Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Top Three Dangers of London Life

1. Showering

My shower has two knobs- one that spews frigid water and one that spews burning hot water... neither water stream can be run alone, the results would be deadly. I feel as if I should wear a lab coat every time I enter the shower as I am like a mad scientist trying to get the perfect mix. Its quite the lengthy process and I almost always have to start from scratch at least three times. I am currently in the process of devising a complex mathematical equation (e.g. three turns to the right+ two to the left=touchable temperature) that could help my chemistry along, but so far- no dice. Once I have mastered the mixing of the water, there is the issue of the shower head and its attached tubing. This dynamic duo prefers to be anywhere but its designated hook- i think its favorite place is relaxing across the floor of a shower, where I find it most days. I swear it always laid out in a way that looks like the tub has an evil grin. Showering than becomes a juggling act- holding the evil villain shower head  in one arm and preferred cleaning agent in the have both hands accessible one must tuck the shower head under their armpit, resulting in water spurring in every which direction. During my most recent shower, I decided I wanted the water to be just a tad bit warmer so I turned the hot knob just a tinsy tiny bit. mistake. Imagine showering with one of this automated moving sprinkler heads, now imagine its spewing hot lava. I had to hop up on either side of the tub just escape the scolding water, trying to maneuver my body to the faucet without letting a single drop of death get on me. Treacherous.  After some yoga- like poses, I finally did get the water off- just call me indiana jones. But, I still  had conditioner in my hair so I had to begin the mixing process once more. When I finally did exit the shower, there was water dripping from all four walls of the bathroom not to mention a rather massive puddle on the floor. As you can imagine, all of these factors do not bode well for my already fairly apathetic attitude towards personal hygiene....

2. Opening the blinds

My room is located on the ground floor overlooking a fairly busy pedestrian sidewalk- this means that at all hours of the day a constant stream of people are walking right past my bedroom window. This also means that say, you want some natural light in your room because your lightbulb is out, and you also want to change into your PJs... you may mistakenly flash a small indian man and his wife.

3. Crossing the street

New Best Friend
This was by far the single most common worry people expressed to me when I said I was going to London. I'm guessing it had something to do with  my track record with all things involving automobiles or directionality. People really seemed genuinely concerned I would be smucked by a car within my first days on foreign soil. Well...  their concerns might have been warranted, let's just say there have been some close calls. You see, the words "look right" and "look left" are printed on the ground of most crosswalks for us foreigners that drive on the other side of the road. These seem to do the trick for people that a. know their left and rights and b. know which way cars drive down the street in America. However, considering I am a member of neither group, these little "helpful hints" just haven't proved that helpful. But wait Mom before you send me back on the first flight out to Minnesota, let me tell you about my new best friend. He is this little light up green guy that motions on stoplights for walkers. He really looks out for me, except not when he gets angry and turns red. For the crosswalks without stoplights a friend (clearly, not my new bff) gave me another little "helpful hint" that at "zebra" crosswalks, pedestrians have the right of way. So yesterday, I was happily strolling along and what do you know, but I come upon a crosswalk... said crosswalk had white markings on black pavement. These markings were not in cow pattern or dalmatian polka dots for that matter, so, naturally, I concluded zebra and waltzed across. Well, as it turns out, black and white in no other logical animal pattern, is not means enough to qualify a crosswalk as a zebra... and I ended up darting cars at zebra speeds. As luck would have it the one "helpful hint" that might have actually proved useful to me was never given to me. The other day I was waiting patiently to cross the street and be greeted by my new best friend, when I heard a faint whistling, "how nice" i thought "someone enjoying this early morning," but  soon the whistling grew louder.. and angrier... and the next thing I know a bike was swerving around me at full speed and its rider yelling some not very nice things at me in a british accent. Again, turns out whistling = move out of the dumbass and not happy biking melody...but then again, i never was too good at math.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

First Week at Uni!

Outside St. Pauls
Some of my wall decorations-  my animals in suits collection takes on a british twist- animals in vests!

