found the "protest" funny because of the complete lack of any idea about what the topic was. Ja, that's all there is from me, but as I'm watching the rugby right now, might as well just say this for the heck of it: Go Chiefs! (That's the Waikato Chiefs, the Waikato area's Super 14 rugby team, not the Kansas City Chiefs the American football team. No offense to those, but I still support the Steelers)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Families Fanning Fortune's Flames

This one'll be quick, don't worry.

Basically, in the past week, I had a hard time figuring out what was going to happen to me. However, last Sunday, when the AFS meeting happened, everything changed. The first thing on the agenda for the normal meeting was letting everyone know that I desperately needed a family, and voila! 2 families apparently have offered to host me, and a third has offered as well apparently! So my situation is going to be fine now. W00t! I'm currently at my support coordinator's house again after leaving the Cooks. I'm going to get those photos at some point, so you don't need to worry, I'll have 'em up sometime.

In other news, I'm now fully back into Fairfield. Not much in terms of interesting stuff to say, but PHD is fun. PHD is a phys-ed/health class. 2 out of the 4 days we have the class we spend time in the school's pool (which doesn't have a greasy film on the surface unlike some schools I know *cough* ALLDERDICE *cough*) practicing kayaking! We're practicing rolling the kayak for in 7 or 8 weeks we'll be kayaking down the Waikato River, and rolling will be an important skill. It's a nice diversion to the normal school day.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Big post? I don't know, possibly. Anyway, let's get this started.

This post really only involves the first 3 acronyms, as the 4th is just there to show the WOW factor of them as well as to add a little rhyme when you say all of the acronyms together in that order, letter by letter.

Let's start out with the first acronym, GGJ. GGJ is Global Game Jam! GGJ is a really really fun program where people of high school to uni age are given various restraints as well as a theme, and have to design, program, test, and upload a game of their own creation. The students split themselves into groups, allowing many games to be made. This GGJ was the first to ever happen over the world, and it happened in 13 different time zones. Ours in Hamilton was the first one to start, and surprisingly there was also one in Pittsburgh! So if I was at home right now I could have attended it anyway. Fun, eh? Anyway, to a moderately sized narrative...

GGJ in Hamilton took place at the Waikato University. It started at 5 PM Friday, January 30, and ended Sunday February 1st at 5 PM. Yes, I spent 48 hours straight at Waikato University. At the beginning I just formed up a group with 4 others just by talking about various game ideas, and we got to work. My main job was graphic design, but as our game involved mainly stick figures and such, it wasn't too complicated. We were using Game Maker 7, and at first I was thinking "why are we using such a terrible program? I don't see how we could really make something good with something like this. I mean, this thing seems like something complete programming n00bs would use.". Of course in retrospect, there were 2 problems with that statement. 1, we WERE complete programming n00bs. 2, GM7 is actually not half bad at all for this kind of thing. To keep you from getting bored about the various programming things we did, I'll just tell you what the game we made was like. Well, I should actually start out with the constraints for the game we had to make.

1. The game had to use ONE of these words as a part of a way to describe it: Blank, Cold, or Modern.
2. An average play session should last no longer than 5 minutes.
3. It had to follow the theme, "As long as we have each other, we'll never run out of problems."

Our game was called "Blank Slate". It is a quick game where you have to try to kill your opponent while hopping around rapidly changing terrain. It looked like it was drawn on a piece of notebook paper, hence the name. The 2 characters were a red stick figure, and a blue stick figure, all designed by me. I designed every animation for the stick figures; standing, running, jumping, and the uber-awesome OBLITERATION sequence all done pixel by pixel using GM's Microsoft Paint-esque image editor. The terrain as well as the sun (which had a random "lion" face in it that for some reason always sent me into hysterics) was done by one of my partners. The game has you using various weapons, from anvil traps that fall from the ceiling to homing missles reminiscent of the Descent series for those of you that know it. My graphics partner and I made all of those too. The programming of character movement, gravity, etc. was done by the other 3 guys. I liked a bit of how the game turned out, but there were a few things I didn't like: 1, they insisted on using network multiplayer as the only way to play, and that bothered me as while online multiplayer is good, it can get a bit annoying after a while, especially if you can't manage to connect. 2, there were still bugs in it after we uploaded it that wouldn't go away. 3, some parts of the game kept requiring stopping and starting because of various the middle of online play. How did I deal with these gripes of mine? Simple...

