At least not in the winter. I mean, summer. I mean, January. You see how this gets confusing. And the jokes get pretty cheesy.
Anyways, I was in La Serena, Chile a few weeks ago to visit the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope construction site on Cerro Pachon, which is where we’ll ultimately install the giant camera we’re building at SLAC. Turns out it’s summer in the southern hemisphere. Also turns out the stars are different, and stargazing is pretty entertaining and illuminating (quite literally) when you’re on a dark mountaintop with a bunch of astronomers.
This is mostly going to be a dump of pictures with semi-relevant captions. Get excited.
All in all it was a fun trip, minus the 24 hour travel time each way, and it was pretty exciting to see the project coming together. My favorite part? The LSST fire department mascot, obviously. Because where else would you see a cartoon telescope dome wielding a super awkward fire hose?!
Since my mother is currently working as a doctor in New Zealand, Will and I along with my brother jumped on the chance to visit her for a few weeks during the summer months.
Days it took me to write this post: 41
Technically we got back on March 9th, so I’m only a little over a month behind…
Spiders killed during a single 3-hour kayak trip down the river: 12
I counted. I kid you not. You’d think that once you kill a few spiders on a kayak, you’re good to go for a while, because it’s in the water and all. Not true. And we all know how much I like spiders.
Total spiders killed during my stay (approximate): A million gazillion
Clearly this is an overestimate; it’s probably more in the two zillion range.
Total hours of travel to get from my house in San Francisco to my mother’s house in the middle of nowhere: 18
This is more hours than I’m usually awake, but it’s better than that one time it took me 44 hours of straight travel to get to my hotel in India.
Total hours spent on a plane: 27
I’m counting the little helicopter hop we did in order to explore an active volcano.
Hours from touchdown in Auckland until I got sunburnt: approximately 5
Which is impressive because we landed at 7am.
Times there were cows in the middle of the road: 1
I swear, you never actually see the cows moving, but you turn around and turn back and they magically appear somewhere else. It’s crazy business, kinda like those flying cows from France.
Times we ate ice cream at Blueberry Corner: 5
Which is just about the cutest name for an ice cream shop.
Times we had some sort of zucchini for dinner: 9
Out of 13 dinners, that’s pretty impressive. Check out the size of these things, grown in my mother’s backyard.
Number of days I wore a bathing suit: all of them
We literally went to a beach/river/hot spring every single day. Did I mention how awesome New Zealand is yet?
Number of hobbit holes we saw in Hobbiton: 44, plus the Green Dragon pub
Minutes to bike around the whole town: 15
And that’s if you go the long way.
Minutes to the beach by bike: 7
More like ten if you’re moseying along like Will. Still pretty good though.
Hot springs experienced: 3
New Zealand is on the famed Ring of Fire in the Pacific and has a lot of geothermal activity, which saavy businessmen basically turn into giant pool-sized hot tubs. We did go in one natural spring, which fed right into a cold river such that you could choose your own temperature by moving closer to or further away from the hot spring. It was pretty cool.
I’m sure lots of other fun things happened, too, besides the spiders, obviously, but I’m terrible at taking photos of it all. Thanks to Will and my mother for taking most of these.
The same afternoon, with a completely different professor, we had a discussion about television and radio. At the end of the afternoon, we had to present a news story to the class. I asked if I could make up my own story to make it more interesting. The professor accepted, which wasn’t very intelligent of him, but it was my first time with this professor and the poor guy didn’t know any better.
Obviously I gave a five minute presentation about the rising number of cows in Canada. Apparently cows from New Zealand are flocking to Canada in droves on boats, but it’s legal because they all have passports. Unfortunately, the cows are taking the place of the garden gnomes and eating all their grass. The Society for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes is on top of the problem, finding new places for the gnomes to live.
At the end of each week of class, there was a quick test on all the different grammar points we had covered. This particular week, we had to write some sentences describing a piece of paper using compound pronouns. Paper isn’t that interesting, but we did our best. For the record, these make wayyyy more grammatical sense in French. I wrote:
“It’s an object without which it would not be possible to write articles about cows in Canada, a place to which many cows are flocking. Cows are a subject of which we often talk. They came to Canada with passports that allowed them to leave New Zealand. In addition, on this paper we can write stories, among which we find the one about the flying cow, which crushed a car and became a celebrity.”
And the guy next to me wrote: “It’s an object on which a blonde American wrote many bizarre stories, including the one about cows in Canada.”
The next morning, we had to write a journal article based on a random photo. I worked with the same friend as the previous day, and ours was a photo of a horse that had crushed a car. Of course, we decided that it was a cow and wrote the following:
“Yesterday, in Canada, a car was crushed by a flying cow. Canada is full of cows, though no one knows exactly how many there actually are. The flying cow, which survived the crash, is the first of its kind and adored by all the Canadians. Reporters were surprised to find that the cow was accompanied by a New Zealand Passport. The cow was apparently transported across the Pacific by some strong winds. The owner of the damaged vehicle demands that New Zealand pay for the repairs, but New Zealand does not accept any responsibility for the accident. For the moment, it is unclear whether this situation will cause problems between the two countries, but the Society for the Liberation of Cows is working to ease the tension. In any case, it is clear that this conflict is motivating the Society for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes to continue their good work.”
My attempt to read the article out loud in class dissolved into a round of giggles, and my partner couldn’t do much better. Unfortunately, it was a totally different professor than the previous day and he didn’t know the context, which is a little hard to explain when you can’t breathe. Eventually he just gave up and read it out loud himself, leaving us to giggle to ourselves. At least our grammar was on point.
And if you thought that was the end of the story, you’re mistaken. I am well versed in stretching a joke far past its prime, and this is one of them. Stay tuned for Part 3!
