Friday, 21 March 2014

How not to climb a mountain

Lessons learned today:
  • Me and busses still isn't a dependable combination. We ended up on the other side of the mountains we were intending to scale, far from any footpath.
  • Mountains are always steeper than they look.
  • Just because it looks like a path it doesn't necessarily lead anywhere.
  • There are wiser things you could do than straddling a thorn-bush while discovering that the foothold you thought was there turned out to be a hole.
  • It is amazing how much motivation to keep scrambling through far-too-pointy undergrowth and over intimidating boulders can stem just from the realisation that there is just no way I'm going down that same way again, ouch, yikes.
  • The mountains are full of sheep. Also bunnies.
  • Christchurch is really pretty from above.
  • Running around on mountains is ridiculously fun. I-could-do-this-everyday kind of fun.
  • Peanut butter could probably fuel me through anything.
  • Despite light-pollution from a rather large city the starry skies up there are breathtakingly splendid.
  • Things not going according to plan more often than not result in awesome adventures.
  • The "mountains" were in fact hills, but in the eyes of someone who grew up in flatland more than half a kilometre's height is a bloody mountain.

Suitably heroic pose after having scaled Mount Pleasant in Port Hills.

Oh, and as for lessons of a more theoretical nature, I also started studying glaciology today. It seems to be a cool (haha!) and insanely intriguing subject. One of those if-I-had-unlimited-amounts-of-time-and-money-I'd-learn-all-there-is-to-know-about-it kind of subjects. The kind of subject that makes me wish I'd gone for more than one major. But oh well, astronomy is pretty fucking awesome too.

Love and hills,

Sunday, 16 March 2014

New Zealand adventures of the fantastic kind

Writer's block, eh? We meet again. Anyway, what I've been wanting but failing to write about for the past couple of weeks are adventures of a geekier kind. Y'know; fantasy, roleplaying, boardgaming, LARPing... that kind of stuff. The kind of stuff I live for.

This place isn't New Zealand so much as it is Middle Earth, you know. I am aware that general propaganda attempts to claim otherwise; that this is merely the place where the movies based on the stories of Tolkien were filmed. But I know better now. This is Middle Earth for real, I've seen it with my own eyes! Just take a look at this photographic evidence from Hobbiton (click on them for larger versions, and also a thousand thanks to the lovely Viv for the photos):


So yeah, it's real alright. Bag End, the party tree, Sam's house, the Green Dragon Inn (where they have the best ginger ale in the world, no kidding!). I was running and jumping around, investigating everything and soaking up the magical atmosphere, spontaneously doing cartwheels and squealing out of sheer delight. Just generally being the happiest elf in the world.

In the time I've been here so far I've managed to miss a gaming convention in Sweden, but I couldn't care less. I've been to one in New Zealand instead: Battlecry. There were both differences and similarities compared with the ones I've frequented in Sweden, but there was no mistaking that the general atmosphere of geekiness and friendliness was just the same. I felt right at home. It was all set in a big stadium filled with tables where people played miniature wargames, roleplaying games, boardgames, card games, and sold stuff. Everything in the same huge place. I'm not used to that, but it seemed to work out fine without the noise levels getting overwhelming. There were maybe a couple of hundred participants, and most of the activity seemed to take place during the day. People didn't sleep at the convention itself either, which I suppose would account for it being mostly a day-time thing. No LARPs this time around, but I did get the chance to roleplay something other than D&D (which by all means can be fun, but if I'm given the choice it's not really my preferred cup of tea). An adventure set in the world created by Peter Hamilton in his Void books, which made me even more keen to read those books. Also a Doctor Who adventure, which was epic and fun in much the same way as an actual episode. Lastly I also got to play the Firefly boardgame, which was so much fun I will very likely buy it at some point.

And the LARPing (which means Live-Action RolePlaying, hello non-geeky readers!). Judging by my (admittedly few) experiences so far there are some differences from the genreal LARPing culture in Sweden. So-called day games, lasting for only a few hours, seem to be common within campaigns (even if weekend-long games also happen). NPCs (Non-Player Characters) are also more common, played by crew who volunteer and get briefed concerning their role (and hitpoints) the same day. So crewing is what we did, and we got to borrow gear including weapons and makeup. Off-signs are used frequently, and "talking roleplay" means LARPing but without hitting each other with foam weapons. Also, New Zealand LARPers seem to have a considerably more relaxed attitude towards what constitutes a good enough costume, and there doesn't seem to be the same prestige involved when it comes to creating your own gear, compared with what I've experienced in the Swedish LARPing community in general. And the surroundings are stunning. Good gods, every single place I've visited in this country is positively magical, perfect for LARPing! Running around barefeet through gullies and along the waves on a sunlit shore, talking and hunting and screaming and fighting the players, and dying countless times by their hands. It burned my footsoles and left black sand in my hair for days. So totally worth it; I had ridiculous amounts of fun.