I got a copy of the game a bit before they started on the online thing, and made a version of my own. Some parts of it aren't as graphically nice, but there are more weapons/traps/tools, it uses 2 people on one keyboard, and I've managed to remove a ton of the bugs, but I'm still working on it. I think if I had uploaded that version we probably wouldn't have gotten the 1 out of 5 rating we got on the site. Yeah, we got a 1. Even one of the games that didn't even work whatsoever and didn't have much of the programming done had a higher score than that. Sad, eh? No. I found it hilarious, and I'm quite glad that I made my own version. But the best part of GGJ was the fact that we spent a ton of time playing Left 4 Dead with other groups. Left 4 Dead is an awesome Valve game where you play in a group of 4 people fighting off endless hordes of zombies. While it may sound cliche, it's actually really well made, has awesome co-op, and the vs. mode has co-op on both sides, of the humans and zombies. The zombies get to have various "super" zombies that can attack from a distance and more easily incapacitate the humans. The game was REALLY REALLY fun to play with the other people, though some people had a bad habit of swearing loudly. We mainly did this from 1 AM to...say, 7 AM. Yes, we didn't sleep. Some people slept a bit, but others didn't. I was one of the ones that didn't, and I'm glad for that. GGJ was probably one of the best experiences I've ever had.

On to the next acronym! FFC, as some of you may remember, stands for Fairfield College, the school that I go to while I'm here. The day after GGJ ended I had my first day of school...or so I thought. I biked to school normally (from our awesome new house with 2 floors and a pool) humming that little ditty from Billy Madison that Adam Sandler's character sings while waiting for the bus on his first day. I got there, and I found out...the year 13s were going to do NOTHING! Well, basically we were given a crash course in Haka Powhiri, which we had to perform in front of the Year 9s as they entered the Marae, and then, we sat down for some time between an hour and a half to 2 hours, on the grass, in the hot sun, listening to 3 or 4 teachers converse in complete Maori. Apparently this was about them agreeing to take care of us or something...and I was quite frustrated, as well as sweaty. Maybe 10% of the students at most could understand what they were saying, while the other 90+% was just sitting angrily. To add insult to injury, the teachers all had their own little parasols to keep themselves safe from the great UV ball in the sky. The kids however, did NOT know this was going to happen until after they got there, and therefore had no time to prepare, or even to get sunscreen or anything. I smell an idea for a lawsuit...Luckily we got to leave after that.

Anyway, my first ACTUAL day was 2 days afterward, where I got to check out all of my classes. I'm taking the same classes as last year, except I'm taking year 13 spanish since they merged the 12 and 13 spanish classes as they were so tiny. I'm a bit worried about whether I'll have to buy anything new, because I don't know whether I'm going to be there for very long or not. Why, you ask? The reason is...

...The third acronym. AFS. American Field Service, my exchange program. Only thing is, my exchange program can't find another family for me in the Waikato South branch area. As of today I have to leave the Cook family in 7 days, and no family has been found. NONE! There was some talk of doing national advertising, however I don't know if they have started that yet. Yeah, I might be switching cities, perhaps even islands. I don't know, and for once I actually do care. I'm not sure what will happen if I leave the Cooks with no destination family, and I don't know what'll happen with school if I don't know if I'm staying there or not. Yeah, I'm starting to get a bit bothered about this. So many things are stuck in limbo right now, and I don't know what's going to happen about them. I don't know if my exam results will transfer to the Pittsburgh Public Schools or not, and if they do, I don't know if my GPA will die on me or not. I don't know if I will have a family in 7 days, and I don't know if I'll have to get on a flight to somewhere else in NZ soon. I don't even know when our internet company will even bother to fix our broadband after screwing up so badly because they got the wrong phone number because of THEIR OWN PEOPLE. Yeah, I'm running into problems...again. I don't even know if a family will EVER be found, since AFS is kinda unpopular during our economic situation because of the fact that they don't financially compensate families. Meh, whatever happens happens, but I just hope something happens at all.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Taupo, Tennis, Tongariro, Tasty Trails, and Tenacious Tramps

So I've come back from a second vacation! Yes, you heard me. SECOND vacation. But this one had a lot of things that had NOTHING to do with camping. A.K.A. we were in an actual house! Hooray! Anyway, here I go.

This was a vacation that we didn't have a house for until about 4 days beforehand. We went to an area at Lake Taupo called Kuratau. We rented a bach of sorts, except it had more than 2 rooms, unlike other baches. For those of you that don't know, a bach (pronounced "batch") is a small little holiday home with basic anemnities. This one was quite good though. It had a garage, TV with Freeview (slight cable, not many channels but more than at home), fridge, stove, and 3 bedrooms. I was in the third one, which was actually a little room off of the garage, and it even had its own ensuite shower, toilet and sink! Nifty, eh?

