Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hitchin' a Ride

While at university, and later in 2004, when I lived at Punakaiki on the West Coast, I would often hitch-hike. Despite the concern of some friends, I and others who hitched with me, never had any issues. The people I met along the way (and would never see again) were fascinating, but the most exhilerating part was knowing that, while I had a destination, there was no telling when I would arrive there, or how. It felt like freedom. Whether there was some romantic link to America or the Beat generation, I'm not sure, but I still think of them as some of the more real experiences of my life.

Three golden rules exist with hitching (in my mind at least). Firstly, I have only hitched in the South Island. Secondly, there are some people (e.g. parents) that one should not mention to that you are hitching- the disapproval and debate is not worth it. Thridly, if the ride doesn't feel right, don't hop in.

In the first mid-semester break in my first year at Otago University two friends from my hostel and I decided to tour around the South Island by hitching. We still followed through with this plan, despite one breaking her leg three weeks prior to our departure. We stopped at remote beaches and camped the night, and got one amazing ride from a woman in an old converted ambulance who took one week off a year from looking after severely disabled daughter in Christchurch to tour around the West Coast.

How well your hitchhiking experience goes depends on three things:
1. Gender. Being a woman means it is more likely women will stop and pick you up.
2. Placement. Where you try to hitch is important, the speed limit, the available stopping space, how easily you can be seen all contribute.
3. Weather. Standing in scoarching sun, or dripping wet generate sympathy.

The worst experience I had was being stuck in Reefton late one afternoon waiting for a ride, hoping like hell we wouldn't have to spend the night there. An hour and a half we waited for a ride to come along, and were relieved by the offer of a shearing gang to drop us in the next town.

So last Friday, with dreams of saving money and re-living the experience for one last time, I decided to try it again from Picton to Kaiteriteri. My first ride was Doug the priest from North Carolina who was very liberal and we had a great discussion on politics, before getting lunch together in Nelson. From there I had a five small rides, many interesting stories, never waiting longer than 5 minutes for a ride. It was the talk with people and lives that I may never have meet otherwise that I enjoyed, and travelling a road I had never been on before.

Reflecting on it all, it makes me think about the way we percieve risk, what comes from the kindness of strangers, and about humanity before globalisation and paranoia took hold. There are the news headlines and there are days like Friday. I will hold onto my beliefs in the general good of (wo)man, thanks, because if I think too much about the gloomy direction we are heading, I may never leave the house again.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Car Love

At 6:05pm this evening I watched as my car drove away, now the possession of someone else. I am actually feeling quite emotional about this. I guess that symbolically, becoming car-less means I really am putting my life in a backpack and going travelling, a fact which I don't think has yet sunk in. It is, as my sister Rachael said this evening, the end of an era.

I bought my Corona at teachers' college using part of the Teach NZ scholarship money I had 'earned' just by virtue of wanting to become an English teacher. Rachael (who knows more about cars than any person I know) found the car and helped me get a good deal.

Three and half years, and 55,000 kilometres later, I ironically hand it over to a woman who has just returned from the country I am bound for. In that time the Corona has taken a band (and myself) on a South Island tour, journeyed a few 'op shop missions', been to Gisborne and back over a dozen times, and over the Wainuiomata Hill I estimate 273 times*. I think the Corona's greatest achievement was fitting four people, two guitars, half a drum kit, three tents, as well as four people's sleeping gear, food and clothes in one trip back from the Parihaka festival in early 2008.

This was the car that made people think I was a good driver. I never got a ticket in this car, (well, maybe one parking ticket) and never crashed it. It was too old to look theft-worthy and even my mechanics liked it (one of them, Les, reckoned it was the last of the reliable Toyotas).

Right, if I was a man, this much talk about my car would lead you to question the size of one part of my anatomy, so I will just finish with this...

As I sat on the bus home with my wad of cash** and thought of the memories, I felt happy that someone else seemed as happy to buy my car as I felt owning it.

*Yes, I did calculate this.
**As Rachael helpfully advised: "I was going to suggest you don't throw the money in the air and then pretend to swim in it on the bus floor, but I figured you'd know better than to lie on a bus floor." She's a hoot that one.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane.

Actually it's a Boeing 777.

This post is to merely inform you that I have set up another blog. Fflur has already raised concerns about the implications of this, but I will try to keep everything in check.

This blog will remain in its rambling state, but will probably be contributed less come March 9th. The other one will be about my travels and will be mostly for family and other friends, and of course, yourselves.

It's called Nicola's Travel Bag. Yes, I realise it's not a very original name.

