Saturday, July 31, 2010

To Tonga! For Sunny Warm Weather

Up until now I typically avoid the topic of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.  That's because I'm much more from the "Harden Up" camp.  I mean, seriously?! Even the acronym makes me think it's a joke.  However, I like my Vitamin D as much as the next person, so I know that a lack of sun can have an affect on someone.  For me, I got some of my best work done in the Fall and Winter because I had so little desire to go outside in the frigid temperatures of Chicago.  In other words, I was a hibernator, but I didn't get depressed.

That was until I had two winters in a row...I'm starting to see the effects of my hibernating.  I've even seen the light (figuratively speaking) because without a reprieve from the shorter days, I can even accept that people may catch a case of  "SADness" during the winter months... I know I have (granted it took nearly 9 in a row).

My solution:  go someplace warm, sunny and tropical.  I ran a search online and found reasonable tickets to the Kingdom of Tonga...haven't heard of it, but what the Hell, I booked it.  Whether I had someone to go with or not wasn't important, I needed some reprieve from the darkness and chilly weather.  But I had nothing to worry about - I wasn't alone with my desire to see some sun.  Three and maybe four other women will be joining me on my holiday in Tonga for five days near the end of August.

Tonga is a small island nation in the South Pacific, it is one of the few that was never taken over by foreign rulers, because of that they still have their own monarchy within the islands.  This also means that it was never over populated by tourists, which is a positive and negative.  It means that I will get a very island experience, without dealing with all of the touristy shops and large complexes that cater to that crowd....but sometimes I am in that crowd so we'll see how the "island experience" is for someone that has come to appreciate four walls and a comfortable bed.

Here's what I have to look forward to:
- Beaches:  Like many in the South Pacific, the islands of Tonga have gorgeous beaches and great snorkeling. Without all the tourists around things aren't overpopulated and crowded so I should even have some space to spread out.

- Whale watching:  The Southern Humpback whales go to mate near the Tongan islands every winter (July - September) making it one of the best places in the world to see the whales.  On most tour boats you can even put on snorkel equipment and jump in to swim with them.  Their calls can be heard for miles around as the sound travels so well under water.

- Snorkeling and Kayaking:  Sunken ships, reefs, and other underwater marvels are all to be explored on kayak trips and snorkeling excursions around the area.

- The sun:  Did I mention that I could use some Vitamin D??  Although I still don't plan to spend much time in the sun, after all, I enjoy my pale white color, I am definitely looking forward to the longer days and sunny weather.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Solitude: Easier Said than Done

There are days when I just want to be alone; Days when I am frustrated, tired or just generally don't want to talk to anyone.  I've found that after a tough week at work, this is particularly true.  Afterall, for three years I lived in my tiny postage stamp of a studio with only my cat to get under my feet.  The problem is, here I don't have a place where I can feel at home and still have the solitude that I need to recharge.

First I should explain that I love my flatmates, as far as flatmates go, I can't think of anyone that would be better to share my life with in Auckland.  Everyone is social but lives their own lives - an important balance to have when you live with someone.  At home, we occasionally share the details from our day along with meals that are cooked for an army rather than one or two extras.  We laugh together while watching tv or telling stories about our experiences of adapting to our home away from home.

But all of this doesn't help me with my need for alone time.  It's hard enough to achieve with five people sharing a house, but this weekend we have visitors so we're up to seven in our townhome.  Despite the fact that my flatmates and the visitors are all awesome people, I find myself looking forward to the days that I'm living alone again.  Oh well.  There are still moments where I can enjoy the best of both worlds.  For instance, I am currently basking in the sun and writing my blog in an empty and quiet living room...at least for now.

And I remember that eventually I'll move back home and get my own sanctuary again - which will of course only make me long for the moments in New Zealand, when I had wonderful company and people to share my life with in the comfort of my own home.

Things to be thankful for:
- Green lights all the way home when I really have to pee
- Beautifully sunny days that help me meet my Vitamin D quotient
- A mild winter in New Zealand
- Understanding flatmates that won't take this entry personally - sometimes I just like to hibernate

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Photos...Finally

I'm finally getting around to posting my photos.  Here's a few edited albums for you to enjoy of my past few months here in New Zealand.


April/May 2010


June/July 2010


You can also check out the new "Photo Albums" tab at the top of the page to see all of my photos.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Favorite Game: Rugby

I went to my first rugby game two weeks ago and I can now say I am convinced rugby is a great game.  I'm told there are people out there that try to make a strong case that American football is a tougher sport than rugby...they would be wrong.

While the Soccer World Cup was popular here, it is really a country of rugby fans.  I haven't quite nailed down all of the rules of the game but I understand enough to appreciate a good sport.  It combines the entertainment of American football, testosterone of hockey fights, and the padding of soccer players.  How can you go wrong? 

We boarded a train in downtown Auckland to head to the stadium with the rest of the fans on Saturday evening.  A 30-minute train ride proved to be nearly as entertaining as the game.  Half of the train car sang the New Zealand national anthem and the other half started up with the South African anthem immediately afterwards.  (We were going to the first game of the tri-nations tournament between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.)  One Springboks fan carried a vuvuzela and did his part to increase the level of noise and chanting.  By the end of the ride, the entire car was singing a New Zealand pub song - a song that is so thrashed at bars, more than one visitor has mistaken it for the national song.

We got off the train and followed the masses to the Eden Park Stadium.  The Haka was amazing and was finished off by spurts of fire that erupted just in front of us - a nice warm up for the cold evening.  Based on the bantering and commentary before the game we assumed it would be a close game and a fun one to watch live.  It was a fun one to watch but it was definitely not close.  The final score was 32-12, All Blacks.  It was a great way to start off the tournament.

Editor's Note: For those that aren't familiar with the Haka, it is part of the Maori culture.  Performed before every All Blacks game, the most common All Blacks Haka (which is actually any type of Maori dance) is called "Ka Mate, Ka Mate".  The wide eyes and tongues sticking out are to show their passion and scare their opponents before battle.  The entire audience goes crazy after it concludes.  Even when the All Blacks play in other stadiums the crowd loves to watch the Haka.  Although I took a video at the game, it's not very clear and the players are far away so instead check out this video from the All Blacks website: 

video


Things to be thankful for:
- Great flatmates (my flatmates, plus one neighbor, are in the first picture above)
- The thrill of a sporting event and the atmosphere that goes with it
- Another activity crossed off my list of things to do

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Independence Day

As families and friends gathered all over the United States last weekend to celebrate the country's Independence, I celebrated with a few Americans at a bar in New Zealand. 

Auckland is a small big city and given enough time you can usually find a few degrees of separation between anyone here.  Little communities crop up, often brought together by ties to home.  So on the 4th of July it wasn't difficult to find a group of Americans that wanted to go out and celebrate our country.  Fortunately, there was a bar that was prepared for our antics and even offered hot dogs, chili dogs, and specials on Budweiser for the American contingent that wanted to celebrate.  The hot dogs weren't anything like the kind from home, we didn't have a magnificent fireworks display, and it was expensive Budweiser even on special, but in the end I had exactly what I wanted:

Country music playing on the speakers, ESPN baseball highlights on the tvs, cold American beer (brewed in St. Louis, Missouri), hot dogs, and friends sitting around sharing stories of our families, friends and adventures.  A few thousand miles from home, this year we were celebrating more than our country's independence, we were celebrating our own too.