Our vacation in Taupo lasted 5 days. So what interesting things did I do during those 5 days? Well on the night we arrived, Asher, Jonty and I checked out the tennis courts in the area. There was one by the lake, and 2 in an open field area with a great view of some mountains. But more on tennis later, as we didn't do much that day. Though I actually did test out a new racket that we had bought so we could have more than 1 full-sized tennis racket. I did terribly as usual, but a little better than with the junior-sized ones.

Aaaannyway, on the first full day, we went to Turangi, a small town close to Kuratau. I was going insane over wanting to get 20$ sent to the leader of the Global Game Jam, which I'm going to tomorrow (48 hours straight in Waikato University! W00t!), but after I got that sent I calmed down a bit. We went to the information centre, where we found out about a small trail on the Tongariro River. We drove there, and I was interested in the rapids that apparently weren't too bad for swimming on as long as you got back to the shore. Though all those thoughts flew out the window when I stepped one foot into the water. Z0mg!!! GAH! That water was REALLY REALLY UBER COLD! It was so cold, that when we were walking across a shallow area to a small island in the center of the river (the river wasn't very wide), my feet and legs were numb and hurting from the cold. To add insult to injury, I kept smashing my toes into rocks in the ground, and I lost my balance quite a few times, barely keeping myself from falling in. It's a good thing we didn't go on those rapids, since when we got to that island, we saw the speed of them. They were pretty fast, and if we swam in them, we would probably have been swept away quite quickly. Though I still don't think that was the area the guide was talking about.

We then went on a 40 minute walk along the river, going over a bridge, up some cliffs, and finally going back to State Highway 1 (the highway that goes all the way from the top of the north island to the bottom of the south, it doesn't seem to be very busy for a highway, even though it goes through residential areas) where our car was. The cliffs offered a nice view, but it was starting to rain, and we were eager to get back.

Second day: Sun and laziness. We didn't go anywhere. All I did was play tennis and write in 3 notebooks of mine. Though I played a LOT of tennis. I practiced for a lot of the day, serving, trying to get good topspin power shots (that worked perfectly in practice but in games I completely messed up), trying to get a slice that didn't lob...I spent most of the day at the tennis courts. It was actually very fun to do that though. A good day, in my opinion.

Third day:BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Alarm: 5:00 A.M. I get up, silencing my alarm within the first second of it ringing. In a very quick and quiet fashion, I got some clothes on, creeped through the really cold garage, into the hallway and into the lounge, where I turned on the T.V. Why? The Obama Inaguration of course! I watched quite a bit of it, from the first speaking to the people by that woman from Congress (can't remember her name) to Obama walking back into the Capitol. It was a great thing to watch, and I'm glad I had gotten up so early to see it. I went back to bed to warm up a bit since I was quite cold, and ended up falling asleep, quite by accident in fact Then the rest of the day came...

We went to the Waihaha river area. Another not very wide river, there were also some small rapids. However, there also were nice amounts of rocks to jump around to and fro, and I spent about 15 minutes exploring the area. After that I saw that everyone else was urging Chrissy to go on one of the boogie boards that we had down some of the rapids. I was still pretty far away so I didn't see it happen, but she did it. She then said "I'm the only one who had the courage to go on those rapids!" or something to that effect. It didn't look like something that was that hard to do, and everyone else was starting to do it as well, so I gave it a shot. When I went down the rapids, I managed to stay on the board for most of the time (which was better than Jonty's attempt, he fell off quite quickly, but was perfectly ok anyway), but then slipped off as I tried to get a rock to grab on to. I couldn't keep my hold on many of them as they were all quite slippery, but after going a moderate distance I managed to get a firm hold, and climb up. Apparently I went farther than anyone else. We got back to the van, and went to the other side of the river where there was a trail. We walked the trail and saw some good views of a large gorge. We were able to go down to the gorge's bottom where the river was, and Jonty and Bella jumped in the water a few times. Now, one thing is really different about these rivers from the Pittsburgh ones: These rivers are NEARLY COMPLETELY CLEAR! Seriously, they were extremely easy to see through. So when Jonty and Bella jumped in, it was quite cool to see their bodies just suspended in the water before they surfaced. On our way back, we ran into 2 North Island Robins, which apparently were an endangered species.

We came back, and Asher and I played some tennis. We came back and found everyone rushing around packing. Why? Well there's something I didn't tell you (muahahaha!). We were planning to do the Tongariro Crossing the next day (as you may have guessed from the alliterative title), and we needed to get as prepared as we could. So we did.

