Wednesday, October 29, 2008

for your information

Suddenly my blog is a symphony in ... brown. I would never have thought it.

Anyway, this is just to let you know that, having asked your opinions a couple of weeks ago, I am going away on holiday tomorrow with a friend of mine to the Mackenzie Country. We'll be staying at Lake Tekapo for two nights and hopefully going to Mount Cook for a daytrip - if the weather behaves, fingers crossed. It's my 22nd birthday tomorrow so it feels like a fantastic birthday present! I'll probably thrust on the blogosphere a very long-winded and photo-filled blog post on my return.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

who am I?

Now, a title like that can't be encouraging if you're looking for a breezy, lighthearted blog post. Rest assured I'm not going down an existential path here... more a geographic one.

As I said several posts before, I've been craving the mountains. Specifically, New Zealand mountains. I couldn't stop thinking about them while I was away from New Zealand last year; sometimes I felt like being away from things that felt the same way as those mountains made it harder and harder for me to do the ordinary things like breathe... Sounds dramatic when I write it like that! As beautiful as Australia is, and as good a time as I had there, it is just so completely different to this country. I felt oppressed by the heat, by the redness, by the smallness. That doesn't make a lot of sense because Australia is vast and empty whereas New Zealand is small and a lot of Australians feel quite claustrophobic here, apparently. But being in Australia felt, for me, like everything was on a tiny scale, vertically. You could drive for hours without approaching any sort of gradient.

Anyway, this is a tangent. What I mean to say is that I know I am a New Zealander because of this, my love for the land and the seas of New Zealand that make me miss them desperately whenever I'm away for long. At risk of going overboard, I feel a connection to the environment around me. And also to the people - I feel I belong with them and I understand them, even if I don't always get along with them. We are all equal.

I think this is quite recent among New Zealanders. Not that long ago - one or two generations - Pakeha* New Zealanders still talked about Britain as Home, and felt completely out of place in New Zealand. One of my favourite poets, Allen Curnow, wrote in the 1930s a poem that expressed this, ending with the couplet:
"Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year,
Will learn the trick of standing upright here."

In a detective novel I've been reading, written by New Zealand's Ngaio Marsh in 1943, this is expressed as well, in a suspicion of the natural environment.
The main character is looking at a poster of the English Cotswolds.
"It made Dikon, the New Zealander, ache for England. By shifting his gaze slightly, he saw, framed in the sitting-room window, a landscape aloof from man. Its beauty was perfectly articulate yet utterly remote. Against his will he was moved by it as an unmusical listener may be profoundly disturbed by sound forms that he is unable to comprehend. He had travelled a great deal in his eight years' absence from New Zealand and had seen places famous for their antiquities, but it seemed to him that the landscape he now watched through the Claires' window was of an early age far more remote than any of these. It did not carry the scars of lost civilisation. Rather, it seemed to make nothing of time, for it was still primeval and its only stigmata were those of neolithic age. Dikon, who longed to be in London, recognised in himself an affinity with this indifferent and profound country, and resented its attraction."

Well, Curnow's prediction seems to have come true. I feel able to "stand upright here", sure of myself and my surroundings, with the result that a lot of Ngaio Marsh's book just annoys me, with all of her references to the "terrible New Zealand dialect" and all the people longing for England and all of England's constraints. It's not against my will that I love the New Zealand landscape as my own landscape. There are still issues - it's difficult now to be unaware of the cost to the Maori of European settlement, and I recognise that the Maori have a claim on the land that goes deeper than the European claim. I will never be quite "indigenous".

Here comes the problem. I was talking recently to my supervisor, who is Welsh, who is extremely well-travelled, and who knows I want to see Europe someday. After asking me about my passions, which all turn out to be cultural - music, literature, drama - he said to me, "you know, you are actually a product of Europe. When you get there, you will understand what I mean." And he also said, "when you are in England or in Europe you really have a sense of walking on the bones of your ancestors."

