(Image credit: Little Fuji)

Posted by Ellen

Faculty members of Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand, go the whole nine yards when it comes to academic regalia for graduation ceremonies, such as the commencement we happened upon last month.

We met this academician while waiting in line at a sandwich shop near campus. Arleigh, our kiwi sister-in-law, was clearly enjoying the chance to converse with him.

He was a professor of physical education, we were told, with particular research and teaching interests in the emerging new discipline of parkour.

Posted by Ellen

Public restroom on Queen's Wharf in Wellington, New Zealand.

Posted by Ellen

On 22 February 2012, white-painted chairs were set up alongside busy Cashel Street in Christchurch, New Zealand, each one different from the others, all of them empty. They covered a freshly sodded swath of a freshly vacant lot, where Baptists used to go to church before an 18-second-long earthquake took out the church, along with about 8,000 other buildings in town.

The chairs memorialize the 185 residents of Christchurch who died in the quake. One hundred fifteen of them were in a six-story office building that day across the street from what is now the memorial; in 18 seconds, the building pancaked and caught fire.

The chairs appeared one year to the day after the quake. Like so much else in the city's recovery from the disaster, the chair memorial, designed by Peter Majendie, was planned as transitional and very temporary, to remain on display for a week.

It's still there. Believe it or not, vandals steal chairs from the memorial every now and then, but so far at least, they've been replaced.

This transition stuff can be tough. New Zealand's latest census figures came out last month, revealing that more than 40,000 people have left Christchurch since the earthquake. The city is no longer the country's second largest. The official estimate now is that recovery will take twenty years, minimum.

Here is how people in Christchurch described the quake to us: the earth heaved straight upward, we were told, and then plummeted, slamming back down. Eyewitnesses reported seeing people literally thrown up into the air.

The next several posts will look at what's going on there nowadays, a little less than three years later. 

Posted by Ellen

The little guy here in the white apron, with a pencil behind his ear–that's Mr. 4, the grocer-mascot of New Zealand's ubiquitous Four Square chain of supermarkets.

The mural featuring Mr. 4 covers a side wall of the art museum in Christchurch. The museum is closed at the moment and has been for a couple of years. All the artwork currently on exhibit is out in the streets of the city, like this piece.

Perhaps you are wondering why in the picture below there's a crane on top of the museum? Hold that thought; we'll get to it soon.

Posted by Ellen

Joe and Dobby hog all the blankets.

Posted by Ellen

After devoting an entire snow day to building herself a Lego boat, Lily determines that the crowning touch will be a banana.

Posted by Ellen

New Zealand is a kingdom of birds. Evolution provided the land with no big predators–in fact, no mammals at all except for a few tiny bats. Birds ruled. They didn't even need to fly to live safely and well in New Zealand; flightless birds–penguins, kiwis, and nine species of giant moa, among many others–found food and nesting sites right on the ground all over the place.

Humans arrived with guns and quickly shot all the moas. Also, people began harassing the other birds with imported varmints that ate eggs and/or birdmeat. We are a pretty pathetic excuse for a species.

But some of the birdlife seems to have evolved to seek a certain revenge. Case in point is the kea, the world's only alpine parrot, endemic to New Zealand's high country. Wherever roads lead to mountain passes or overlooks, keas are hanging out in the parking lots, waiting for cars to chew.

Keas gnaw on and can completely destroy the rubber fittings on automobiles, such as gaskets around windows and antennas. They also eat ice cream a scoop at a time off a handheld cone, and they can figure out how to open backpacks and devour all the food inside.

Posted by Ellen

Thanks to the work of this volunteer and many hundreds of others, Philadelphia got 850 new street trees on Saturday, bringing the overall regional total of trees planted to–according to the calculations of somebody or other, as of Saturday night–exactly 262,236.

The goal is a million new trees, in hopes of restoring the forest canopy area heareabouts to 30%, which would provide enough shade to significantly mitigate the urban heat-island effect and would improve air and water quality, reduce erosion and water pollution, and lessen the frequency and severity of flooding.

The tree roots at bottom right in this photo belong to a variety of maple tree that is particularly hardy in urban settings and has a growth habit suitable for its new home in the urban jungle on South 21st Street, in front of a dentist's office and across the street from a dry cleaner's.

Posted by Ellen

They're gutting yet another house in the neighborhood.