My first week of classes is now complete! I'll give you all a full review-

Monday: Was super nervous about finding the classroom so I left at noon for my two o'clock class. I arrived with about an hour and a half to spare- luckily, the Westminster campus is located on Regent Street one of the busiest shopping streets in all of London. My class is called "Race in America 1920-1970" and sounds as if it will be really interesting and challenging. I'm one of two Americans in the class and the professor called us out pretty early on (we also were both drinking Starbucks...). He apologized to us in advance for all the bad things he would be saying about America. He did give quite the angry rant about Sarah Palin at one point so I think we will get along just fine. Its a level 6 course meaning its designed for final year Histroy students and all my British classmates were talking about their dissertations they are writing. AH- thank god I don't have to worry about that (yet..). All of my classes only meet once a week for three hours and I don't know if this is the best setup for "hyper piper-" I already got a nasty glare from a guy in front of me for taping my leg too much on his desk and maybe I'll cut back on the Starbucks.

Tuesday: No class! Wahoooo- slept late and went and explored my neighborhood some more. Not too far there is the Spitalfields Market that sells a lot jewelry, clothes and art- not to mention a vast collection of erotic art! I purchased some really old photographs for wall decorations and my room is starting to look less and less like a prison cell. In the evening I went and met up with some visiting Skidmore friends for dinner in Covent Garden and discovered a dessert called "Nutella Balls" yum  yum yum.

Wednesday: I had my creative writing class, this is a special class designed for international students to explore London thru writing. Therefore our assignments are to explore to the city and to read works set in London. This week its Tale of Two Cities and we are also supposed to get on a bus and ride it to the very last stop, journaling the sights we see. Eavesdropping for homework? a-okay by me! One of our in-class writing assignments was to write about something precious to us without explicitly writing what the object was. I naturally wrote about Morrie, however when I read it aloud to the class it sounded as if I were writing about some sort of lover with "dark eyes that always understand." what a way to make a first impression, token dog freak? present.

After class I met Christina and Jack to go explore St. Pauls Cathedral. We didn't want to pay the steep entrance fee but we took plenty of pictures of the beautiful outside. We then walked across the Millennium Bridge a walking bridge that was shut down shortly after it was built because of the wind induced swaying. Don't worry Mom, its all fixed! Right over the bridge is the Tate Modern and we did a short exploration around the museum.  

We then went back to Jacks and watched the latest episode of the  BBC sitcom he's gotten us hooked on, "Hustle" Its really good- and I've caught myself scheming ways to hustle people all week...
I also watched my first football match! Jack likes the team Aresenal, so I've decided I like them too, and they won! I actually really enjoyed watching the game- and hope to make it to one live sometime in the future. 

100 Million Porcelain Sunflower Seeds 
Thursday- I had a 9 am class. ugh. and unlike Skidmore I can't get up 5 minutes before and still make it on time. In fact, because of the rush hour tube traffic I have to leave even earlier than usual. The tube gets really crazy in the morning- personal space is non existent as people squeeze the cars to full capacity- there are literally people that fall out when the doors open (making it hard i'm sure to mind the gap) Luckily, the class seems really cool so it might be worth the rough commute. It is called "Art and Society" and again is just for international students. Every week we go to a different museum or site! Finally a class more designed for my restless legs. This week we went to the Tate Modern (if i had only known that the day before..) There is an awesome exhibit at the Tate currently by chinese artist Ai Wi Wi, he commissioned members of a small chinese village to individually sculpt and paint over a hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds- which now fill a massive space on the floor of the Tate. Its crazy. My professor for the class is really great and smart and he took us around some of the permeant collection rooms. We saw works by Monet, Pollock, Mattise and all those cool cats. 

