… to Dunedin.
I started my visit with lunch with Mayor Peter Chin and several City Councillors. As always happens, we found a variety of unexpected topics of mutual interest. For example, I enjoyed comparing notes about Las Vegas with one of the Councillors who has a family member living in Nevada. (I am a partisan of Las Vegas, in part because of my inexplicable attraction to neon, and in part because of a couple of glorious New Year’s Eves that I spent there with my partner, my family from back East, and our great friends Kevin and Vana.)
The Mayor, Councillors, and I also talked, of course, about the upcoming Rugby World Cup and Dunedin’s new rugby stadium. I was diplomatic enough not to ask about that whole dust-up in the newspapers about the future location of the 7’s tournament.
As in Christchurch, I had a varied and interesting schedule in Dunedin. I have a passion for science and science education, and I made it a point to meet with the leaders of the New Zealand International Science Festival. I am planning to attend this year’s Festival in July, which will be focusing on the science of food. I am particularly interested in meeting the Festival’s latest discovery – an American rapper who only raps about science. You can find more information about the Festival at scifest.org.nz.
I also toured the impressive facilities of Animation Research with founder Ian Taylor, attended a reception for Dunedin-area Fulbright scholars and alumni, and had lunch with the Rt. Rev. Dr. Graham Redding and Master Bruce Aitken in the dining hall of Knox College. I very much enjoyed the discussions I had at Knox on topics of religion and society, and the dining hall reminded me of both Hogwarts and my alma mater Princeton.
One does not visit Dunedin without visiting Otago University, and I spent a marvelous day on campus. I was privileged to have tea with Vice Chancellor Sir David Skegg, tour the campus, and spend time at the Pacific Islands Centre. At the Centre, I participated in a kava welcome ceremony and had an interesting roundtable discussion with Centre staff and students about Samoa and various island topics. I visited the impressive Otago Innovation Centre and spoke with a couple of the inventors about their work that the Centre is helping commercialize.
At the invitation of the Otago politics department, I also delivered a lecture at Marama Hall on the U.S. / New Zealand bilateral relationship. There were approximately 150 people inside the hall and a handful with bullhorns outside, which of course is a healthy sign of the strength of the civic values which our two nations share. In many places on Earth, including some with “happy” consumerist populations, students with bullhorns don’t show up for class the next day. Or the day after that. The question-and-answer period after the lecture was invigorating, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
As at Canterbury, I particularly enjoyed my time spent directly with students. I met with a group of post-grads and later for drinks with a group of undergrads. Both discussions were dynamic, productive, and interesting, and I look forward to future engagement with those budding Kiwi leaders.
All in all, the week was a great introduction to the Mainland and to the diverse, dynamic, and certifiably cool cadre of Kiwis who populate it.
I already started planning my next trip South as I boarded my flight North to Auckland at the Dunedin airport. (I was overshooting Wellington to greet my arriving partner when his flight from Los Angeles landed at the Auckland airport.)
If you have any ideas for things I should do or see the next time I travel to the South Island – which will be soon – please let me know.