Fourth day: BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Alarm: 6:00 A.M. This time it was for Tongariro. Everyone quietly had some breakfast, got all their stuff together, and we went out in our van to a campsite. Why? A guy was there who was going to drive our van to the Mangatepopo start area for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Van ride to the start...It's still a bit cold. I'm wearing shorts and a short sleeved shirt, remembering a key lesson from my first time: "Start out with light clothing, you'll heat up as you walk. If you start out hot, you'll tire out really easily." And so we went. Going through the lower areas to Soda Springs was a breeze (almost literally, it was cool as a breeze but no breezes were blowing). Then was the climb to the South Crater, one of the hardest parts of the Crossing. Tiring, constant uphill for 40 minutes, but when we got to the top, it was great since the view was so good. I've spoken about the Crossing in my post "A Mountainous Task", so I won't go into as much detail. We went into the south crater, and headed up the way to the high point at Red Crater, taking many a break for chocolate chip muffins, cashews, peanuts, and bits of my very own 250g Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate block. I pointed out my favorite spot, the little area at the top that was perfect for eating as it was ALWAYS warm from the thermal gases. We climbed down the scree slope, me having a lot of fun with it but getting pain in my feet from the scree entering my shoes. We got to the bottom of that slope, had a big shoe-emptying fest, and went past the Emerald Lakes to Blue Lake. From Blue Lake was a long, long, LONG downhill that had good views but a lot of foot pain, all the way to the Ketetahi hut, and later the Ketetahi carpark, where I had a well-deserved rest after 7 hours of walking. With a bit of timing issues, we got back to our bach, where we immediately started to pack. Again.

Day 5: The final day at Taupo. We had finished our packing, and were cleaning up the place, when suddenly, NOTHING HAPPENED! Sorry, had to do that. Anyway, we cleaned, said goodbye to that bach, and drove 4 hours to Hawke's Bay. On the way there, we stopped at a small park area, where I noticed a man tending to a horse. I walked over, and got to have a nice talk about horses and how having a horse was so much nicer than having a motor vehicle. It was a nice chat, and I got to pet the horse Nanu a bit. That felt quite nice. We continued driving until we got to our new area, which was a full house! Yep, the last 2 days of our vacation were going to be spent at a nice house with some extravagant things like a large plasma-screen TV! So what did we do? We went to Domino's. We got 3 pizzas for 20$, thanks to a promotion they were having, and later just did nothing interesting until we all went to sleep.

Day 6: We had heard about Food Trails on our way here, and we decided to check out one of the farmer's markets that the Cooks had been to before. We went onto a food trail where we got to see a ton of vineyards, but the main attraction was the farmer's market. Everyone there had various different things, from jams to breads, gelato to knives and cutting boards. And walking all around it was a dog who walked up to ANYONE who had food, begging. I bought myself a croissant (baked at 2 A.M. that morning along with the other hundred or so bread items), which was awesome, and got some gelato. There was also a small wine cellar nearby which we checked out, and it was moderately interesting, but not as good as the market. However, I noticed a dog tied to one of the grapevines, who looked rather neglected by the people passing by. I felt sorry for it, and went up and stroked it for about 10 minutes. Man, that dog was happy to have some attention. After I felt it looked like it was cheered up a lot, we left for a moderate-height peak area where there was a trig station. A trig's really hard to describe. It just showed a map of the surrounding area, even as far as Mt. Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngaruhoe, as well as a mountain that has the longest name I have ever seen, and I believe it is the longest one-word name in the world. We had some nice views of the many vineyards, and I looked down a cliff that really creeped me out.

As our last destination for the day, we went to a place called Ocean Beach. Yes, as you probably guessed, it was a beach at the Pacific Ocean. Nice name, huh? We stayed there for a while, eating the Mediterranean flatbread with cheese, rosemary and rock salt that David and Chrissy had bought, as well as talking to various people. With that, we headed home, had some dinner, and packed up. Again. Again.

Day 7: Driving home. It was a moderately long drive, but it was probably made much longer by the fact that we made like 4 different stops. 3 of them were in Taupo, and we ended up just about doubling our time on the road. However, one part of it I found quite interesting, and that was Huka Falls. We stopped there before getting some dinner, and I saw this pretty small but really fast and REALLY blue waterfall formed by the Waikato River combined with some erode-resistant rocks. It looked really good, and I really liked the color especially. After more driving (with more stops) we finally arrived home, me with an agonizing 5 days before Global Game Jam, and now my anticipation is nearly over.

Such ends this blog post. I've got to help move around a lot of stuff tomorrow, but I know I'll be just counting the minutes until I can get to Waikato University. After Game Jam I get straight back into school, and that'll be good as well. As for my family situation, I'm going to stay with the Cooks for two more weeks, and hopefully in that time a family will be found. I'm not worried. She'll be right in the end.