Thursday, February 24, 2011

reading week: take 2

Reading Week is here again!  In case you don't remember from last semester, reading week is week seven out of the twelve-week semester.  There are no classes this week, and students are meant to get caught up on, well, reading.  This semester has gone by at an alarming pace: I feel like I just started my second set of classes, and here I am halfway done with them!

My week has actually been very productive.  I've been motivated to write two essays before Kira gets here THIS SATURDAY.  I want to have as much time as possible to explore London with her.  I cranked out an entire essay on Sunday, and finished essay number two this afternoon!  One is for my World Travelers class, on Jean Rhys's Voyage in the Dark, and the other is for Gender, Race, and Empire--about Mary Prince's The History of Mary Prince.  Both of them desperately need revising, but at least they are in existence!

Here are some things I have been up to lately besides essay-writing which may or may not be noteworthy:

  • Movie-watching. The Victoria is a pub 15 minutes away from my flat.  It has free movie showings at 8:00 every Sunday evening, popcorn included.  Not only can you watch a movie at the Victoria, you can also get a haircut!  Unfortunately, the haircuts are not free; they cost a whopping 25 quid!  Last week's film was Paris Blues, with Louis Armstrong, Sidney Poitier, and Paul Newman.  I enjoyed it, especially the music bits with trombone and trumpet!  
  • Omelet-cooking.  Michael and I were talking about how much we miss having big breakfasts, so we made omelets with green and red peppers, spinach, ham, cheese, and home-fries for dinner.  I had a bunch of ingredients left over, so I've been eating a lot of omelets.  Yum.
  • Cat-partying.  Rachel and I found a little bar/club by Old Street station that was letting people in for 2 pounds if they had cat-faces.  If you didn't get your cat face on, you had to pay 10 pounds.  We drew noses and whiskers on each other with eyeliner while riding the tube amongst all the Guardian-reading Londoners.  Once on street level, we didn't know where to go--until we spotted a group of people with cat faces to follow!
  • Internship-applying.  I probably should have planned ahead better with this, but I want an internship at a publishing company.  I found a feature article online about London's small private publishing companies, and sent emails out to every single one, with no responses except two Sorry-but-we're-not-taking-interns.  Looking back on that, I probably should I have sent them my CV and cover letter.  Anyway, I also applied to some bigger companies, and I got a reply that didn't begin with Sorry-but!  Instead, they sent me a 10-page sample manuscript to edit--using UK style. So I need to get going on that, and hope for the best.

me n rachel being cats

Today was beautiful, sunny, and almost-warm.  I took some time between the library and skyping with Kira about her impending visit to take a walk and soak up some sun!  (I think I have shin splints.  On my left leg.  I've been not running, and icing my left shin with a big bag of frozen peas.  Hence the walk-not-run).  Here are some photos I took:

Mile End Road     

Blue Skies White Houses

Mile End Park

cranes along the canal


Pooley House                                   

Campus and Canal from Mile End Road

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

happy valentine's day ♥

.   .   .   .   .   .   .

Anyone can find places, but the finding of people is a gift from God.

-E.M. Forster, A Room with a View

Sunday, February 13, 2011

london by night

Like so many nights before it, last night began with a tube ride. 

Rachel and I got off at Old Station tube, wasted some valuable high-heeled steps going the wrong direction.  Turned around and found CAMP, a bar/club on the corner.  Walked in to dim lights speckling the high ceiling, the deepbeat sounds of hip hop, an almost-crowded dance floor, big couches, long tables, skinny bartenders with headphones peeking out of their v-necked tee shirts and knit hats slouched just so on their heads.  The crowd is a mix of die-hard old-school hiphop fanatics with all the best dance moves and east end hipsters wearing thick glasses and skinny jeans and university students just looking to have a good time. 

The atmosphere is welcoming and as the night goes on everyone dances, it doesn't matter how.  There is a respectful awareness of the people around you: a boy makes a point of making room for us to go by, extravagantly sweeping his arm out to let us pass like chivalry is alive and kicking.  Half the fun is watching people dance--the d.j. acknowledges the bursts of talent taking place all over the floor, on the steps, on the chairs: "I see you!" 

The room is hot.  Girls crowd the bathroom mirror, skin glittering, bejeweled with sweat.  We run into people from Queen Mary: so excited to see each other in this place that is not an English seminar.  Our coats have been left draped over a couch along with everyone else's  and we find them and don't put them on and emerge into London at night to feel the cool air on our skin.

