Monday, October 10, 2011

A Beautiful City for Rejuvenation

There were a lot of reasons I chose to come to New Zealand to do my research on children’s lawyers. First, and most important for the research, is that New Zealand is currently the only country that routinely appoints lawyers to represent children in custody (not the word here) cases. Second, I knew some people here in the legal profession who could help me get acquainted with it. Third, it is beautiful. 

I got to see a lot of the NZ beauty back in January when I first arrived, and I took a wee trip up to Napier in June to grab some sun, but much of my time here has been spent in front of a computer. Sure, the scenery is gorgeous, but my back is also to the window. And don’t get me started about the wind . . . it’s killing me. So, with my rough draft sent to my advisor, and Yom Kippur approaching, I knew it was a perfect time to take a few days and get away to somewhere beautiful.

I chose Queenstown. Had I done more research, I might have chosen not to go, but luckily, I’m not very good at planning. Queenstown exists as a city for one reason – tourists. The population of 15,000 all work in some form of tourism. Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, claiming fame as the city where bungy jumping was invented. But that is just the beginning of the possibilities. You can skydive, parasail, paraglide, jetboat, swing through canyons, etc. Of course, I knew about that, but I tend to not like incredibly touristy places, and had I known that Queenstown is New Zealand’s number 1 tourist destination, I may have stayed away. But I did not know that, so I went.

There are no words to describe the awesomeness that is Queenstown especially in the spring. The city sits on Queenstown Bay, a small inlet off the massive Wakatipu Lake. Overshadowing the lake is the Remarkables, a mountain range also known as the Southern Alps. It is an alpine land of epic proportions, and each step reveals new beauty. But the beauty is deeper than the eyes. The Earth itself is full of vibrant energy, and I have no doubt the Maori were right to call what is now Queenstown Hill, “Te Tapu-Nui,” which “signifies intense sacredness” according to the plaque on the hill. It was on that hill where I found my breath again, where I felt my shoulders drop away from my ears on their own accord, and the beauty of the world filled my soul again. And it was while taking the time to stop and notice that I saw how spring emerges.

Sometimes you just have to get away.

I also took a day away from news on Saturday, which was Yom Kippur. Fasting from food is difficult for me because I get sick, but I decided to fast from my internet addiction, and it was a great decision. Several times throughout the day, I found myself reaching for my phone to instinctively check my email only to remember that there were beautiful mountains, trees, and a lake beckoning me instead. I was happy to give them my undivided attention.

And Queenstown offered one more thing I have had trouble finding in New Zealand - healthy food in restaurants. Do not misunderstand, I love Indian food as much as anyone, but it is not the healthiest, and the one thing I miss more than anything from the United States are healthy salads/sandwiches. Ok, Trader Joe's is still up there, but the sentiment is the same. Healthy food is not easy to find here, especially outside of Wellington and Auckland. But Queenstown had two great restaurants . . . and a Mexican one, where I did not eat, but you have to see this sign.

Some things should not be allowed.

Going to Queenstown was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it also helped me face another fear – heights! I jumped off a mountain, but not with a rope attached to my ankle. Instead, I was attached to another person and a glider. I went paragliding. It was absolutely incredible. Not only was the view fantastic, but the feeling of being in the air and gliding back down to the Earth was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. If you have the opportunity, take it. I was scared to go, but I made sure to announce my plans on facebook. I did not want to face the public ridicule of backing out from fear. It was awesome.

The Remarkables at sunrise.

The next morning at sunrise (yes, I get up early)!

No words, simply incredible. :)

A view from the sacred mountain.

Emerging pinecones. I finally took the time to pay attention. Nature is amazing!

So the cheesy Lord of the Rings Tour, paragliding, hiking, and sitting and meditating on a beach helped me place the thesis behind for a few moments and remember there is more to New Zealand, and life, than sitting with my back to a window staring at a computer screen.

Thanks, Queenstown!

© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

When the Irish Come to Town

Dunedin, the city where I am living, has a reputation for two things to non New Zealanders: albatross and penguins. Ok, maybe its Scottish history as well. But this is not a post about those wonderful, and beautiful, parts of this city.

To New Zealanders, Dunedin has a reputation for two things as well: it’s bloody cold, and it has quite the student life. I sort of laughed at the latter; I was, after all, born in Michigan and went to the University of Michigan as an undergraduate. But the Kiwis are right; Dunedin is cold. It is bone-chillingly cold, and the lack of insulation and central heating in the homes and public buildings just makes it worse. But this is not a post about the cold either. After all, it is spring here . . . and beautiful.

