Hey, just letting you know that my mac is dead (hard drive/memory issue, not sure which yet) and until I get that fixed there will be no updates on here. Hopefully it’ll be better by the end of the week - that’s me being optimistic - but if not I’ll write everything up and just post it later in bulk. Sorry!
If you went the extra mile and clicked on the link I posted yesterday, then you already know about my trip to Mumbles. Mumbles is in the South of Wales, on the coast, and it is pretty darn cute. I went with my friend Alun, who was a very good tour guide (and very patient with me and my camera). Though this trip did result in the need to pull an all-nighter to finish an essay on A bout de souffle I considered it more than worth it. That could be because I’ve finally caught up on sleep since Sunday, but I like to think that it genuinely was a good trip!
Mumbles was a lot smaller than I’d imagined, and more…linear. I’m used to cities having a center then spreading out, like a cell. Mumbles was basically set up in a line along the water. Point A: entering Mumbles. Point B: Middle of Mumbles. Point C: Water. There was a lighthouse and a few rocks that looked as though they might hold interesting cave-like things, but since we didn’t have a boat and I didn’t fancy swimming I’ll never know how interesting those cave-like things may have been. Unless I return! It’s clearly not boating weather quite yet; the boats were all lined up on shore and I only saw a handful actually on the water. Despite the cold weather keeping the boats out of action, it did nothing to the people who wanted ice cream. Having TASTED the ice cream offered I can’t blame them. It was very soft and more gelato-y than the way I usually imagine ice cream. I had a scoop of tiramisu and a scoop of Irish coffee. Decadence, thy name is ice cream.
We didn’t do a whole lot of touristy things, just walked along and went down the boardwalk/dock thing, but we did try to go to a castle! They appeared to be doing renovations - or possibly just propping it up; it looked like it was about to tumble down the side of the cliff - so we were not allowed in. You know already that I have a tendency to want to sidestep those kinds of restrictions, but there was a large, painted wall in the way rather than the chain link fence I imagined. They’d clearly gotten a group of schoolchildren to paint it, and they had come up with some truly amazing creations. My two favorites were the orc-knight and the eye-patched horse wielding a bow and arrow. Things were different in medieval times.
Tomorrow I go to Dublin! I don’t really have any clear plans on what I’m going to do there (do you sense a theme?) but I am excited nonetheless. I’ll try to look up typically touristy things to explore, and WILL remember to bring my camera and be obnoxiously on top of recording the whole experience. I have to admit, most of my excitement about Dublin comes from the fact that I’ll get to see my friend Paddy when I get there. I haven’t seen him in four years -FOUR YEARS - and it’s going to be really exciting for me to hang out with him again.
This brings me to my closing statement. Are you ever struck by the coolness of the world we live in? I keep thinking, “All things being equal, a hundred years ago I would never have met these people.” And even if I had, there’s no way we would’ve kept in touch so easily. Even fifty years ago it would’ve been challenging. But now, it’s so simple! It seems like people just want to connect with other people. Some of the major inventions in the last century - telephones, televisions, computers - were intended to be used more for governmental or military work. Instead, people found out about it and said, “Ah! A device you can use to communicate over distances? I could use that to talk to my family/friends/strangers-I-want-to-meet-but-haven’t-yet!” Even though there are things about the modern world that could be better, I feel very lucky to be alive in a time when it’s possible to talk to someone from the United States, someone from New Zealand and someone from England all in the span of an hour, and that with very little effort on my part. I guess what I’m saying is: Viva l’internet!
First educational thing in a while: I got my paper back from my professor yesterday, and did well on it! I got a 72, which is apparently like an A here - yeah, I probably would’ve panicked if I hadn’t known that beforehand. This was the paper on the narrator in All Quiet On the Western Front. Not to brag, or anything, but…yeah, no, totally bragging. I GOT AN A ON MY FIRST PAPER! HELL YES! So, there’s that.
