I have spent the last week and a bit at home, New Zealand. During that time I spent four days in Auckland catching up with friends and five days on the road with two Australians visiting Waitomo, Taupo and Rotorua.

During the last six months I have been trying to fit into Australian culture but it has been a long and hard process to do so. Returning home I expected to have changed enough that I wouldn’t quite fit back into New Zealand culture either. However, within half a day of being back I felt as if I had never left – finally there were people who could understand my accent, my mannerisms, and accept me just as I am.

Being back home has left me questioning where my true home exactly is. I am a born and breed fully blooded sixth-generation Kiwi. I am not European, I am Pacifica, I am Pakeha, and I am proud of my New Zealand heritage.

There is a far too cliché saying that states “home is where the heart is”. For me, the last six months have been an interesting journey into the heart. For the first three months of living in Sydney I was immensely lonely. Not knowing anyone crushes the human spirit. Of course making friends is a solution to loneliness that challenge is simpler on paper than it is in reality. After six months I have begun to build a number of friendships in Sydney, however, it will be many years until the number of friendships will even get a chance of rivalling those I have in Auckland.

So where is the heart now? I feel like it is in the middle of the Tasman Sea, torn between two different countries, and buried under a sea of emotion. A few weeks ago I had someone attempt to convince me that emotion was a bad thing and that showing your emotions was a sign of weakness. However, I see emotion as a strength, it gives us feeling, lets us know when things are going well, and when they are not. Emotions can be soul destroying though; especially when you let the downward emotions overrule the confidence ones.

It is with a bit of sad emotion that over the next sixth months I see myself fishing this heart out of the sea and continuing the westward shift towards Australia being my home – at least in the short term. While New Zealand will always be my whakapapa (origin), Australia by virtue of work is now my residence, and it is within that context that in order to move forward in my life I need to work in. I may be a stranger in a foreign land, but when in Rome you must do as the Romans do, however you must never forget your past, where you came from and who you are.

Little bird big city

I have now been in Sydney for 11 days and every night I have planned to blog about the first few days here and every day I have been too tired or too busy. Tonight I am in the too tired camp but have decided to force myself to give an update and get over and done with it.

I arrived in Sydney two Saturdays ago at 8.30 in the morning, after leaving Auckland at 7am (which meant a 3am get up time for the flight). We arrived into Sydney at the same time as about 10 other flights which meant it was chaos trying to get our bags and get through customs. In the end it took close to an hour and a half to get out and into the rental car hire queue. The rental car I got was a 2009 Toyota Corolla and by far the smoothest and nicest car I have ever driven.

The first few days in Sydney were spent getting my new flat/apartment set up. It is amazing how much money you can spend in just getting the basics – like food, cooking equipment, and basic furniture. In between all this chaos I also managed to do a few things that got me to see a bit of my new home these included:

  • Going to Opera in the Domain with a friend who I had not seen in 9 years.
  • Going to Hillsong Church
  • Going to Penrith – driving at a speed limit of 110kmh is a new experience.

The second part of my first week here was spent sorting out things like insurance and the like. The most interesting part of this was sorting out Medicare where I had to make a signed legal declaration that I had moved from NZ for good and was living in Australia for the next few years – the guy at the office didn’t seem to believe me even though I had all my uni forms with me! Thought I was some crazy kid on holiday. I also managed to get a cellphone and internet set up. After terrible customer service from Optus I went to Vodafone who set me up with this awesome mobile broadband USB stick which is faster than my old wired broadband in NZ. Although a much smaller data cap so I have to take care about how much data I use.

My second weekend in Sydney was spent having fun in the rain as some of the heaviest rainfall in years hit the city. On Saturday I went out to Bondi Junction shopping mall. Bondi Junction is massive. Imagine the Albany Mall and times it by 2 just for the ground floor, and then make it seven stories high. There is something like 450 shops in the mall. And you know what. I walked through the entire mall and only went into 2 of them! They were nearly all clothes shops – the last thing I need when I am trying to get set up for uni on a budget. On the Sunday I decided to look through town and found this most amazing hobby store in the QVB mall called Hobbyco.

Monday and today was spent at Uni. There is nothing that exciting to report here about my course – Mostly what I was expecting with a few minor hiccups around enrolment. What is amazing though is the size of the campus. Having come from Massey Albany with only around 6000 – 7000 students it is so weird to be on campus with close to 50,000. There is a sign at the front gate that welcomes the 9,000 new first year students! Almost twice the numbers of the entire Massey Albany campus.

The one thing that I will get sick of very quickly, and already am, is having to catch the bus to campus. I have not had to use public transport in years and while the Sydney transport network is far better than Auckland – I love the underground trains, the buses remain as noisy, as crowded, as bumpy, as slow, and as annoying as ever. Given that I have no plans, or money for a car for around a year I guess it is something that I am going to get used to – I just wish there was a train to campus rather than a bus!

P.S. I may have used to complain about the humidity during summer in Auckland but it is nothing compared to heat here. Last night was 25c overnight it makes it so hard to sleep!