Suddenly I'm aware of this tension. Maybe it was easier to be one of those past New Zealanders who never really settled down here, always looking back "Home", never becoming anything other than British. I am, I think, as much a New Zealander as it's possible to be, and I am part of the landscape now, but I am also drawn to Europe, to where my roots are, to the culture that has influenced me the most. And I'm not quite sure if I'll ever balance this. Maybe, after all, I haven't quite learnt the trick of standing upright here yet. If I'm here, maybe I'm not fulfilling myself in a cultural sense. If I'm away, I'll be longing to come back and be where I belong, physically and geographically.

We are still a young country, obsessed with these questions of nationhood. Maybe we all feel this tension; after all, the places we talk about as our nation's roots are on battlefields far away - Gallipoli, the Somme, North Africa, Crete, Monte Cassino... Who are we? How are we different from Europe, from America, from Australia? (Especially Australia!) Why is it that everyone else seems so secure in their nationhood and we are still confused? If anyone else can tell me exactly how long it will take, that would be great!

* Pakeha = of European descent

Sunday, October 19, 2008


So my academic year is over, and I am no longer an inhabitant of the Honours Room. Honestly, I feel like I should be declared Citizen, or at least Resident, of it because I've spent so much time there this year. It's almost sad to go, especially when I think that hardly any of the people who have made this year so much fun will be continuing next year.

In honour of them and in honour of the big room full of desks that became like a second home, I present ... [drum roll] ... HONOURS ROOM QUOTES of 2008. These were recorded faithfully over the year on four big pieces of paper we had stuck on the wall. Some were quotes from history books we happened to be reading which we found particularly amusing, others were quotes from us which were particularly funny, especially out of context. I'm not including all, because some could be interpreted as ... inappropriate. But almost everything we said this year that we thought worthy of immortality is on this post.

The characters have been listed before, in the Honours Room Murder Mystery. But one term you may need to know is:
480 - this was the university coding for our Research Paper/dissertation/thesis - whatever you would like to call it.

Wisdom of historians

"Only in terms of alcohol consumption was the East outstripping the West."
Mazower on Eastern Europe under Communism.

"When I was first a research student, my supervisor said to me, quite seriously, at the end of the first term: 'Now don't work every day of the vacations; do take Christmas Day off.' I fear that I took Boxing Day off as well."

"Shakespeare predicts Trotsky betraying the Soviet Union for Fascism."
Lion Feuchtwanger.

Walter Duranty on the 1932-33 Russian famine: "There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition."

"The cock-up theory is much better than an intentionalist theory."
Miles Fairburn.

And wisdom of the Honours students

Several of the same theme, which just had to be recorded for the utter irony...
27 April: "I think my 480's going to be quite straightforward."
Amendment #1, 1 July 2008: "Oh f***."

3 June: "As soon as I hand in this essay, the rest of the year's going to be really really easy."

31 July: "Screw everyone, I'm doing what I want now."

Allie and Bella, a friendship of discovery:
Q: Why do dictators have moustaches? (Allie)
A: Because they're stupid. (Bella)

Q: Why do Marxists write in the future tense? (Allie)
A: Because they're stupid. (Bella)

Q: Anything.
A: Ask Michael [our supervisor].

Also related to our brilliant supervisor:
"Michael doesn't read books. He absorbs through osmosis."

Out of context creepiness:
"I wish I was Stalin. You can be Trotsky, 'cos you've got glasses."
Allie. I promise you, this made perfect sense in context.

"Murder is always very relaxing."
Allie. Ditto.

"It's not mass murder, it's purifying the human race."
Nathan. Again, out of context.

"It takes a pretty honest man to send hundreds of thousands of men to their deaths."
Nathan. Seriously out of context.

Blame alcohol:
"The frog was saying, 'Eric, you're my man'."

"There is an inherent flaw in the fact that there is beer in the fridge."

"I need to be hit with the motivation stick."

"Kill, maim, eviscerate."

"Mugabe doesn't count as a standard guy."

"I'm going to go slap von Ranke around for a little while, show him who's boss."
Eric. This needs explanation: Leopold von Ranke, the father of modern academic history, was the subject of one of Eric's essays.

"Now Allie, the Engineers Registration Act of 1924 is always relevant."

"Roosevelt and Hitler: Brothers in Arms."
Eric. Who thought this would be a bad/awesome title for a thesis.