Thursday night was our first Skidmore pub night- we met at an 18th century pub called "the lamb" It was fun to see a group of familiar faces (there are about 23 other skidmore kids in london at 6 different universities) and share stories of our first week. We also met the on-site Skidmore coordinator Maureen and her husband Gunther, they are a super cute older couple that will make great quasi british grandparents while we are here. They also bought us dinner and drinks, wahoo for free food! Something, i've noticed here is that Brits are obsessed with chicken tikka masala and its served everywhere, even along side more traditional pubs foods. Totally fine with me seeing as "mushy peas" and "black pudding" don't really appeal to me. 

Friday I had my final class. Its called the Psychology of Education and as far as I can tell I'm the only American in the class. It also is a final year course so will be very challenging, especially considering I didn't know my british schooling terms and couldn't keep up in the first lecture if they were talking about middle school or elementary school... wikipedia here i come. There was also much discussion about the fee increase at Universities- something the students (understandably so) are pretty fired up about. After that class I tried to go print something in the student computer lab. I stood over the printer at the digital screen feeding me directions trying to push the buttons like a touch screen probably for a good ten minutes and was getting quite frustrated that nothing was happening. It was only until the girl behind me pointed to the mouse attached to the screen that i got it to work. I wish i could blame these mistake on language or cultural barriers- but nope, just dumb american syndrome. After class I met some friends on the london bridge and had tea and toast in a tiny hole in the wall shop. That night I went to a bar close by with Jack and Francie a girl from St. Paul who I met here. 

Saturday and Today have been a lot of relaxing and a bit of school work. I've also done some domestic things like laundry, grocery shopping and even some cooking. Last night I met my former housemate Nico who is studying at the London School of Economics at a pub near me. Great to see him and catch up. 

Again, thought I would avoid language barriers studying here but tonight jack sent me a text that read "wagwan jessie?" assuming it was the name of a restaurant i replied that sorry i couldn't and already had plans to cook in my flat, turns out "wagwan" is in fact not a restaurant (expect there is a chain here called wagamamma) but rather slang for "what's going on" 

on that note- cheers! 

*note to readers: i know my grammar and sentence structure is not perfect in these entries and i know this is a pet peeve for many of you, and for that I apologize. However, i think we can all agree that my time here would be better spent exploring london or doing homework rather than scrolling these pages for misplaced commas :) 

*p.s.- if you know anyone at all in london (or anyone that might know anyone) that could set me up with some babysitting gigs please let me know! yes, im willing to take the risk of being deported.

My attempt to capture three london icons- black cab, double decker bus, telephone booth

Sunday, 16 January 2011

DJ Queen Jessie Lohan

It was only this weekend that I realized how big of an influence the movie The Parent Trap has had on my life. Definitely, the reason I first went to summer camp... and look where thats led me. Also more than likely the reason I took up fencing once I got to said summer camp and again, look where thats gotten me, ok so not far- but now I find myself  far away in london and I can't help the movie soundtrack from playing in my head as I too feel the awe of the city that young lindsay lohan felt when she first arrived here with her birth mom.   Subconsciously, I think that scene where she is the back of a cab and "Here Comes the Sun" plays as she passes the major sites could be a major factor in my decision to come to London. But despite my latest  posts, I'm going to try to not follow in Lindsay's more recent footsteps... and promise to make 3AM  club nights only an occasional occurrence.

On Thursday all the University of Westminster International Students were invited on a booze cruise (sorry that was my alter ego lindsay typing), boat cruise on the River Thames (I try to avoid ever saying that word because I know i'll get it wrong... i found myself saying "are you guys going on the boat on the river" then producing a short  cough, most of the time by the time I was done with my fake cough the person I was speaking to had filled in the blanks with the correct pronunciation) It was kind of a rainy night but still fun to see some the sights along the river.. and I didn't even get sea sick,  looks like the throwing up to make a first impression phase has passed in my life. wahoo!

Friday, I went shopping with Christina on Oxford Street and back to her place in Harrow- where she treated me to a delectable salad of iceberg lettuce, deli meat chicken, peanuts, olive oil and sea salt. I think cooking with her is going to expand my taste buds considerably... That night we parted ways and I went out with a few girls from my flat around our neighborhood, which is hip and happening at night. Every DJ i've heard hear has been great, and I don't mean great to like the usual standards of great music, but great to like DJ Trash standards- im talking lil romeo, ace of the base, mariah .. its like they went into my itunes and stole all my most recently played hits! Maybe I'll look into a DJ gig while i'm here.. it's about time my beatz went live!

