Category Archives: Ph.d.

Hawai‘i, Sweet Home



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My wife, daughter and I began our sojourn last week Saturday. From Dunedin we flew to Auckland for a connecting flight to Sydney, Australia. Our baggage was considerably overweight, and Air New Zealand happily reduced my checking account by $200 for the privilege of getting all of our things home. It was an omen of more bad things to come. We were also informed that they could not transfer our bags to Qantas for the flight to Sydney – we would have to pick up all 6 bags, haul them to the International terminal, check the bags in there, and make our way through security there. The Qantas flight was relatively uneventful, but it took nearly two hours to get through immigration and then customs at Sydney Airport. By the time this was done it was nearly 5 PM, and by that point we were very happy that we had decided to spend a few days in Sydney before flying back to Hawai‘i.

Sunday was my birthday, and we spent it at the Taronga Zoo following a pleasant ferry trip through Sydney harbor which took us between the harbor bridge and opera house (to the left). The trip certainly did wonders to reduce our stress levels. Sunday was my wife’s birthday,so we wandered back to the harbor area, and had lunch at a surprising nice sports bar on George Street, before heading back to the hotel to pick up our things and head out to the airport for a 6PM flight. It turns out our bad luck hadn’t turned, just took a few days off like we did.

When we got to Sydney airport we got in the cue at the Qantas counter. After about a half an hour we got to an agent, who told us that we were on JetStar airlines. I blinked and said “Who?” Well, it turns out that JetStar is Qantas’ budget subsidiary, and even though we booked on Qantas the flight was handled by JetStar, and we would have to go and check in at the JetStar counter. Producing my best annoyed look, the agent offered to take us to someone who could help, and we were turned over to the first available agent. We checked in quickly and thankfully were not charged for excess baggage. A hopeful sign, yet alas, not all was well.

Our flight was delayed by three and a half hours after and earlier flight’s plane experienced mechanical difficulties and was given our aircraft. We were all required to leave the gate area and go through secondary security screening a second time after spending another hour wandering the airport. Our 6PM flight actually left about 9:30PM. Dinner was produced at 11:PM, though we were asked to produce our boarding passes to prove that we had paid for meals. Since we booked on Qantas and not JetStar apparently we were entitled to a free meal. Those that booked directly on JetStar and did not pay for the meal in advance were charge $15 for one of the most dreary airline meals I’ve ever encountered. They also paid $5 for headsets.

Upon arriving in Honolulu we found we had missed our connecting flight to Hilo and were informed that every Hilo flight was booked solid. The woman running Gate 57 was a particular prudish, dismissing other passengers from our JetStar flight that “Well, you missed your flight” as if it was their fault JetStar gave away our plane to someone else. We were on standby, and after watching two filled Hilo-bound flights depart without us, my wife and daughter made the third as standbys when we were told there were two available seats. I waited at the boarding area and asked the woman if they made the flight and she said yes. What she didn’t tell me, or didn’t know for some reason, is that there were several empty seats on the plane and I could have taken one. The plane departed with them empty as I headed to another gate and waited for an available seat to materialize. Gladly it did, though I almost missed it because the prude at Gate 57 neglected to release my record so that the employees at Gate 61 could access it. They got that squared away a few seconds before the gate was ready to close and I made a mad dash for the aircraft. 45 minutes later we were reunited in Hilo and made our way back to the house. I don’t think I’ve slept as well as I did that night in years. There is nothing like your own bed to sooth frazzled nerves.

I don’t think I’ll be making any international trips again anytime soon. Going to take a while to get over this one.

Writing, Like Grieving, Is A Process



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Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro starred in a pair of insipid yet entertaining comedies, with Crystal portraying a psychoanalyst and DeNiro the underworld kingpin he was treating. One of the sub-plots in one of the films was the death of the famous father of Crystal’s character. Whenever he was offered condolences regarding his father’s passing, Crystal would reply, “I’m grieving; it’s a process.” I’m learning that writing is also a process, not a product, and that like grieving, it can take a long time to get over, or get it over with. In shorter papers that I’ve written, the process was fairly straightforward, and the end product not much different than I envisioned when I first began typing.