Bipolar flatting

I have now been flatting by myself for a week. It is an interesting experience. So far I am enjoying most of it. The room/flat that I am in is probably close to half the size of my entire old flat that had 3 people living in it. It is so nice to be able to move around!

The one major downside to flatting by yourself though is you are the only one to blame for any mess! It particular I keep on getting grumpy that the toilet seat has been left up and that dishes have been left in the sink. I want someone to blame. I am in denial that I am the cause of the mess. But I can’t escape it. So I get grumpy at myself. It is weird. I swear I am going to create a sign on the toilet that says make sure the seat is put down after use or else… I will just have to work out what the punishment for the or else is… I wonder if the clean me can win over the lazy me.

The best of years and the worst of years

2009 has been a very odd year for me, a year of many highs and extreme lows. Of trials and triumph, of hurt and pain, of joy and euphoria, of sorrow and misery, and of anticipation and expectation. And while the fifty words I have written as an introduction may be nothing more than cliché they compactly summarise my feelings at the end of one of the most dramatic years of my short life.

My year started in January (as all years do in the Gregorian calendar); at the time I was exhausted after a year of intense stress serving as President of the Students’ Association at University. The experience of student politics had left me very bitter and in a way messed up. I was in a state where I wanted to be left alone to my own devices and at the time I was actively working to avoid people and block out the year before. I managed to find some space and time to myself in the middle of Parachute music festival in late January. It is ironic that I can find solace in the middle of 30,000 people but sometimes being around people but not knowing people can be a good form of rehabilitation.

February was a much more exciting month. I spent a number of afternoons and evenings perched on the top of North Head watching America’s Cup Class yachts race in the Auckland Harbour for the first time in more than five years. Later in the month I left NZ for the first time in my life to spend two days holidaying in Melbourne. While I was over there I set myself a goal of moving to Australia to study in 2010 (a goal that I am pleased to have achieved). However, February was also the start of an intense drama in my life that carried on as a drawn out and ridiculous soap opera until mid December. For the last two years I have been going out with on and off with Malaysian Girl. However, I was not comfortable with this and after picking Malaysian Girl up from Auckland Airport at 5am one morning after flying back from holiday I explained that I was sick of the games and I wanted things to either be going out or not going out. Unfortunately for me I was not firm enough and the games continued for another 11 months.

The memories of March, April, and May are all lost in a blur. In March I started my honours degree and for the semester I put my head down and didn’t lift it to breathe again until June.

June will be remembered most for the marks that I achieved on my first semester papers. Although I have always been relatively smart and typically get good grades I have never been a straight A student, however, this changed in June when my marks for my first semester came back with 2 A+ and 1 A grade. To celebrate I went skiing at my happy place, Mt Ruapehu. The first day of skiing was in typical Whakapapa misty shit, but the second day was a beautiful bluebird day on the slopes of Turoa after 10cm of overnight snow fell.

July saw university restart for Semester Two and the rest is a blur.

August was the beginning of the end for any friendship or future with Malaysian Girl. As mentioned I was not firm enough with stopping the game playing back in February and by August it got to the ridiculous situation where I was being played off against someone else of closer ethnicity. I didn’t have a hope and within two weeks of being told that Chinese Boy was on the radar I was flicked off like an ant that tried to follow the wrong pheromone trail for far too long. This left me in a state of intense distress and the pain of how I was treated by someone who I really cared about still leaves a bitter aftertaste even now. August also saw a nice weekend away in Christchurch skiing at Porters Ski Area where I rocketed down a 400m vertical double black diamond run, not once, but twice, it is an awesome way to get the adrenaline pumping and one of the absolute highlights of my year.

In comparison to the hell of August, September was like being in another world. Early in the month I was successful in being awarded a travel grant to fly to Sydney to visit University New South Wales (UNSW). Having spent the last five years studying at the awesome but tiny Albany campus of Massey University the experience was eye opening. I also began an ill-fated relationship with West Auckland Girl.

October was a month where the hell of August began to set back in. As the end of the semester and exams drew near I began to have nasty panic attacks (something I have been fighting for two years). In an urgent bid to get my head back I decided at 2am one morning to drive to my happy place, Mt Ruapehu for a day of skiing, this was great until a) I hurt my leg and b) four days later the panic attacks were back with a vengeance. October also opened my eyes to just how bad an employer can treat a staff member and after my workplace fired a staff member and close friend on the basis of unsubstantiated and circumstantial claims shit really hit the fan. On the morning before one of my final exams I had a massive panic attack which spelt the end of my part time work, but fortunately for me I somehow aced the test.

If there was one month that was a bellweather indicator of the rest of the year it would be November. The main stress of the month was getting my thesis complete and handed in on time. No easy task when your supervisor is on the other side of the world and because of all the dramas of August and October in particular there had been little progress on it since July. In the midst of the stress was the ending of my relationship with West Auckland Girl – the second breakup in 4 months, and when I have had less than 5 serious relationships in my life it was quite a blow. However, the good thing to come from the month was starting to play summer Hockey. I am completely useless at team sports – especially ones that involve hand and eye coordination so I was stoked to score a goal in my second ever game (and since then have only scored one more).

The final month of the year, December was by far the best, all because of a few simple words: “first class honours” and “full PhD scholarship”. Despite all the trials, challenges, pain, and torment the year had thrown at me I had made it through with a few battle scars and a massive piece of treasure at the end. In hindsight there are things that I would have done differently, there are still many things that I am very bitter about, and there are things that I am sorry about, however, in saying that you cannot celebrate the good times until you have first felt the pain and suffering of the bad times. Now the question is what does the new start in life hold?

The Completed Future Jigsaw

The last eight days have been simply amazing. For most of the past year my life has been like a giant jigsaw puzzle. A whole lot of pieces messed up, some missing, and some from the wrong puzzle set. But this week they have all slotted together perfectly and the result is simply awesome.

As I blogged a week ago I achieved first class honours for my honours degree. This was the centre piece to my future. I had applied for PhD programmes at Massey University, Monash University, and The University of New South Wales, however first class honours is the prerequisite into all three universities.

The next piece of the jigsaw was non conditional acceptance into the PhD programme I had applied for at The University of New South Wales – I got this on Tuesday. This left me with acceptance into the programme I wanted to do but no funding to actually do it.

For funding I had applied for the relevant PhD scholarships at all three universities. I was not expecting to hear back from any of them on the results of these scholarships until Monday next week. However, to my surprise around midday on Friday I got an email informing me that I had been awarded a scholarship for Monash. This was great news, although Monash has been my backup plan to UNSW, at least going into the weekend I would be calm that no matter what my future had been secured for the next three years.

Then even better news came at 6.45pm on Friday night. I got an email informing me I had been awarded the Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship and an Engineering Research Award scholarship at UNSW. This is exactly what I wanted and will allow me to complete PhD at UNSW, Sydney. The total combined value of these two scholarships over the next three years is in excess of $110,000 NZD. And is the best Christmas present anyone could get. It is as close to winning lotto as I will probably ever get – (especially as I don’t pay as the stats say it isn’t worth it!).

To make the week that much better I started a new job on Monday which runs until the end of January. I am working as a Web Monkey (yes that is the job title) for Mighty Ape – if you need Christmas gifts avoid the malls and shop online.

I am so stoked with the way that all of this has fallen into place. The last year has been incredibly tough on so many levels but to finally see the rewards at the end of it is such an awesome feeling. I have a new jigsaw to sort out now – planning and moving to Sydney in less than 7 weeks, but I am now sure that jigsaw will fall into place a lot more smoothly.

Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Psalm 103:1 NKJV

And if you read this expecting a blog about a real jigsaw puzzle check this out: Ravensburger Jigsaw Puzzle: Bombardment of Algier (9000 pc)

Owning nothing, but having everything we ever need.

On Friday I got Rob Bell’s latest book Drops Like Stars.

So far I am 3/4 the way through it and loving every page and every image. The bit I was reading last night was to do with possessions and ownership and Rob Bell quotes 2 Corinthians 6. Here is the full version from the NLT.

2Cr 6:4 In everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.
2Cr 6:5 We have been beaten, been put in jail, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food.
2Cr 6:6 We have proved ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, our sincere love, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
2Cr 6:7 We have faithfully preached the truth. God’s power has been working in us. We have righteousness as our weapon, both to attack and to defend ourselves.
2Cr 6:8 We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors.
2Cr 6:9 We are well known, but we are treated as unknown. We live close to death, but here we are, still alive. We have been beaten within an inch of our lives.
2Cr 6:10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

I can’t claim to have experienced half the things that Paul and the early disciples experienced. But the words of these scriptures still hold true today. No matter what I pray that I would be able to show that I am a true minister of God in everything I do, and through that God will be able to give me the patience to endure troubles, hardships and calamities of all kinds. I pray that I won’t be beaten, put in jail for my beliefs. However if I ever do I pray that I will always know that God is right there by my side as my saviour and best friend.

Being Yourself

I was asked by a fellow student President today about what defines me.

Well my immediate response was:

  • Computers/Programming
  • Tramping
  • Church

I was then asked how much of that I was doing this year given how busy I was.

My response was very muted because all three have been essentially zero. I have started on a computer science project but haven’t touched it in about two months. I have been tramping twice but that is it all my outdoors exercise this year. And church, well I have been twice, I have been to youth group three times as well but given that a quarter of the year has gone by I have not done much of the things that define me.

I was just reading something someone else I know had written, it was a list of goals. The only problem I noticed with this list of goals was that the majority of them actually had nothing to do with the definition of this person and instead were most of the things that this person’s friends define themselves through. So that made me think. Should we be defining ourselves in who we are or who we could pretend to be by copying the acts of others?

I don’t think we would achieve much more then heartache by trying to take the defining aspects of others and stuff them into our lives. Because at the end of the day we are all unique and all different. If we were all the same we would be boring!

Now I am not saying that we should not have goals and not have role models. However, what I am saying is our goals should be what we can achieve and our role models should be people that we want to be like; not clone.

Life. It is a celebration of diversity not of similarity.