The highly anticipated Mid-Semester break is upon us and my plans include doing… nothing. Most students are away, traveling or visiting family. But I’m in need of a little break from exploring. I’ve been off gallivanting every weekend, and I could some time to recharge, sleep, read, lounge in the last remnants of sunshine, and make plans for future adventures. A lack of any grand, overall pursuit means that this post will lack any sort of unifying quality; instead, here’s some bulleted miscellanea about short stories, food, the city of Dunedin, and cultural quirks.
- I couldn’t remember the last time I got a haircut. I missed the sensation of a shampoo-y scalp massage from a random stranger. Unfortunately, a haircut (like everything else in New Zealand) was pretty expensive, and so I was putting if off. Then: a woman approaches me on the street, brandishing a paper flyer. “Please, we’re desperate!” she said. “We need hair models. Come in this weekend and you’ll get a free haircut, dye job, and $300 worth of hair products!” Sign me up! Excellent timing! I got up early (i.e. before noon) on a Saturday to go to the salon. Feeling bad for the hairdressers after listening to them kindly try to deal with a girl who didn’t want to really let them do anything to her hair (she was just there for the free dye job, but wanted a color of her own choosing and not one that the hairdressers were trying to model), I wanted to be an easy patient: I told them to have their way with my hair. They ended up choosing me for one of their “catwalk” looks which, let me tell you, looks much better/more appropriate on the catwalk than on the sidewalk. On the bright side, I get to brag about how I had my hair dyed by a badass lady who keeps getting asked to work at the Grammy’s. Later, makeup artists showed up to prep us “models” for the actual modeling bit. The combination of thick makeup on a makeup-averse face and bangs like Peggy from Mad Men had me rockin’ a futuristic, spacey, wannabe-sultry-assassin-like look. Not my usual style of choice, but hey – free haircut!
- So, one night my flat decides to have a nice girl bonding night… by watching Black Swan. During that scene in the back seat of the car (ya know, the one with Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman, uh, becoming better acquainted), one of the girls whispers, “This is perfect.” Another girl and I exchanged a quick, startled look that clearly communicated, “Well, that was a little weird. Not exactly the first description that would’ve sprung to my mind. But whatever.” The scene heats up a little more and the “perfect” girl says, “This is so perfect; it should be on a magazine!” At this point I turn to her, “OK. What?!” Turns out she and another girl weren’t even watching the film; they were looking at and talking about a supposedly calendar-worthy picture of a horse that one of them had taken. And again we have a great story of impeccable timing.
- I feel lucky to be studying abroad in country where it’s socially acceptable for a girl to make eye contact with strangers on the street. Even if I’m feeling down, I can smile at someone, receive a smile in return, and feel as if both of our days have been brightened a bit by this strange and fleeting, yet deep human connection. And then, on those days when I’m being particularly plagued by that nasty shoulder demon known as “Low Self-Worth,” it’s always particularly heartening when the bus driver kindly says, “Girl, you keep on wearin’ that smile. It looks good on you.”
- I visited a church – Elim – at a friend’s suggestion and since then have gone back at every opportunity. Elim exudes a wonderfully caring sense of community and unbiased acceptance, and the worship team plays the most beautiful, invigorating music – the kind you can feel in your bones. In this building I’ve never felt bored or judged, but instead feel whole and utterly at ease. I’ve made some friends and interacted with people in ways that really get the waterworks show going (and because this running between teary and bawling happens on a weekly basis I’m pretty sure I can’t just blame the hormones).
- My flatmates and I have had a number of lovely “sundowning” adventures atop Mt. Cargill. We found the top of the mountain after an exhausting exploration of some obscure dirt road (the Swag Wag really struggles with making it up that road). The end of the road presents you with a hazy, 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape and the surreal moonrise. Yes, this place is like my own personal Moonrise Kingdom. And the sunsets I see help me to understand how the earliest painters first found the inspiration to create their colors.