When I first arrived at Otago and began my meetings with my Ph.d. supervisors, they had me write a series of papers on a variety of topics involving Hawaiian music as well as ethnomusicological and anthropological theories and concepts I’d been exploring. Done. I was then instructed to draft my research topic proposal, and referred heavily to those earlier writings. Done. Once that was finalized and accepted, I was instructed to take all of those documents and merge them into a single document, and then begin to organize them into coherent sections, without deleting anything. The last part was strongly emphasized: nothing was to be deleted, no matter how bad or irrelevant it seemed.

I began work on this past weekend, and the merged document contained nearly 25,000 words. Since then I’ve slowly been organizing sections, putting small headings above each paragraph or two which summarize them and help me organize them in a logical manner. Paragraphs are moving between sections, and finding logical homes within the text of other essays. Less relevant and irrelevant material is slowly drifting toward the bottom of the document after having been mined for the few gems hidden within them. The document has actually grown in size a bit as I’ve added some text to smooth transitions from one section to another. I’ve also filled holes in content and logic which I hadn’t realized existed. What a process!

Guess, what? It’s actually starting to read like an academic paper. The field of ethnomusicology itself is really a study of processes as well, but that’s for a separate post.

Enjoying Our Last Five Weeks…

Our family met on Friday evening to discuss our various return options, and we decided to catch a flight out of Dunedin on Saturday, June 28. We’ll spend two days in Sydney, Australia, then head back home to Hawai‘i on June 30. June 29 is my birthday and June 30 is Marie’s, so it will be a nice last present for us before we return home and deal with all of the things that we were able to put off until our return. M?lia wanted us to leave on the 27th so that she didn’t have to perform a hula for her schoolmates on International day, but I reminded her that it was not an option – it was her responsibility as a representative for her school back home and for Hawai‘i to share what she has learned.

Music Dept CrewMy supervisors in the music department had been trying to organize an outing for us on Otago Peninsula since we arrived, and it finally materialized yesterday. I’ll be eternally grateful to Dan Bendrups (far left) and Henry Johnson (second from left) for taking me under their wings this semester, and also to Shelley Brunt (far right), who I assisted in her Ethnomusicology class. The ethnomusicology program here is excellent, growing, and reflecting a wide variety of research interests throughout the Pacific. Dan and one MA student focus on Rapanui (Easter Island), Shelley with Japanese popular forms, one Ph.D. student in Papua New Guinea, an M.A. student studying Sāmoan music festivals, another the bag-piping tradition here in New Zealand, and myself doing Ph.d. research in Hawaiian music. I’m very happy to be a part of such a diverse and dynamic group, and apparently they are very happy with my progress in our short time here. We’re all confident that I will be able to hit the ground running upon our return to Hawai‘i and begin research.

While we have no travels or adventures planned before leaving Dunedin, Mālia has one last trip with her Māori language class to Ngaa Manu Koorero, a Māori speech competition in Invercargill at the southern-most tip of Aotearoa this week.
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Last Week Of Instruction at Otago

My MUSI225/325 Tutorial groupOne of the more enjoyable aspects of our semester in Dunedin was the opportunity for me to act as a teaching assistant in the Department of Music. The classes here are structured a bit differently than back home. Monday is the big instructional day, and the class instructor, Shelley Brunt, would lecture on the week’s topic. On Tuesday, small groups of students would make presentations on the week’s set reading, and their fellow students assessed their work. On Wednesday, Shelley and I would split the class in half for tutorials – she would take half to a different room, and the students would (normally) lead a discussion regarding the week’s readings and topics. They would them self-assess based on their preparation and participation in the class.

Today was our last tutorial group, and as classes are now officially done, I asked them to allow me to take a picture of them. Thank you all, it was a great semester. Of course, I have five or six weeks to go before we leave, and have much more work to do on my research preparation. No rest for the weary.

Seasons Change In Dunedin

Gorgeous golden trees everywhereThis is the first real change of seasons that Marie and M?lia have ever experienced. By US mainland and even Dunedin standards it still has been relatively mild. We’ve had some nights drop below 30F, but by and large the weather has been tolerable. It seems that things will be fairly stable for the next two weeks, then a steep drop in temperature around May 25. We found out that the timing of our trip to Queenstown could not have been better – there was a considerable amount of snow there a few days after we left.