The story of the flying cows started in a French class while I was studying in Nice for a couple of weeks one summer. One morning the professor gave us a sheet of tricky interview questions to attempt to answer in French.
If you had to get rid of a state in the United States, which one would you choose and why?
How many quarters would it take to make a tower as high as the Empire State Building?
A penguin wearing a sombrero passes by the door right now. What does he say and why?
How many windows are there in New York?
And my favorite:
How many cows are there in Canada?
They’re all difficult and open-ended questions, but the question about the cows is by far the hardest, and I said that to the class. Everyone disagreed with me and thought the estimation questions with the windows and quarters were harder, but like the eager beaver I am I explained how you would roughly estimate answers to those questions. I’m pretty everyone just thought I was a crazy American at that point.
I went on to explain myself by saying that I know nothing about Canada. Can cows even survive the winter? When I think of cows, which isn’t that often but it does happen, I always think of New Zealand. Maybe they went over to Canada on boats? The class starts giggling and I’m off the hook and we move on to the next question.
Which involved garden gnomes. Apparently there are a ton of them in France and in Switzerland, where a bunch of my fellow classmates were from. The professor told us a ridiculous story about some people who decided that gnomes have the right to be free, and thus went around stealing them from other people’s gardens. I was shocked to find that some of the other students knew about this “Society for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes”. The members of this society believe that garden gnomes shouldn’t have to stay in the same garden all their lives, so they move them around. Seriously?! How is this a thing?!
During the second half of class, we had to write our own tricky interview questions and then ask our partners. So I asked my friend, “How many garden gnomes are there in Switzerland?” and she responded that there were definitely more than the number of cows in Canada. I thought it was a pretty good answer, but the professor wasn’t too pleased, probably because we couldn’t stop giggling and disrupting the rest of the class. Too clever for our own good, clearly.
Now that I’ve gotten past the craziness of the holidays and moving and starting my new job (details to come), I will theoretically have more time to share some entertaining stories. Theoretically.
To wrap up my Euro trip, which was admittedly mostly a vacation with some studying mixed in, here are some tidbits from my final weeks:
I had to ask each of my profs for a mini-recommendation (basically just saying that I did indeed attend the class and that I was academically prepared for it), so my fluids prof wanted to chat a bit about my experience since he didn’t really know me anyways. I ended up telling him to his face that I wasn’t super interested in his class, because well, I wasn’t. Still got credit for the class though. Boom.
My last night at Polytechnique was spent singing karaoke at the campus bar where I starred in “Barbie Girl” and “Let It Be”. Everyone knew all of the words to Barbie Girl without even looking at the screen. Why am I not surprised.
I spent my last weekend in Copenhagen, where I saw a super entertaining (and also beautifully performed) ballet featuring troll beetles, bog children, witch vampires, headless giants, and an altogether incomprehensible storyline. But the guy gets the girl in the end, so there’s that.
Copenhagen also had some interesting candy in a giant department store that was also half fancy groceries and café.
And then I got on a big ol’ flight back to the US where I immediately had an apple with almond butter. Because nut butter isn’t really a thing in Europe. They’re missing out.
One of the main differences I noticed between Europe and the US is that people are much more cultured. They know more languages and have visited more places and are generally more adept at navigating in a foreign place. To be fair, they have more opportunity to do so since the countries in Europe are much smaller and it is easier to get around.
Another difference is the drinking habits. I think I drank more tea in Switzerland than I have in my entire life, and that’s only because I don’t like coffee. I woke up and was offered tea with breakfast, and then went on a walk around a lake (where I incidentally saw a pretty awesome gnome) and had tea when I got back, and then had tea with lunch, and then again after lunch with a biscuit, and then mid-afternoon on top of a mountain, then again with dinner, and to top it all off we had tea and played cards after dinner. And this is just a normal Friday. No wonder the public bathrooms are all clean and heated. They must spend a lot of time in there.
I stayed with my friend Sina’s family while I was in Switzerland, and when I arrived I met up with her in Berne and went to her last university class of the day (she is studying to be a grade school teacher). Side note: I may or may not have accidentally sat in first class on the train until I got kicked out. Oops. Anyways, this class is about how to teach math, and all I could think the entire time was that kids must hate math in Switzerland. They have to learn how to tell whether a big number is divisible by 7 (take the last digit, double it, and subtract it from the rest of the number). They have to learn how to put digits into 3-by-3 squares such that the columns and rows add up to certain numbers. They have to learn how to do long division with pictures. I didn’t really get that one, but the class was completely in Swiss German so I’ll give myself a pass there. The point of the story is, I feel so sorry for those kids.
And without further ado, some fun pictures from my trip! We drove up to the top of a mountain (well, Sina’s grandfather drove because it was a one-lane winding road and we met a giant truck head-on and had to go backwards down until we could find a little cove in the rock to hide in while the truck passed us) and were rewarded with an incredible view of the Alps in the distance as well as some sunlight, which was nonexistent below the clouds. It was also a full 10 degrees warmer above the clouds, and that’s in centigrade! So it’s a lot.
Sina’s mom also treated me to a traditional family-style meal where everyone gets these mini pans (on the plates in the picture) and puts a thick slice of cheese in them, then adds toppings like chopped onion or dates and puts them in the broiler in the middle to melt. Meanwhile, sausage and bacon are cooking on the top bit of the stove, and the whole thing is served on boiled potatoes. A little heavy perhaps, but one of my favorite meals from my entire Eurotrip for sure.
The Christmas market was also pretty awesome, complete with twirly-mustachiod santas and giant horns for the blowing.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this little gem. What the heck is American Sauce?!