- A woman yelled at me for trying to fit in child’s ride. I was giddy when I saw one of those coin-operated mechanical plane rides. I experienced a fleeting moment of childhood nostalgia until my happiness was eviscerated by a middle-aged lady’s “WHAT ARE YOU DOING GET OUT OF THERE YOU ARE NOT A CHILD!!!!” I wonder what traumatic childhood playtime memories made her so jaded. Later that week I defiantly rode a different kid’s ride. In a different town. Just to be safe.
- Cheesy, introspective moment: Study abroad has given me the chance to step away, change perspectives, and realizes how naïve I am. I’m taken out of my home environment, but because of today’s social media network, am not totally disconnected. The means of communication that I’ve ended up pursuing have surprised me; through written messages and the exchange of stories I’ve deeply connected with people I barely knew or met before, and I’ve simultaneously come to realize how woefully unaware I often am of the inner struggles of those I love and thought I knew better than anyone.
- I much enjoy New Zealand’s blunt and sometimes not-so-PC honesty. I hear things on the radio here that I just wouldn’t hear in the States. At one point, I was listening to a story about a man who had shot a bunch of children, cut a deal, and was now sitting in a courtroom smirking at the tearful families of his victims. My friends and I are stewing silently in the car, feeling an intense mixture of righteous anger and sadness for the families. Then, suddenly, we are filled with surprise and just a bit of wonderment as one of the radio announcers indignantly says, “Well, that killer is just going to go to jail where some dude is going to make him his bitch!”
- My thoughts on peeing on the floor of classy establishments: Personally, I’m not super comfortable doing it. I imagine that I’d feel a little embarrassed. I almost didn’t have to imagine. I almost got to experience the real deal. Here’s how that went down: I was at a restaurant with some friends. I had to pee, but not too badly. There was a bathroom in the restaurant. The bathroom was currently occupied by a woman who was probably in there knitting a scarf. The urge to pee got a little greater. But I’m sure I can hold it. We leave the restaurant. Umm, pee. We get in the car. Need to pee. My flatmate drives around for a bit because she has no idea where she’s going. Every. Bump. Pain. We stop at a nice hotel for her to pick up some baggage and I rush in to find a bathroom. I don’t see one. I run down the hall. No toilet. GAH! My body thought it was about to get a porcelain miracle, but this false promise has made everything worse than ever! I’m really starting to panic now. I can feel the pure, primal terror building in my core. I look for a potted ficus, anything. I stride quickly into another area where I see an Indian man standing behind a counter. We make eye contact. That is all it takes. He smiles a slight smile, gestures down another hallway and says, “On the right.” I’m caught off-guard. Is he referring to a toilet? Could it be possible? I stammer, “The… the right?” He nods knowingly as I walk to glorious freedom. As I leave the hotel, I think, “Either that man is an angel or incredibly perceptive. Or perhaps I’ve just got the most readable MY-BLADDER-IS-ABOUT-TO-EXPLODE-ALL-OVER-YOUR-SHINY-FLOOR face.
- Shahi Tandoor is a delicious Indian restaurant that served me pre-meal hot towels. What what?! Gonna wipe my face with that. I also discovered roti.
- I’ve taken to frequenting the Black Dog Café. The café is far enough from campus that I can get in a nice half-hour walk with the added bonus of not running into other students. I felt even more intimately connected to this place when I heard them playing Imagine Dragons and The Lion King soundtrack.
- People here take their coffee seriously. Every latte and cappuchino is presented and treated as a work of art. I’ve begun to take more notice of the beauty in simple things. I’ve also been feeding my coffee addiction, but easier to justify those regular coffee purchases when I feel like I’m getting an artistic and cultural experience with every sip.
- Jizo has the best Japanese food that I’ve ever tasted. There’s this chicken teriyaki with rice and carrot salad and special Jizo mayo so delicious that just thinking about it gives me a parotid orgasm. The flatties and I have a running (immature) joke about how the food is so good it, uh, makes you jizo in your pants… if your pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down (No, wait. I apologize- that was crude. Please, feel free to put that back down if you already picked it up).