Saturday, I woke up early and met up with Scott and Lucy and her flat mates to spend the day as a tourist. We started at the Tower Bridge and Tower of London. We saw some really cool historical exhibits (Tudors fans, you would have loved it) including torture chambers and ancient armor.  My favorite part by far was going into the chamber (no phones or cameras) where the crown jewels are on display- so so cool. You stand on a moving escalator to view them and I understand why ... I could spent hours gawking at all the gems. New life ambition: become the queen. Seriously, that bitch has it all. I think my American Studies degree will set me up nicely for that position.... Kate Middleton- watch out! After leaving the Tower of London with diamonds in our eyes (and the soles of our shoes) we headed to St. James Park where we saw some huge birds who honestly scared me quite a bit.. my favorite moment was the possibly intoxicated man who knelt down to one of the ungodly large geese and said "the queen owns you, you know belong to the queen" he then started shouting to other birds "she owns you too.. and you!" Case in point to previous statement, the queen has it all, even massive birds. We then headed to Buckingham Palace where there was an unfortunate lack of guards- (I was positive I was going to make them crack a smile with my "duck buys some chapstick  and tells the cashier sorry i don't have cash...just put it on my bill) We then walked to Westminster Abbey and saw Big Ben and the London Eye and took the requisite tourist photos in front of a double decker bus and in a phonebooth (which judging by the smell I'm guessing are no longer used for phone calls so much as urinals?). We tried to get tickets for a show at the National Theatre but they were all sold out so we settled for mexican food and a movie (love and other drugs... cute, jake glleynhaals cuter). I then met up for some twilight ice skating with Jack and Christina outside of the Sommerset House Art Gallery (think Rockefellor Center except surrounded by a beautiful old building and with a live DJ!) It was a lot of fun and it was the first time I had ever skated outside of Minnesota, so where as usually I'm by far the worst one on the rink I was actually pretty good compared to these city folk- I didn't fall once!

Christina and I again tried to navigate the night bus system home from the rink but with a little less luck then last time. I got worried when the bus said it was on a diversion and had us hop off- putting us on a diversion instead. Luckily, a very small bald headed man in full tuxedo (think midget Daddy Warbucks) appeared walking down the sidewalk and was able to offer some drunken guidance (not to mention entertainment.) We finally made our way back to my flat, treated ourselves to some "Tennessee Fried Chicken" located just a few steps away from my door and called it a night.

Today, we went to the Brick Lane Market which is a Sunday market just about a 10 min walk away from my flat. It was awesome- tons of vintage clothes, junk, and ethnic food (three of my favorite things!) I was too overwhelmed by the amount of money I've spent already to purchase some vintage finds but I did allow myself to  buy  a plate of delicious, delicious pad thai- yep, believe it or not- even better than big bowl. I have a feeling Brick Lane will become a Sunday Tradition. Visitors prepare! Speaking of... don't you think its about time to book your ticket? (kenzie just did!)

Well, i'm off to pick out my first day of school outfit (goodwill sweater A or B??) I'll report back how it goes!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

100 Dolla Bills, scratch that, Pounds Ya'll

So I've been in London for five days now and I can safely say that each day i've a. been lost on the tube and/or streets b. drinking in a pub or bar c. spending lots of money- a true Londoner already? 

Yesterday I had to find my way to my individual advising meeting at Westminster and got horribly lost.. luckily, I left two hours early to find it (thanks mom for instilling that unnecessary timing instinct in me). Once I did get there I had a nice meeting and finalized my class timetable- it looks like I have one class everyday except for Tuesdays (what a random day to have off) I also have a 9am class on Thursday that could be rough considering I have to take a 30 min tube ride to get there... luckily, the woman at the coffee shop across the street already seems to recognize me, ok so she recognizes me as the dumb american who cant count her change right, but its a start. 