Coining of new words:
"Mortopsy" (Bella)
"Reconstored" (Eric)
"Chroniclology" (Eric)
"Noviet" (Allie - Nazi + Soviet)
Literary historians are "literaristorians"? "literistorians"? "literians"? "literararians"? (Allie, Bella)

And finally:
"We're here to learn?!"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

it's (kind of) up to you!

Today I handed in my dissertation. Ta-da!!!! :

The year is now finished for me, and I think I'm going to struggle finding things to do over the summer, having been so continuously productive and hard-working all year round. First on the list, though, is something I have been craving for months now - getting out of Christchurch.

I can't really afford this, but I'm going to do it anyway! This is my only chance before my summer job starts, and I'll only spend one night away, possibly two if I find somewhere to stay that's cheap enough.

The problem is, I can't really decide where to go. So I have a list here of several different options, all of which are close enough to Christchurch to visit without churning through ridiculous amounts of petrol. And I'd love to know your opinions on them. There are three areas I'm thinking of visiting, with several options about where to stay within these areas.

Inland and south of Christchurch.
Mount Cook across Lake Pukaki.
Option one: Above, Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand and, I think, the southern hemisphere. If I go to the Mackenzie Country at all I'll be going here and doing one of the tracks in the national park, because I have been craving these mountains for yonks. There is also the option that I could stay here at the backpackers or at the campsite. Probably a bit more expensive, but imagine waking up and walking outside to see... that!

Option two: I could stay at Lake Tekapo. This is a peaceful, beautiful spot to stay, as long as you avoid the tourist buses passing through. It's only about ... an hour? an hour and a half? from Mount Cook so it wouldn't be a problem getting there. A bit cheaper, and it also has a FANTASTIC pizza restaurant!

The coast on the other side of the island from me! Much wetter, much wilder, and full of sandflies!

Option one: I could stay at Okarito, a tiny village on Okarito Lagoon. Classic West Coast beauty, with a gorgeous beach and a kayakable lagoon. Not too touristy. From here I could easily visit the glaciers, and it would be a little cheaper than staying right near the glaciers.

Option two: Or I could stay at the township near Franz Josef glacier, which would allow me to easily visit the glacier and also visit other spots around the southern West Coast.

Option three: Punakaiki. Famous for its "pancake rocks" and stunning coastline. Beautiful rivers, also kayakable. A little too far away from the glaciers to visit them, but that's okay, there's plenty to do around Punakaiki itself.

North of Christchurch, on the coast.
Kaikoura is a small town with delicious, FRESH seafood, and a thriving whale/dolphin watching industry. Some beautiful mountains are a backdrop for the town, and there's some nice walks along the coast. A little bit more expensive than the other places, probably.

So - what do you think? I'll be honest and say I'm leaning towards Mackenzie Country, simply because I've been craving the bigness and stillness of the mountains for so long now. All the same, when I look at those photos of the West Coast I start to salivate a little. And to drive to the West Coast I'd have to drive through the mountains of Arthur's Pass National Park, and so I could get my mountain-fix on the way there or back. I also salivate when I think about the fish of Kaikoura. :)

I can't promise I'll follow your advice. But I would like to know what you think!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

politics schmolitics

John McCain? Barack Obama? Meh.

Helen Clark, on the other hand. John Key. New Zealand is gearing up for an almost certainly heated election on November 8.

Helen has been our Prime Minister for nine years now. Head of the Labour Government, she stands for slightly left of centre values. I like her. She is one of the few politicians out there who, I am sure, does not have dirty baggage. She actually looks like she's telling the truth. She promises money for students. Her Deputy used to be a historian. However... I'm not so sure I like a few of her policies. And I'm not sure Labour always lives up to the centre left thing. And she's almost certain to go into coalition with a smug greasy old politician called Winston Peters of whom I'd really like to see the last.