The one aspect that is particularly bothersome is the fact that when it gets cold here, the inside of the house gets colder than it is outside! The flat that we live in apparently has little insulation, the siding is made of corrugated metal, with plain plate glass windows. The infrequent rain is much colder than we experience back home; fortunately my sister June, AKA Aunty Bug, sent some great Minnesota-tested jackets and under-garments.

It was Mother’s Day today, so I took the ladies out to lunch and a movie in the Octagon. We walked back just after 4 with dusk already settling in, and it is dark by 5:30. We’re over a month from the winter solstice, so the days will get even short yet.

There are only two weeks of classes left at the University of Otago, followed by a few weeks of testing. The class I’m assisting in has no final, but there are plenty of group and individual essays to be graded, so there will plenty of work to do.

I’m making good progress on my research proposal, and have identified the theoretical constructs as well as the research methodology I will use – much to the delight of my supervisors. Sometimes progress seems slow, but when I look back on where I started just four months ago it’s hard to complain. I wish I could talk more about the research topic and methodology here, but as some potential interviewees read this blog, I don’t want to tip them off and possibly influence their responses. Sorry!

Facebook Announces Localization Application

I stumbled across a post a few days ago that announced that Facebook now has an application for user translation/localization of the user interface. That’s something I’ve wanted for a long time – the ability to localize the interface into Hawaiian. If you have a Facebook account and have a few minutes, please make a post in this discussion thread and request that they allow a Hawaiian localization. I’ll do the work.

Scott, you need to round up a bunch of Cornish speakers and see if they can keep up with me. Five or six might stand a chance 😉

Writing About Writing

Royal_TypewriterI’ve always enjoyed writing, but have always been a “stream-of-consciousness” kind of writer. I’ll sit down with an open word processor document, type, and just go with the flow and see were it takes me. A quick spell-check follows and away it goes.

When I wrote my MA thesis (in Hawaiian), I sat down and wrote out each chapter in long marathon sessions. Of course there was a lot of editing, tweaking and additions along the way, but the gist of the chapters and overall structure of the final product was very much like the first drafts. My supervisors were somewhat confounded by my tactics, but happy with the results.

I learned very early that those tactics were not going to cut it at the Ph.d. level, and that I needed to be much more organized and disciplined in my writing. I was given three abstract subjects to write about by one of my supervisors, and about four weeks to crank out 5,000 word essays on each. I got nowhere the first week, only wrote about 500 words, which means I had to write close to 5,000 words per week in order to meet my deadline of this coming Tuesday. With two full days and part of another to go, I have about 1,300 words to go on my final essay.

One of tools that I found very useful was RefWorks, a bibliography management package that stores your references on the web, helps you insert them into your document, and processes your Word document with all citations in the format of your choice (the music department here mandates the Harvard style). It takes some work to get all of the citations in there, but you can import the book and journal article data straight from many library databases. It saves a lot of time and helps assure you have the right information in there. I took a quick look at my RefWorks database tonight and found I have 121 references. I only had 20 when we arrived in Dunedin in January, which means I’ve read in whole or in part just over 100 books and academic papers since we got here. Absolutely amazing.

I also joined an online group of other researchers who are in various stages of their graduate-level writing, and it’s been a big help as well. I realized how much more productive it is to write for shorter, multiple spurts every day than writing in a marathon session a few days a week, and simply reading in between writing days. I also have figured out that it is important to budget some fun time, both alone and with the family to retain my sanity. In retrospect, I used a brute-force method to get through the MA program back home, and need to learn to work smarter, not harder for the Ph.d. And I think with the right tools and attitude I’m getting there.

And having Scott here is going to keep me on my toes as far as blogging more frequently and posting more substance. It’s nice to have him around.

