Day 1 – 30 January 2010
I haven’t slept in two days, I am really sunburned (really) and my legs might fall off. And yet, that may have been the greatest day of my life. I waved goodbye to my parents at around 1pm on Thursday the 28th to fly to LA. At LAX I learned that you have to take a shuttle to get to the international terminal, at which point I met some other confused travelers. I also had the delight of getting randomly chosen for further security screening, which just meant that I got to be felt up by a lady who didn’t seem to love her job, while everyone I just met on the shuttle watched and shook their heads. I people watched for about 2 hours and then boarded the plane to Auckland. I ended up having to sit in the middle with a lady I met on the shuttle sitting to my left and a very tall sleepy man on my right. During the flight I watched a New Zealand version of Napoleon Dynamite called Eagle vs. Shark, starring Jemaine Clement. I tried to sleep but, being in the middle seat and choosing to have tea after dinner made this action nearly impossible. Instead, I watched the first 15 minutes of about 20 different movies, listened to New Zealand music and generally just stared at the people around me. Even though it felt like I had been on that plane for days I was still surprised when the pilot announced we would be landing in Auckland shortly. As the plane landed I heard a little girl yell exactly what I was thinking, “mom! Mom! We are 100% there! Can you believe it? We are IN New Zealand!!” Once through customs, I waited next to a McDonalds for my shuttle. Maarten, the friendly shuttle driver, was right on time at 7am and did a great job of easing my nerves as he drove me to the residence hall. He advised that I stay awake for the rest of the day so as to better adjust to the time change. So, even though I was completely delirious from lack of sleep, I set my luggage down in my room and took off for an adventure downtown.
My first impressions of the city: first, I love the way it smells. Even though it is hot and humid all day, there is a constant ocean breeze which gives the air a fresh smell and feel. Second, New Zealanders love their cafes. I swear it is like every other store is a coffee shop. I’m now understanding why they all love skydiving and bungeeing and cave rafting, etc. – its because they’re always hopped up on caffeine!! Third: the city is very clean and many seem environmentally conscious. For instance, as I was sitting on a pier I noticed that a security guard ordered a boat to come around and pick up some cans and napkins that had accidently fallen in. Perhaps because there are still Starbucks and McDonalds and everyone speaks English, I kept forgetting I was in a foreign country until some mistake I made would rudely remind me. I forgot that their plugs are different and was unable to plug in my computer or phone until I bought an adaptor. Several times when paying for things I gave the wrong amount because I didn’t realize that they have 2 dollar and 1 dollar coins. And, although the exchange rate is in our favor, they raise all the prices so its about the same. I’m still weary about crossing the street because I forget which side the cars drive on and am never sure when it’s socially appropriate to ignore the crosswalk signal. Sometimes I stood on the corner looking like a goon waiting for the signal to turn green while everyone else crossed, other times I just went for it, and, well, it was close. I do like that some downtown crosswalks stop traffic altogether so you can cross diagonally, instead of having to wait twice.
When I left the res hall I walked northeast to Queen St, which is the main touristy area. I walked around and went to the waterfront where I got an iced coffee (basically a frappacino) and people watched. Many people were American tourists but a couple were natives and I couldn’t help but smile as I listened to their accents and how many times they actually said “bro”. Many times throughout the day I stopped to watch street performers who were all part of a sort of traveling festival going on. My favorite guy basically just used a collection of noise recordings to make fun of tourists who tried to ignore him as they passed. He was like an older, sadder version of party boy. and it was hilarious. I walked to Sky tower, which is like NZ’s space needle and apparently is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere (although it didn’t seem to be very tall). I chose not to pay 30 bucks to go to the top because for about 150 you can walk around the outside of the top or jump off it (in a harness of course). So I might go back. I ended up stumbling upon a farmers market where I had a spinach and weird-type-of-cheese filled croissant and watched babies play in the street fountain. I then came across a seafood festival, that, after crossing some makeshift floating walkways, had carnival rides, live music, contests, and of course SEAFOOD. After scoping out all the tents (and being in yummy smell heaven) I decided the weirdest entre was the chocolate covered, mint seasoned scallops. I then watched a competition in which boys tried to walk along a pole attached to the front of a ship that had been covered in grease. Although the announcer kept a completely serious tone, the drunk crowd went crazy with laughter every time a kid fell in. This, and other events of the day, made me realize that kiwis are quite serious about their silliness and, simultaneously, very silly about their seriousness. Still completely out of it and now very sunburned (I guess the sun down here is more intense than in the northern hemisphere. My only advice for future visitors: wear sunscreen!), I headed back to the res hall. Apparently I was late for dinner but the chefs were able to put together a plate of fried chicken which I politely threw away when they were not looking. Not sure what to do tomorrow, or the next day, and I still have four days before the start of orientation. All I know is that now I get to sleep –Yis!