These lesser-known clubs are the best.  I've checked out some of the bigger clubs, too: Ministry of Sound, which was more like going to a concert--live music, a woman belting out something like soul over a techno beat, people waving their hands, facing the stage, enthralled.  Koko is a club located in a former theater, ornate with the theater boxes still accessible.  I also went to hip hop karaoke the other night at a little place by Oxford Circus; Londoners can rap!



Tuesday, February 8, 2011

more from my travel journal

Monday, January 3, 2011

This morning was really nice since the two other guys in our room left early, so we had the space to ourselves to sleep and get ready to go out.  

We left our things at the hostel after taking advantage of the coffee maker they had percolating in the hallway.  On our way to the metro, I got a banana for breakfast.

We got off at the Vatican, and waited in line for about 2 hours to get into the Museum of the Vatican, where the Sistine Chapel is.  The wait was more than worth it.  The chapel seemed unreal.  I feel like I could have looked at it forever and still not get my head around it.  I was surprised at how small the section of God and Adam touching fingers was, since that's the part that's always replicated.  I pictured the two of them taking up the whole ceiling.  Instead, it seemed like the entire Bible was up there--Jesus' baptism, Moses and the ten commandments, the flood, etc. etc. etc.  All the characters seemed so three-dimensional--they just popped right out of that ceiling.  It was incredible to look at.  

The only thing that tore us away from the chapel was intense hunger.  We popped into almost the first restaurant we saw and got lasagna and tortellini.  Afterward we walked around for a bit, checked out a couple stores (didn't buy anything: I feel like my major expenses on this trip are food, lodging, and postcards).  We went back to the fountain of Triton and got more gelato; this time I got melon and some kind of nutty chocolate.  Seems like ice cream here is so much cheaper and so much better than in the U.S.

Then we stopped at a grocery store and got some fruit, and some bread to go with a can of tuna we've been carrying around with us since Germany.  Back to the hostel, picked up our luggage, then to the train station.

We're currently on a night train to Paris.  At first I was really excited since  I thought we would have a cabin (not sure if that's the right word) to ourselves, with "couchettes" so we could have a really good night's sleep, but it looks as if we'll be in here with 5 or 6 other people, two of which will get the couchettes.  If we understood the ticket collector correctly, the lucky couchette people will be getting on in Florence.

Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011

The rest of our night train ride went well.  Sleeping on a train was fun.  I felt like a stowaway or something.  Everyone did get a couchette--the seats folded down and created enough for everyone.  I woke up this morning and had to pee really bad--everytime the train shook, I felt like I was being shaken like a salt shaker and my bladder was going to explode, so I got up, peed, then just stayed in the corridors and watched the scenery go by and got hit on by a man twice my age until Jason showed up and said, "want some breakfast?"  We ate in the dining car: croissant, OJ, and AMAZING coffee.

The metro system in Paris is pretty hard to follow.  I got an all-day pass for about 6 euro.  There's just a ton of different lines snaking all over the place without rhyme or reason.  So it took us a bit to get going with the metro, but once we got to our stop, we found our hostel pretty easily.  We dropped off our luggage and went to a Vietnamese place for pho.

Now, you may be thinking, "but you're in FRANCE, why would you buy Vietnamese food for lunch?"  I'll tell you why: pho is the best thing ever when you're really cold and really hungry, because it's hot, tasty, and filling, always.  Also, we still got quite the cultural experience since I get the feeling that this area is to Paris what Mile End is to London.  Still very much a part of the city, but a real part, not a touristy part.  When we stepped into the restaurant, we stepped into a sea of buzzing French conversation.  And this place was packed.  For good reason, too.  Good pho.

We tried to go into the Louvre, but for some reason it's closed on Tuesdays.  We went to the catacombs instead.  I thought we weren't going to be able to do that, either, since latest admission is 4:00, and we got there with a big line and not much time to spare.  We barely got in.

Once inside, we went through a long dark creepy tunnel.  Then all of a sudden, the tunnel was lined with billions of bones.  Billions!  It was all very orderly and in a nice pattern.  This went on for an astounding distance, bones and bones and bones.  After a while, I just wanted out of there.  The ceiling dripped, and there were too many bones.  I've never seen anything like it.  I think the information said there was a plague and the cemetaries became overcrowded.  Thus the catacombs.  Before anyone could leave, they had to check bags, just in case someone decided to take a bone as a souveneir. 