Last night I went to the Global Poverty Conference put on by the Discovery volunteer organization on campus. They did a great job putting it together; they had food donations, coffee donations, a raffle, and a fantastic turnout. I got to talk briefly with one of the co-founders of the Global Poverty Project, Simon Moss. He was clearly passionate about eradicating poverty worldwide. I wish that I could explain everything that he told us as well as he said it, but I can’t. I will link you to their website, however! http://www.globalpovertyproject.com/
The part of the presentation that had the most impact on me was the graphs that he used. It may just be because I’m still so young, but I kind of had extreme poverty in my mind as something that had always just been there - something that couldn’t really be solved, at least not in my lifetime. I’m not proud of this. When Simon pulled out a series of graphs showing poverty levels worldwide over the last 100 years, the decrease was astounding. In one country, the number of people living in extreme poverty (that’s around $1 a day) was almost halved in the last century. That was a big deal to me. Sure, the progress is slow, but there is clear evidence that you Can change things for the better, you Can help people and you Can make a difference. Not to get on a soap box or anything, but it was a pretty inspirational talk. They’re having this event in May called Live Below the Line 2011, where you will live on 1 pound a day for 5 days. I’m going to do it, and if you feel like joining in then please do! There’s a link for that on the website as well.
Lowering the subject matter a little: I went to the gym today! At home I’m generally pretty good about going to the gym regularly, but I have to admit I have done next to nothing since I’ve been here. I’d gone in to the gym with the intention of doing a run/walk thing, but figured, “Hey, I’ll just run as long as seems comfortable and cap it at 20 minutes.” I didn’t think I’d get to 20 minutes, not having done any real physical activity in almost 2 months. BUT I did run for a full 20 minutes! Yay! (I bet you saw that coming, didn’t you.)
This being my first time at the gym, I noticed a few differences between the gym here and the gym back home. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, or just the fact that this Uni is smaller, but the gym facilities here aren’t nearly as extensive as the ones Stateside. For one thing, instead of multiple areas for cardio, weights, etc. there’s one room for all of them. It seems like the emphasis here is much more on a team sport, or a court sport (squash seems popular), whereas in the states you’ll go by yourself expressly for the purpose of “working out.” I don’t think the way you exercise really matters, personally. It’s just good to get moving! I know that I for one am thoroughly pleased with my gym time today - yes, even taking the sweaty/smelly part of it. Side note: I am working on videos, I just don’t have anything…done. Believe me, I’m as annoyed about that as you are. Patience shmatience. But anyway, if you like running or working out, here are the favorites from my playlist:
- Flagpole Sitta - Harvey Danger
- Kryptonite - 3 Doors Down
- Hotel Yorba - White Stripes
- Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand
- The Bad Touch - Bloodhound Gang
- Keep the Car Running - Arcade Fire
- Walcott - Vampire Weekend
- Are You Gonna Be My Girl - JET
- Bleed It Out - Linkin Park
- Let It Rock - Kevin Rudolf & L’il Wayne
- I Want You to Want Me - Cheap Trick
- I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) - The Proclaimers
- Sour Cherry - The Kills
- Bulletproof - La Roux
- I Think I Like You - Black Box Revelation
- Animal - Neon Trees
- Don’t Trust Me - 3Oh!3
- Tessellate - Tokyo Police Club
- Here It Goes Again - Ok Go
- That’s Not My Name - The Ting Tings
- Starstrukk - 3Oh!3
- Feeling Good - Muse
Ugh. Let me begin this post by saying that my head is in a weird place right now, and I don’t know what to do about it. Does it seem to you all that these posts all start out with me saying, “Don’t read this, it isn’t about study abroad!”? It seems that way to me. But hey, why break with tradition?
Why? Because things get boring. You’ve got to shake it up sometime, and to spit in the face of the conservative past is the sort of thing you have to do when you’re young - even if it’s something as silly and simple as adjusting your blog posts. Which isn’t that much of an insult to the past anyway. But basically, the point is that I will return later to the inner-monologue stuff that is unimportant to those of you who read this only because you have a light fascination with Wales, or me, or both. Moving on!
Let me note that I still haven’t gotten the hang of internet-privacy etiquette, so this next bit will be full of nameless people who absolutely deserve both a name and recognition, regardless of my qualms about using said names. Nameless people: you are awesome. If this is the wrong way to do this, well….sorry.
FINALLY onto the interesting stuff! This past weekend I went to London, and it was absolutely amazing. I was in London very briefly when I initially arrived in the UK, but only saw the inside of the airport. This time I saw (ahem): Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, The London Eye, London Bridge, Parliament, a number of monuments to fallen soldiers of WWI and the women of WWII, the Horse…Soldier…Guys…, 10 Downing Street, St. James’ Park (where apparently a seagull ate a pigeon or something like that and it was big news), Charing Cross, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London (multiple buildings with protective ravens) and the Natural History Museum. Phew! Would you believe I was only there for 50 hours? True story. Now that you’ve got the outline, let’s go into specifics (don’t you like it when I lay things out for you? I think it makes it easier on both of us).