- REKORDERLIG! A Swedish masterpiece. Premium apple and blackcurrant cider. The sort of drink that entrances a girl who never liked alcohol. Mum and Dad – you MUST try this! You’ll never want to buy any other alcohol again. I don’t think it’s sold in the states, but I may or may not smuggle some home.
- Metro is this hip restaurant off the Octagon that has some tasty bread spreads.
- Albion Café probably has the best cold dessert drinks in town – iced coffees, iced chocolates, and this butterscotch beauty that was too much for me to handle. Also, I never imagined myself saying something like this, but whoever cleans the building must be a wizard because those bathrooms smell like gummy bears, in the best way possible.
- A staple dessert of New Zealand, the Tim Tam can be found in its natural habitat atop a grocery store shelf or in my cupboard. The Tim Tam species, of the biscuit phylum and the cookie kingdom, comes in multiple flavors. The Tim Tam is renowned for its role in the “Tim Tam Slam” wherein a person bites off diagonal corners of the Tim Tam and then uses it a straw to consume milk or hot chocolate.
The city of Dunedin:
- One of the hardest parts about living in Dunedin has been the absence of a Goodwill. After a lifetime of going to Goodwill and saying, “Hmm, a shirt for $8. Getting a little pricey, don’t you think?” I can’t quite believe my eyes when I see a $260 cardigan. However, I did discover an acceptable secondhand store called Toff’s (at first I thought it was “Toph’s” and I was all excited to dress like an Earthbender. If that reference went over your head, don’t worry ‘bout it). But Toffs.
- The Otago Museum has a lovely butterfly exhibit where I can go when the weather gets too darn cold.
- The Botanical Garden near my flat is green and serene (rhyming is good for my spleen).
- The city sports a shooting range, but unfortunately it’s the kind of shooting range where you must lie down with you rifle thingie instead of getting to stand, fire a handgun, and look like a badass.
- Sometimes Swiss cheese has no holes.
- Gas is called “petrol.” It takes people a while to figure out what I’m talking about if I say I need to fill the car up with “gas.”
- There is a club for smoking weed on main lawn cuz apparently no one can stop them.
- Couch burning is a popular pastime.
- Hiking is called “tramping.” One of my friends was scandalized when a boy asked her if she wanted to go tramping.
- One popular hairdo I have dubbed the “wattail.” It’s a wannabe rattail. And it grosses me out. I’m not even sure what would happen if I carried around scissors in my purse….
- Novelty stores have a thing for possum fur willy warmers, nipple warmers, and, ahem, belly warmers? Awesome. My belly button is generally the body part I first think about when I’m starting to feel cold. Actually, isn’t the belly button (for innies, not outies) more of an absence of something than an actual something? Why would you warm…nothing?
- Don’t buy Budget toilet paper. That cheap product makes me feel like a smoker, going through a pack a day.
- Many restaurants are open “late.” I was weaned on American strictness and preciseness, and thus don’t understand this laid-back approach to business operating hours. Late for you? Late for me?
- New Zealand is a land that breeds many celebrity doppelgangers. My first encounter was the shaved-head Elijah Wood who lacked something in the fashion sense department, but exhibited a perfect sense of timing by showing up on our Hobbiton tour. Since then, I’ve passed Arya Stark’s punk twin on the street, stood in a coffee line behind Downton Abbey’s Mr. Bates, and had my groceries bagged by a shorter version of the blonde girl in Revenge.
- I discovered a series of intriguing articles by a man who is essentially in a situation opposite mine (a Kiwi transplanted to America). I find it fascinating to read about the exploits of someone who is experiencing the reverse culture shock, the opposing perspective. Plus, he seems to be into film, which always earns points in my book.
- Oh, the freedom of New Zealand…. the merging of nature and civilization…. What I mean by this is – birds like to hop around indoors and that is awesome.