On The Downhill Slide…

While we don’t have an exact departure date yet and my math skills are dubious, I am fairly certain we have just passed the half-way point in our stay in Aotearoa and in less than 12 weeks we’ll be jetting back home to Hawai‘i. While I experience doubts during the course of each and every day regarding my process, when I look at the body of research I’ve done – books and articles read, reviewed and re-read, not to mention massive amounts of writing – there is no doubt that I’ve made a great start toward my Ph.d. Much credit needs to go to my supervisors, Dr. Henry Johnson and Dr. Dan Bendrups. The music department here is very dynamic and I couldn’t imaging being in a better situation.

I wish I could talk about my research and the various concepts that I will be applying to the research that I will conduct when we return to Hawai‘i, however, I am afraid that someone that I may want to interview might read it and be influenced by some of my thoughts and arguements. So for now it will remain in the very broad realm of “Hawaiian language in Hawaiian music”.

It feels as though the weather may be turning soon. The past few days and nights have cooled considerably, though still not much rain. Marie and M?lia are downstairs in the living room right now huddled under the room heater. There goes the electric bill! I also realized it’s been three months since I’ve driven a car. Dan offered to lend us his while he and the family traveled to Australia to visit family, however I didn’t feel confident enough never having driven on the wrong, er, left hand side of the road before.

I’ve Twitted a few times about the lunacy of orientation week around here. This comic from the student association’s “Critic” magazine tells it all. Yes, for some reason known only to them some students here think it is fun to get intoxicated and set furniture on fire. Sometimes they even manage to set themselves or other students on fire in the process. There is a more colorful (language-wise) comic in one of the more recent issues that delves into the love tolerate-hate relationship between UO students and the local community. As soon as it comes online I’ll point to it. The community sentiment seems to be that the university and city tolerate for fear that if they clamp down on the students’ “fun” that they would go to school elsewhere. There is supposed to be a street party (that is, a keg party in every home on the street) on a street parallel to ours but a block over tomorrow evening. The police have promised aggressive patrolling of the area; we can only hope.

Countdown To Liftoff Has Begun

My wife, daughter and I have begun to make final preparations for our trip to Aotearoa. We head to Honolulu on Saturday and from there leave for Auckland on Sunday. Our travel arrangements were finalized over a month ago, and we’re now simply preparing our final checklists and making sure nothing is forgotten.

I spent some time this evening going through my computer bag, and found a manila folder full of documents from our aborted trip to Ireland. Contained within it were the refusal letters we were handed after being turned back from the Dublin airport, a faxed copy of the GNIB superintendent’s denial of our appeal, and other documents we collected while trying to clear our way to return. While I didn’t read any of them fully, simply glancing at them put a knot in my gut again. There were also copies of the many correspondences we received from our friends in Eire, and also from people whom we have never met, but who offered words of support and encouragement. They joined a pile which included the letter which contained the results of the farcical “investigation” conducted by the the Dial on the incident. I should submit it and the superintendent’s letter to the Pulitzer Prize committee for consideration by in the “fiction” category.

Hardly a day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about our experience, wondering what would have happened if we had arrived a different day, picked a different line to stand in at the immigration checkpoint, or if I hadn’t moved forward to join my wife and daughter. While I know we are much better prepared for this time around, visas in hand and no doubts at all about my daughter’s school or Aotearoa’s policies on dependents of students, I can’t help but feel a bit of apprehension. Perhaps it is a good thing, and we’ll be better prepared. We will know for sure in a few days, and God willing my next post will be from Dunedin. Wish us luck.

Hele On to Otago….

The last major question mark for our travel to Aotearoa was answered yesterday when our passports were returned with the proper visas – I as a student and my wife and daughter as visitors. My daughter is enrolled in Logan Park High School which is only a short walk from the flat we have arranged near the university, which is equally close. Our tickets are purchased, and the adventure begins in Honolulu on January 6. We arrive in Auckland on the evening of January 7, and after a brief overnight stay we will fly straight to Dunedin. We’ll have three full weeks to get settled in before M?lia’s school starts, and nearly 6 weeks before I begin studies at the University of Otago.

While we have many acquaintances in the North, we have none in Dunedin other than the music department faculty I met while in Sheffield a few years ago and our email correspondences with staff at Logan Park. I’m certain M?lia will have no problems making friends at Logan Park, and my wife and I at the university and our neighborhood.