I got into London around noon, dropped my bag at my friend’s flat and then we headed off on a walking tour! We had a headphone splitter, but it was having trouble so we opted for using just one instead, which meant shuffling along Very close together and occasionally making coordinated half-turns in order to look at something without ripping the other person’s ear off. I liked this part. Big Ben, the London Eye and Westminster Abbey can all be seen from the same corner, which startled me. I had this idea that sites are very far away from each other, but in London you can hit 10 in the span of about 2 hours, and then you’re still basically going in a circle. Did you know that Big Ben is the name of the bell, not the tower? Or that on top of Parliament they’ve got a bare tower, though there are clearly spaces for saints? Or that the Tower of London will apparently crumble if they ever get rid of the ravens? (Going from there, ravens are enormous. Really.)
Dashed preconceptions and surprises: Buckingham Palace is sort of…unattractive. It does not look much like a palace. It is very grey and very rectangular. As mentioned, a lot of things are clustered together. There are very few skyscrapers (I both liked and was disappointed by this). I liked it because it felt cooler that way, but I disliked it because I associate skyscrapers with big cities, and the lack of skyscrapers made London feel smaller to me. London, at least the places I visited, is filled with foreigners. That could just be because I went to very tourist-y places, but I heard 6 languages in the span of maybe a block. At one point I got to respond to someone in French, which made my day (‘Merci!’ ‘de Rien!’). The Tower of London is made up of multiple buildings - and you are only allowed to go up a certain section of stairs in each part. That drove me crazy; I was all for breaking in with a bobby pin, or hopping fences, or masquerading as a guard. None of these things happened, but believe me - I was more than tempted. We spent hours there, looking at armor (King Henry VIII is extraordinarily protective of his manly bits), jewelry (rulers like to steal the jewels of other rulers’ crowns), horses (they used to be bright yellow), torture devices (ouch ouch and ouch) and my favorite: the graffiti.
The Tower of London was covered in graffiti. There was graffiti on the walls, in the alcoves, in the fireplaces, on the windowsills - everywhere. I’ll be honest: graffiti fascinates me. Some of the graffiti was from only a couple of years ago, but it went slowly back: 1971, 1966, 1952…ending up in years when the graffiti was left by prisoners in the tower. People who only wrote their names. People who wrote with Greek lettering and painstaking lines. People who wrote astrological charts, devotions, stigmata’d hands, prayers, and hearts to Queen Elizabeth I. Looking at these notes made me feel like I could reach back and touch the people who wrote them - like they’d never really left. I found myself wondering about them. Why did they write what they did? Who were they thinking about? Where did they want to go in life - and did they make it?
Another place that got me wondering was the Natural History Museum. I say wondering…really, I was speechless. I think I literally walked around with my mouth open, largely unaware of the people around me. Just staring. If you get a chance to go to London, go to the Natural History Museum. I don’t know if they built the building specifically for this purpose or not, but it was just indescribable. It was covered in carvings and filled with faded animal skins and fascinating exhibits (only a few of which we could see before closing). I cast not a few glances back at the Human Biology section, again debating distracting a guard or two to jump the ropes. Really, it’s amazing that I haven’t been written up for some trespassing more times than I have (hint: it’s just the one time.)
Back to the angst mentioned at the beginning of this post, because I know some of you have been wondering about it. When I got back from London Sunday evening, I found myself feeling restless. At first I chalked it up to stress about schoolwork, or money, or something, but that wasn’t quite it. Some of this restlessness coiled itself into a cut-your-hair-short-dye-it-purple-pierce-everything-get-a-tattoo kind of feeling. No, I did not give into the feeling, I just felt it churn around in the back of my mind most of the day. Recognizing that feeling gave me my clue. I was twerked out about London.
The first reason for my emotional chafing can be best described through an analogy. So, let’s picture Spider-Man. As he’s swinging through the city fighting crime, he shoots off strands of web to get between the buildings. Normally, these strands break free and apparently just disappear into the ether, but in our scenario they don’t. If Spider-Man is suspended from one strand, -S, he’s fine. No direction conflict. But add a second strand, and he’s torn between the two points, like this -S-, but he can still move up and down. Add a third point and his flexibility decreases. With every additional strand thrown out, Spider-Man loses mobility. In this scenario, I am Spider-Man, and every strand is my attachment to a person or place that I love. Every time I find I new place that I love, like London, I feel the tension rise between that place and another place that I love, like the Blue Ridge Mountains. With every new tie I lose a little freedom, a little flexibility. That bothers me. It apparently also makes me want to dye my hair purple.
The second reason is something along the same lines, but with plans. First and foremost: I don’t know what I want to do with my life, or where I want to go. Sometimes I wish I knew how to do everything, but then I’d have even More choices - and I can hardly handle the current smorgasbord. Anyway, as with the place/thread analogy, the more things I find that I like to do, the harder it is for me to continue with the original thing. Especially if these actions get involved with the places. For example: I’ve been thinking about taking a year off and teaching in China, then joining the Peace Corps. But if I do this, then what happens to grad school? Or law school? Or coming back to the UK? Or a job, for that matter?
I wonder if this sense of instability/directionless-ness is common. If these questions were easier to answer, I would hope that other people had the same conflicts. But since they aren’t and this situation makes me Just a touch despairing, I hope that it isn’t the same for other people. It would indeed be a shame if we were all thinking this way.
Long story short: London was phenomenal, unnamed people are truly great (you know who you are; I drew Big Ben in your book), and I may just have to get my ear pierced again tomorrow.
Yes, I changed the theme. I know. It is a traveler theme. That is very unoriginal.
Unfortunately, I haven’t yet learned HTML or coding or any of that other exciting stuff you need to know to make an exciting blog background, so for the time being I’m going to go with this (FYI: it’s called something like Keep Calm and Drink Tea. How could I resist?)
Quick disclaimer: This beginning isn’t going to be about study abroad. If you want it to be about study abroad, I suggest you skip the beginning of this post.
It is 4:35am here in Wales. Yes, you read that correctly. Four. Thirty-five. AM. There have been a few late posts on here in the past, so I’m relatively sure that I’ve mentioned this before, but I have insomnia. Clearly. This failure to sleep is not for lack of trying - I went to bed around 11pm, listened to quiet music, listened to some fairy tales (self-recorded, too, because I am just cool like that), avoided caffeine and all that jazz, woke up at 8:23am to a fire alarm yesterday and didn’t go back to sleep until the aforementioned 11pm bedtime….and yet, here I am. I tried to sleep until just before the clock struck four, and now I’m writing this blog post because it feels a tad more productive than sitting on my bed looking at the backs of my eyelids. Time will tell if that is accurate or not.
So! Recent things in Wales, I guess! I have three essays due this week, but one is optional so let’s discard that one. One essay is due today (Monday), but it’s a group essay and thus simultaneously easier yet more painful. On the one hand, I don’t have to write the entire thing. On the other hand, attempting to do any sort of schoolwork in a group is inevitably maddening. The second essay is solo and due on Thursday. A couple of weeks from today (yes, still Monday) I have an essay due for my French class but I’m not going to think about it right now. It’s funny - a month of leisure and now all of my essays are hitting at once.
On Friday afternoon I went to the Gower. It was indescribably beautiful. The most lovely pictures I’ve ever seen of Swansea come from the Gower, and I now know why. The far end of the beach has tall cliffs covered in gorse that rise menacingly over grey waves. There are quite a few sheep on said cliffs, which ruins the romance just a little. At one point about halfway along the strip there is the left-over prow of a boat rising out of the water. I was lucky enough to see it at low tide, but not so lucky as to see the remaining bones of the ship that lie deeper. Apparently it was just abandoned there, and there’s hardly any of it left now. From far away it looks like someone standing in the surf, just staring at the path that meanders along the tops of the hills. The beach was covered in smooth stones; I would’ve grabbed one as a souvenir but couldn’t choose one for the life of me! I plan to go back, however (partly out of necessity - I forgot to bring my camera with me). There was a handful of brave, wet-suitted surfers out there, but I don’t know that I have their courage. Too cold for the likes of me!
I’d like to go ahead and say something about the infamous “British reserve.” Unless someone proves me wrong, I’m of the opinion that it is completely false. Whoever is making up these rumors of unfriendly British people needs to stop. It isn’t nice. I’ve been turning this idea over in my mind for a while now, and I’ve come to the following conclusion: Americans are more likely to start a conversation, but Brits are more likely to follow through on one and/or finish it. I have to admit, I’m a pretty friendly person. I met four people in two days just because I struck up a conversation on the bus, or in a café, or in choir. In the States, that would pretty much be the end of it. I comment on the sandwich, you say it’s an awesome sandwich, we both smile and then instantly try to ignore the other person and never talk again. Here, it’s the same sequence up until the end - at which point we end up discussing the relative merits of different sandwiches and exchange numbers. (This has actually led to getting lunch, shopping and a party. All separate people.) I have been invited to more things in a month here than in six months in the U.S. Maybe that’s just because of the whole “foreign” factor, but I like to think that it’s not entirely that. I like to think that people are just nice and that my accent or “American-ness” has nothing to do with it.