The Church on the Octagon on a beautiful spring morning in Dunedin. 

When I would tell Kiwis I would be studying at the University of Otago, they would always tell me about the cold, and then immediately about the student life. And no, I do not mean intramural sports. I mean alcohol. I mean couch burning. I mean students 18-year-olds from all over New Zealand (and on study abroad from all over the world) coming here just to party. It’s a great university, but the drinking culture is insane.

But this is not even a post about the students here, though it lays a nice foundation. As I mentioned in the last post, New Zealand is hosting the Rugby World Cup, and Dunedin had hosted four games: England vs. Argentina; England vs. Georgia (I went to that one); England vs. Romania; and Italy vs. Ireland. I though the Argentineans were boisterous. The Georgians and Romanians simply did not show up in vast enough numbers to comment on their presence.

Yesterday, however, Dunedin became a sea of green. I have never been to Ireland. I came close to going once, but decided I did not want to go up only for two days. If I am going to visit, I am going to spend at least a week. When living in France, I think the Irish were playing the French in soccer, and I saw the Irish fans under the Eiffel Tower. That was hours of amusement. But Paris is big, and they had plenty of places to go.

Dunedin, by contrast, is the size of Ann Arbor, about 100,000 (slightly more) people. I heard a rumour yesterday afternoon that when the Irish played the United States (and beat us 22-10, not a bad showing by the US) in New Plymouth, they drank the town dry. New Plymouth is smaller than Dunedin, and it is not a college town. I laughed and said, “Dunedin will be fine.”

Never underestimate the power of the Irish. Apparently, and this is still rumour, several bars in town ran out of beer, and ran out of it early. That is not totally surprising considering I saw them drinking on my way to yoga . . . at 9am. By 6pm, when I went back to town, it was packed! And I mean packed! Of course there were people at the Irish bar. But the Octagon, the centre of town, was fuller than I had ever seen it. The top photo shows you what kind of day it was, so it is not surprising that people wanted to be outside.

The Irish bar in town full of green!

Aww, new art and old. And green!

The day stayed gorgeous (unusual in the town that can easily have four seasons in a day three times over) as the masses headed to the game

Around 7pm, people started walking to the stadium, but they ran into a bit of trouble. New Zealand has another little quirk: EFTPOS. Kiwis carry almost no cash. There is no need. Everyone pays with EFTPOS (the “O” is pronounced like possum, not post; I get corrected frequently on that one). What is this craziness? I had to learn from Lonely Planet, and thank goodness I did. It means, “Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale.” In the United States, we simply say debit. But I’m not judging.

Unfortunately, the Rugby stadium only takes cash. And for some reason, New Zealand is not good on taking credit cards for which you have to sign (aka any credit card that is not also a debit/EFTPOS), so it meant these traveling Irish, drinking the town dry, were also taking all the cash. It is a sad sight to see long lines at the ATM only to get there and see this sign.

And yes, the ANZ bank was out of money too.

It is even sadder to see them all the way down the street.

Well, I ran into a friend and headed up to a “quiet” bar, and when I emerged at 8:30 to meet another friend, the game had begun, and the Octagon was empty. Completely empty. I then met my friend at the Irish bar, which was crowded, but not nearly as bad as before, and we went upstairs and managed to find a seat. I met some new people, got hassled by a very, very drunk Kiwi, and actually watched some of the game.

Ireland won. 36-6. I was in a taxi just after it finished (actually left the bar about 10 minutes before the end of the game to beat the crowd). But fear not, I saw some revelers . . . at 6:45am! Yes, the only restaurant open 24 hours in Dunedin is McDonald’s. Yes, they did some great business.

McDonald's -- the morning after.

And yes, the ducks are glad the Irish came to town as well.

The ducks -- the morning after

Overall, I can say, the Irish know how to have a good time. They were wonderfully polite and did their best to help the sad state of the Dunedin economy. I wish them all the best.

I’m also a bit sad it was the last game in Dunedin. Dunedin is rarely full of people, and it has been wonderful to see so many people around, music in the streets (including a friend playing bass in a band), and streets closed to the crazy drivers, so pedestrians can roam about. Rugby may be a brutal sport, but it draws people out and into celebration mode. Good times!

© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved