Thursday, 5 February 2009


February is the best time to visit Wellington. The weather is still warm (It's the antipodes equivalent of August). Airfare and other travel-related prices are starting to go down post-Christmas holidays. But most importantly, my goodness is there a lot going on!

Fringe Festival is almost upon us upon us (6th Feb. to 1st March) This festival prides itself on having an "open access" policy, making it easy for any artist to become a part of the events. It's an idea launching pad for up and coming artists, and the best of all, it's a festival that's easy to enjoy on the cheap. You can even get a discount card for it!

The Cuba Street Carnival
(21st Feb.) does alternate years with the New Zealand International Arts Festival (26th Feb to 21st March). Last year was the Arts Festival (big, fancy, expensive showcase of artists of all kinds) and we didn't make it to anything partially due to laziness and partially due to price. This year I am looking foreword to the Cuba Street Carnival - a huge, free, Rio de Janeiro-style street party with costume contests, multiple stages, and a night parade.

New Zealand International Sevens (6th and 7th Feb.) is probably the biggest costume-wearing day of the year, which is saying a lot for a city whose residents are happy to use even a mundane office party as an excuse to wear a costume. Technically a sporting event, the Sevens is more like an annual event. There are parades, costume contests, and countless parties surrounding the games. I don't have much interest in sport, but it's easy to see what's so appealing about the Sevens. It is a simplified, slimmed-down version of Rugby, allowing for action-packed matches that only last fifteen minutes. An entire tournament is played through in just two days. This also means that all of the Rugby Sevens teams come through town all at once. A very big event for Rugby fans. As for me, tickets to the actual game are expensive and not worth it. We'll probably do what we did last year: Walk outside our door, turn the corner, and find ourselves in the midst of the Courtneay Place block party where we'll be able to catch the last couple of games on the big screen they've got set up in the street.

Waitangi Day
(6th of February). While walking along the waterfront last night, I overheard a snippet of conversation: "Waitangi Day is our Thanksgiving." I thought, "no it's not, Waitangi Day is obviously more like the 4th of July!" It is, after all, the day to celebrate the founding of the country. It is the day a group of Maori tribes signed a treaty with the British Crown. Of course, now I think about it, that is a tiny bit like Thanksgiving, which does celebrate a day in which the native Americans and the colonists got together and formed a sort of friendship. Of course, we all know how that turned out for the native Americans. The Europeans made a number of treaties with the American natives, but we won't be celebrating those. That's because the Europeans would eventually violate every one of them.

Summer City (31st December to March 29th march). This is a Summer-long series of free events put on by the Wellington City Council. It's everything from outdoor concerts to circus performances, from New Years parties to volleyball games on the beach.

Wow! That's a lot of stuff. I am exhausted just writing about all of it. As you can see, a confluence of events this year places Sevens weekend and Waitangi Day weekend right on top of each other. As I walk the relatively calm streets of Courtenay Place this afternoon, inside I am bracing myself for a particularly crazy weekend in Wellington's pub/club/theatre district.

I leave you with this photo I snapped yesterday on Lambton Quay:

Plimmer at the Sevens

Even Wellington founding father John Plimmer is dressing up for the Rugby Sevens this year

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Study in New Zealand

Yes, I am "going back to school." I keep calling this my Mid-life Crisis, which is kind of a joke because it doesn't feel like a crisis, but also kind of fitting because I've had a real shift in my goals and perspective and it's starting to show. In the past month or two I've quit my job, got a tattoo, and enrolled in a Massage Certificate programme - a complete shift of focus for me.

Which brings us to today's topic.

This being my first venture in tertiary education here in my adoptive country, I have learned a little bit about how these things work in New Zealand.

I admit I still don't understand the complex testing system which high school students take and which somehow has specific consequences for what types of university programmes they can get into. But I can now tell you something about finances.

First, there's student loans. I applied for one last week. Just about anyone can get one, and here is how it works: You take out the loan, the special government agency that handles such things then pays your enrolment fees and can also pay you for course-related costs (in my case, that's mainly a massage table). Once you graduate, your loan account gets handed over to the IRD (it's like the IRS). This loan is completely interest free. And you don't have to pay it back 'til you start making over a certain amount of money (about $18,000 a year). THEN you just have to repay 10% of your current income until it's paid off. It doesn't matter how long it takes. Just 10% of your earnings taken right out of your pay check by the IRD. It's that easy.

Oh, but it does not, in fact, end there. Here's a brand new term: Student Allowances. How these work is a little simpler: the government gives you money. And you don't owe them anything ever. Yes, my friends, the government will actually PAY you to go to university! Now, how much you get depends on your income as well as your partner's. I my case I don't qualify for any because of Loren's income, and because of my age (partner's income doesn't count if you're under 23). But the average student just out of high school will get somewhere between $50 and $150 per week, depending on their parent's circumstances. Now that is pretty great.

For an adult student, the whole system is still pretty neat. But for a parent trying to send their kid to university, well, it's pretty damn amazing.