That leads me to this: I like it here. I like it here a lot. If I knew of a way to finish out my university career here rather than returning to the States, I would probably do it (provided, of course, that it were easier to see my family and friends). I’m still unsure of where I’ll end up or what I’ll be doing after graduation, but unless something happens to really sink my opinion of this place, the UK is going to be my destination of choice. It helps that my sense of humor is a little more common here, i.e. “dry wit”. Or maybe I’m just not that funny and they’re better at humoring me; either way, I feel like more people understand my jokes. I’ve also been labeled as “quiet” American, which is apparently plus points to me and means that I fit in better than the apparently-typical “loud” American. So go me.
Hey it’s the Gower on a sunny day, yay!
On a wholly unrelated note, I have had the following songs stuck in my head for the past two weeks: Animal by Neon Trees, Fakin’ It by Simon and Garfunkel, Shake It by Metro Station, Circle Game by Joni Mitchell, King of the Road by Roger Miller and a handful of random songs that have slipped my mind just now. Of that random list, I recommend you listen to pretty much all of them: Animal and Shake It if you want it more dance-y, Fakin’ It if you’re feeling frustrated with yourself, Circle Game if you want to take a nap and King of the Road if you’re just feeling good.
By the way, posted a video here: http://www.youtube.com/user/godsteeth1911?feature=mhum My hair gets progressively fluffier for some reason but hey, whatever.
OK, ok, yes, I haven’t posted in 8 days. I feel that this is a perfectly acceptable period of time to put off a post, especially given that I’ve been sick. (Update on that: finally lost the rasp today! Yes!) The Study Abroad office contacted me this evening, and it looks like they have managed to fix the official blog. This means that my past posts will all get thrown onto that site in a few days, as well as any new things. Don’t worry! I will still post here first.
So, recent things! I’ve managed to get some people together for that month-long break in April. I’m not sure how well the group will stay together - these things always seem to break up and change somehow - but for the time being we are set! The current plan runs as follows: Three days in Paris for me, then everyone else arrives, two more days in Paris, two days in Marseille mainly because the beach sounds lovely, two days in Venice, two days in Rome and two days in Brussels before heading back to the UK. I’d wanted to tack on a UK tour at the end, but I don’t know that that will mesh very well with our budget plans, i.e. the Don’t Go Broke plan. I know that this is kind of a whirlwind tour, but I think it’s better to do it quickly than to not do it at all. I am all sorts of excited about this trip!
At the end of March, Swansea University and Cardiff University have this massive rugby match called Varsity. For those of you who don’t know, rugby is a bit like football, but you do not use any pads and it’s two 40-minute halves of continuous play. Having played rugby, I’m of the opinion that it is infinitely more taxing than football, but I digress. This match is the equivalent of USC v. Clemson, of UGA vs. Georgia Tech, of Harvard v. Yale (well, a little crazier than that). My flatmates and I queued up for two hours to redeem our tickets and t-shirts. That dedication will result in a trek up to Cardiff to watch this game, cheer for Swansea - the Ospreys, green and white - and if all goes well some sort of party afterwards.
Classes are going well, as far as I know, but we have so few assignments that gauging one’s progress is difficult. My first “official” essay is due next Friday. I have to write about why the protagonist of All Quiet on the Western Front survives…me being me, my initial response is something along the lines of, “Well, he’s the main character AND the narrator. That could have something to do with it.” Unfortunately, English professors don’t tend to like that sort of response, so instead I’m writing about camaraderie and luck. This has led to extensive secondary-source research. I’m at the point now that I should be able to put together my quotes and my essay in under an hour, so I’ve classified that as mentally done. I finished my section of the Weimar Germany essay (What were the social and economic effects of the welfare state in the 1920s?) yesterday. As you’ve probably guessed, these essays are just a blast.
Other exciting news…I recently submitted a blogpost to http://www.tinybuddha.com that was accepted! It is now online here: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/freedom-in-a-life-full-of-problems/ That’s it for now! I have a video almost done (also put off because of that darn burr in my throat) but haven’t gotten the music quite where I want it. Expect that in a few days!