Then we walked the Champs-Elysees, from the Obelisque to the Arc de Triomphe.  I was a bit disappointed--for some reason, I'd pictured this street as smallish, narrow, maybe cobblestoned, lined with unique Parisian shops.  Instead, it was basically Oxford street all over again, only less so.

We went to Notre Dame cathedral, which was beautiful.  Reminded me of my dad having me watch the original, black and white version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Went to a grocery store and got some snacks and fruit and Nutella, checked in to our hostel, now I'm going to call it a night.

a little self-evaluation...and congratulation

I just got back from a lunch meeting with seven other study abroad students and the dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences at Queen Mary.  Basically, it was a focus group about the experience of studying abroad, and what the departments can do about improving the experience for international students.  Also, it was free lunch and 20 quid just for chatting for two hours!

Anyway, I was amazed at how many problems/complaints most of the other students had about their time here.  The process for turning in assignments is too complex, they couldn't find their building when they arrived on campus, room numbers are confusing, the cleaners are inconsiderate, they had no idea how the grading system worked and consequently freaked out when they got a 65 on their first assignment, it took forever to get their schedule finalized, they didn't know they even had an advisor, the study abroad coordinator is kind of rude, etc. etc.

Luckily, I could not relate to most of what was being said.  My schedule for the entire year was finalized well before I arrived in London, my advisor here is amazing...sure, I've gotten lost numerous times in numerous buildings, been late to a few of my classes, stumbled in to a few wrong classrooms, gotten chastized by the cleaner for putting a dirty coffee cup in the sink while she was trying to clean, and been subject to (and of) the study abroad coordinator's dry sense of humour, but those are all things which make up my experience here at Queen Mary.  These are things which round out my time here, which make it real.  These are things which could happen, and probably do happen, to first-year students at any institution.  It's part of being in a new environment.  It's part of learning.  Don't expect to walk right into a new school in a new country and be handed everything you need to know in a little welcome packet (although never underestimate the value of the information provided in a welcome packet!).  Sometimes you just need to get lost in order to figure out where you're going.

People also kept complaining about how little information they had coming into Queen Mary about classes, and advisors, and housing, grading, etc.  When asked what information they were given about the school prior to coming here, there were shoulder shrugs wide eyes.  I said, "I got on to Queen Mary's website and ordered a free prospectus.  You guys mailed it to me within a couple weeks."  No one else had bothered to do that.  One girl complained extensively about not being able to find the English department's assignment cover sheet.  I told her how to access it.  So many little problems, so many easy dilemmas.  These are things which students should be able to figure out on their own, or at least be able to figure out who to talk to about them.  If someone is motivated enough to come study at a rigorous university in a different country, they should be motivated enough to deal with the little things that will inevitably be thrown their way.

Maybe I've always been relatively self reliant, or at least self motivated.  If I wasn't before coming to London, I definitely am now, at least to a greater degree.  I know there is something to be said for planning ahead, for knowing as much about a different path your life is taking before embarking upon that path.  But maybe it's even more valuable to be able to take things as they come--if there's a rock in your path, don't just stand there and gape at it: jump over the damn thing!  Well, I guess the purpose of this focus group was to remove the rocks altogether, though I felt like everyone just talked pebbles.  And who wants a completely smooth path, anyway?  Okay, enough with the metaphorizing. 

I came away knowing I'd made the right decision to come here through EuroLearn.  None of the other students used that program, and I think I owe a lot of my pre-departure preparation and know-how to them.  They made sure I was registered for classes, and knew about the different grading scale, and knew where to go and what to bring.  But I think I owe myself some credit, as well.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Chilly run in the park and a ride on the tube ending in Chinatown in Londontown.  Lanterns strung across the street, meat hangs in windows, bright and red and raw.  Shops stocked with foods reminding me of family dinners, and filling up the crystal pitcher and putting ice in glasses around Grandma's table.  Aisles so narrow only one person at a time can get through, if there is someone standing in front of the shoyu, you need to go get the tofu instead.  Here, a British accent stands out: "What is that?"  No fish and chips in this place, unless you count the dried squid.  I grab a mochi to go.