John Key is the newbie, the Head of the Opposition, the leader of National. An ex-businessman who made himself a cool multimillion dollars before giving it up for politics. He promises tax cuts for high income earners (something that always makes alarm bells ring in my head and I'm not sure why), he wants to privatise the health system, and I don't trust him. His name rhymes with Donkey. However... is he any worse than Labour? And, maybe, given the recession and all, having someone in power who knows a thing or two about finance wouldn't be so bad a thing. And, if National becomes the leading party, one of my friends has a pretty good chance of getting a job as a policy analyst with one of their leading MPs.

I don't know. Last election, I ended up making my decision based on the rude reception of Helen Clark by the Young Nationals at my university. As soon as she arrived, they started shouting her down. Result: no one who had come to actually HEAR what she had to say had any luck, and Helen had to leave.

And on Saturday night, friends of mine started talking about politics. It's not quite as extreme here as it is in the States with people telling you "if you are Christian you will vote X" but all the same, they tried it out on me. There is nothing that annoys me more. A few years ago, Labour passed into law a civil union bill and a prostitution reform bill, and suddenly a lot of Christians decided Labour was evil. Now these National supporters have the effrontery to tell me that I'm a single-issue voter, because Labour supports students, and that I don't take a moral stance, and that I should vote National. a) Their objections to Labour are based on, er, SINGLE issues, and b) I take a very moral stance. No way am I eager to vote for people that want to give rich people more money and take easy access healthcare from the poor. I don't see how that is any less Christian than their own stance.

If that paragraph didn't make any sense, ignore it.

Anyway, the point being: it seems like every time I vote, I really make an effort to make a cool, calculated, sensible decision. However, I end up deciding who to vote for based on what I don't like about the supporters of other parties. Is this just me?

By the way: thanks very much for the messages of support and the prayers for my nephew. He is doing well and has just gone home from hospital. More details on my other blog if you're interested.

Friday, October 03, 2008

prayer request

I have a baby nephew, he's about two and a half months old, and today he was admitted into hospital for heart surgery next week. I would really appreciate any prayers for him and his parents.
Update 8/10/08:
My nephew's operation was yesterday afternoon. Everything went to plan and he's now recovering! Thanks very much for the prayers.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

the best advice my parents ever gave me

I have decided to move out of my dad's house next year. For many reasons, including that I can now afford it, and that it seems a bit odd to be doing a masters and still be living at home. So I've started looking at flats, and there are at least two places near university where friends of mine need a new flatmate next year - exciting.

Recently on the radio, whenever they interview someone slightly, quite, or very famous, they've asked the question, "what's the best advice your parents gave you?" Often it's something like, "never give up", "believe in yourself", or "work hard".

It got me thinking - now that I'm moving out of the family home, what advice can I take with me? What catchy little slogans have been inculcated in me over the last twenty-two years by my parents?

Actually, nothing. I was talking to my dad about this last night, and he said he never wanted to be the type of parent who is always telling their kids the best way to live. He thinks it's more important to set the best possible example, instead of preaching slogans he will never live up to.

My mum was the same, pretty much. She'd advise me on very specific things, i.e., "if you don't work harder on your exam study, you will fail Calculus" (a prophecy which came true). Probably the most bittersweet memory I have of her is our talk soon before she died, in which she knew she was supposed to give some pithy, meaningful advice but found the idea so funny and alien that she advised me to "wash your clothes, keep your room tidy, and be patient with Dad", with a slight twinkle in her eye. But neither of them ever said, "y'know, Allie, life is just like a [insert metaphor here]. You've got to [insert instruction here] or you'll [insert horrible fate here]. But if you [insert unlikely task here], you'll be blessed with everything you ever dreamed of!"

Both of them were more likely to go out of their way to help others on a regular basis, to work hard for people that weren't going to give them anything in return, to care about people in practical as well as vocal ways, to be responsible yet generous with their own money, and to keep things in the ultimate perspective that God comes first and that fame or success in the world isn't really what we should be trying to achieve. If it came, good for you, but if it became the most important thing in your life, there was no point in having it. Neither of them ever told me this in so many words but I think I could fairly say that that's what they have taught me - and I'm not sure I would have listened if they'd said it in so many words.

It may even sound a bit corny having put that into words. For me, however, although there are things about my parents I don't want to be like, everything I've written above is something I will try to keep in focus for the rest of my life.