Being a Social Studies Teacher.

I have just finished my third day of Being a (relieving) Social Studies Teacher.

There are amazing advantages to being a reliever. No planning or administration work, and not having to think or do anything school-related from 3pm Friday until 9am Monday. Today as everyone sat down to start a staff meeting, I headed out the door. I am also teaching Economics. It is an optional subject. The students choose to be there. They want to learn what you are teaching them. Really I get to do all day just the things I enjoy about teaching- the interacting with students.

There are disadvantages, you do feel a little on the outside, not having something to moan and stress about all day. I also suffered a torrent of abuse from Richard as I walked into the staffroom. Once he had finished in my ear, he turned to the nearest DP and demanded to know why they had let me back in.

But Being a Social Studies Teacher, now, that's a whole new world. Firstly I had to deal with the disappointment. The yet-to-be appointed teacher I am covering for has the initial JP which means students arriving on the first day reacted with "[moan] oh have we got you? I thought we would have Mr Powley. Why can't we have Mr Powley?". Because Mr Powley is off teaching optional subjects.

The Year 9's wanted to know why my lessons weren't as fun as Music. This puzzled me a bit until I found out that their teacher wasn't in fact Richard.

And while I couldn't see any coloured pencils, so far teaching has involved drawing symbols, writing out focusing questions and drawing title pages. Even the 15 minute current events quiz I have been holding each lesson is legitimate. If this were English, those juniors would have written a 400 word essay by now, read two stories, and practised the first draft of their speech.

I have even spent ten minutes talking about where I am going to be travelling in the world, and that's OK because it's Geography.

Image from here

Monday, February 1, 2010

Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste...

Image from here.

Like many children growing up I had a dichotomous view of people, they were either good or bad and as a consequence I either liked or disliked them and treated them accordingly. Bad quite easily blurred into evil. This view perpetuated into my youth, and possibly into my twenties when the dawning realisation came that people are (to use the common phrase) shades of grey. It's easy to see how this came about- as children we are fed stories with goodies and badies; Cinderellas, Rapunzels, wolves, step mothers.

Now step forward (and backwards) to Mad Men. From the comfortable position of 2010 I initially found myself getting very irate at the actions of the characters. The prejudices, the ready willingness to use advertising to manipulate, the ill-communication between humans. The way Don's infidelity matches the hypocritical rules he expects Betty to live by, how Sal loses his job, the people who were fired because Peggy's lunch money went missing.

Yet it is the gap of time that reminds us these are people of the 1960s, a product of their time. Their edges are rounded, we can forgive their ways. The programme shows us how much we have changed, and sadly haven't changed. My point is that I have come to see them as characters with strengths and weaknesses, rather than good and bad. It is a credit to the show that there are so many developed characters and I am pleased that I can see the complexities in each. Where I most felt their pain was when they experienced great historical events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and Marilyn Munroe's death; the way these horrors of the world affected them.

Terry Pratchett allowed me to see these parallels in Unseen Academicals. He is a fantasy writer who juxtaposes our world against his own- Discworld, or more specifically the city of Ankh-Morpork. In this extract the ruler of the city, Lord Vetinari, hints at how he rules a unruly city without any written rules:

I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter and her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen: mother and children feeding on mother and children. And that's when I first learned about evil. It is built in to the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is some kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.

This made me realise that to pinpoint one character or individual or type as bad or evil doesn't seem to fit. It could be a systems thing. To be honest, I'm not fond of the word evil, but there is an ugly downside to humanity, as well as an triumphant side.

I guess it is a matter of how we approach the 50-50.

Then the sands will roll out a carpet of gold for your weary toes to be a-touchin'.

Thoughts are funny things and can lead you astray if you let them, but they can also lead to epiphanies. Yet I am sure you know this already. The ramblings that follow have come about largely due to a summer holiday to occupy and the reading/viewing/experiencing of the following:

-The TV series Mad Men (Season 1, 2 and snipits of 3)(thanks Laurel);
-The earthquake in Haiti and the events that are following it;
-This very insightful blog entry (thanks John-Paul);
-A book I read a couple of years ago called The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (thanks to my uncle Gordon who gave this to me one xmas);
-A book I have just read called Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett;
-A BBC documentary series by Adam Curtis called The Century of the Self (as given to me by my flatmate Mikey);
-The past year spent without a television.

I am not yet sure where this will end, and some of the thoughts are a bit strange, but, surprised to say, the epiphanies have been relatively optimistic. This is new territory for me so please feel free to comment.