And there is a club at the university that does roleplaying and boardgaming, which means I can get my fix of geekiness on a weekly basis. Dreams keep coming true spontaneously. New Zealand and its lovely inhabitants continue to make me feel so at home that I want to stay here. Ahwell, settling down isn't something I'm even considering anytime soon, but I sure hope I get to see this place again after I leave.

Love and fantasy,

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

More New Zealand yayness

I like dreaming. And I do it a lot. About realistic things, unrealistic things, and things that are completely bonkers. Going to New Zealand was one of my dreams for so very long, so realistic that it bordered on a plan. And now here I am. It seems to be a place where dreams come true. Adventures that seemed far out of reach are happening to me spontaneously. I let myself get dragged into things, and I love it.

My studies not least. That's nominally what I'm doing here, after all: being an exchange student for half a year. I'm taking a course on galaxies and the formation of them. It has actually been my main research interest for the past few years, still I haven't actually taken a course on the topic until now. So while many of the concepts are already familiar to me it is nice to finally get to learn it all properly, and I also pick up quite a few new things. I'm also doing a research project on colliding galaxy pairs, which is greatly interesting. All in all I find it so intriguing that I'm now fairly convinced that galaxies in general is indeed a research area which is interesting enough for me to continue working in. If you feel thrills of curiosity throughout your whole body while reading a paper or looking at a couple of fuzzy blobs on a picture that must be a sign that you're doing the right thing with your life, right? Or possibly just a sign of budding insanity. I don't really care as long as it makes me happy!

The third course I'm taking is on Antarctica. This continent of eternal winter which I have also been dreaming of for so long. I am positively mesmerised: at every lecture I am almost dazed with fascination, and the lecturer already knows me as the somewhat over-enthusiastic student in the front row who asks ridiculously many questions. I really can't help it though. I get to learn GEOLOGY! Tectonic plates, continents, volcanoes, rocks, fossils, glaciers, the changing appearance of the Earth. “Geology is just physics slowed with trees on top” some genius said (Terry Pratchett, if my memory doesn't fail me), and yes, my background knowledge of physics does make it easier for me to ask intelligent questions. But to an astronomer the geological timescales are actually fairly short. Processes taking millions of years are considered to be fast when studying stars, so while most of my classmates marvel at the slowness of continental drift I can't help thinking things like “wow, Gondwana only started breaking apart 180 million years ago, that's practically yesterday!”. Astronomy does weird things to your brain when it comes to perspective.

And all the stories it creates in my head. It certainly triggers my imagination to think about what this now-frozen continent was like in warmer times with strange species of dinosaur roaming it, rivers flowing across the landscape and now-extinct trees growing all over. Oh how I'd love to go there. Some day… In the meantime I'm enjoying the hell out of this land. As of right now the rain is pouring down in a horizontal fashion, and has been doing so for the whole day, so it feels exceedingly much like Skåne. What did not feel like Skåne was going mountain-hiking to the peak of Mount Peel the other day and actually finding a bit of snow at the top (though it's still summer here)! That reminded me more of the Swedish alps, and the surrounding forests gave me flashbacks to the wonderful northern parts of La Palma. Both of them places I love to bits, so along with its touch of endemicness it made me fall even deeper in love with New Zealand. 

Let's just face it, I'm never gonna shut up about how much I love this place. I quite like Christchurch as a city also. It is still a bit crumbled in places due to the earthquake three years back, but all in all the city seems to be alive and well. To my great delight there are lots of gardens and trees, and the city is more spread out horizontally than piled high vertically. Maybe a bit too much traffic for me to feel relaxed and safe while walking around, though, but I suppose I am rather spoiled in that area. But there is a river, and if you follow it for five hours or so it leads you to the sea! The pacific ocean. It was wild, and cold, and wavy. Not very pacific at all, but I love it anyway, despite the fear and respect I felt by just jumping into its waves very close to the shore.

So yeah, studying and exploring, that's pretty much what I'm up to right now. I'm greatly excited to get to see more of the island I'm living on, and to learn more on islands in general: both galactic and continental ones. And I've done a whole bunch of nerdy stuff that has made me ridiculously happy as well, but that is the subject for another time. See ya later, as they say around here.

Love and excitement,