Because we don't have classes this week and very little orientation programming, I've been staying out pretty late everynight- not great for my jetlag adjustment... but I'm sure it will get better once classes begin. Monday night I went out to a pub in Covent Garden and last night Jack and his flat mates took us to a nightclub in a similar area, it was an 8 story club with awesome views of London. We danced the night away- and one to many backstreet boys songs (no joke) and sambuca drinks (delicious!) later we found ourselves at 3 AM, long after the tube stopped running...oops. Christina and I decided it was probably better to just sleep at Jacks then find ourselves on a "dodgey" late night bus, which worked out well, except this morning I had to ride the tube home wearing my outfit from the night before. Luckily I dressed much more conservatively than the other night club patrons so I don't think I stood out much more than the early morning commuters on the train. Today, after a long nap, I made my first venture to the grocery store- although the million of kabab places surrounding my flat seem much more appealing than cooking at this point. 

Tonight, I met up with Scott and Lucy from Skidmore and we headed to explore my neighborhood to find a place to eat. Not but a few blocks up we found ourselves in what must be London's "little Vietnam" as the entire block was Vietnamese restaurants. We took a lucky guess and headed inside one (we decided against the one thats sign advertised its air conditioning) and I had my first vietnamese meal. I thought coming to London would avoid the language and cultural barriers of studying in a new country, but I guess not, Lucy ordered a vodka soda only to be given a glass of pure vodka and I struggled to use chopsticks and finally settled eating my meal with a spoon. I ordered a chicken in coconut sauce and it was delivered literally engulfed in flames! I was a little scared of it but it looked awesome, and when the flames settled the meal was delicious. At another point during dinner the entire restaurant went dark, and a cassette recording of happy birthday came on to bring a man a small vietnamese cake. Very amusing- I wonder if they did the cassette because the waiters don't know english? If so, very clever, and even if not, very clever. We then headed to a cool pub in my neighborhood where there was karaoke happening in the basement... speaking of karaoke, I'll leave you with a karaoke version of one the songs that was played at the night club last night. I can only dream of being as good as this guy one day. Its people like him that make me miss America. 

Monday, 10 January 2011

and so it begins!

IM HERE! I can't believe it, I also can't believe I have a blog...
My Friday departure was a bit dicey as I got a wake up call from US airlines telling me I needed to get on an earlier flight if I was going to make my connection in Philadelphia. So all last minute plans (aka packing) had to be shifted up a couple of hours, luckily, the early flight got delayed and I ended up leaving Minnesota around the same time as originally planned and still made my connection! In Philly, I met up with Christina (my camp friend who will be studying at a different campus of the University of Westminster) and another girl from Skidmore who will be studying with me. The flight was OK- I didn't sleep very much, and instead spent my time watching movies on my seat back personal screen and chatting up the British woman seated next to Christina (who thought the woman was very similar to the crazy pigeon lady in Home Alone) but I thought she was perfectly nice (okay, so her one painted black fingernail and vampire romance novel were a little strange for a middle aged woman..) We arrived at Heathrow and proceeded to customs, we got quite the questioning my the customs officer, who demanded to know where we got the money in the bank statements and had me promise I would not do ANY sort of work while i'm over here.. "not even helping someone out," so naturally for the rest of the day if someone would ask a favor of me I'd respond "sorry I can't i'll be deported." When we finally did finishing the questioning and got the stamps on our passports, Christina decided to take a celebratory photograph, only to find a huge sign above her head that read "absolutely NO photographs in the immigration area," needless to say, we exited the area in a brisk jog. Not only did we have to collect our breath when we exited customs... but we had to collect our massive cargo load from the baggage claim (11 bags between the 3 of us). It was quite the juggling act to get all the bags out in the arrival area, but luckily when we did, Jack (our British camp friend) was waiting with two empty hands! We dispersed the bags between the four of us (Jack somehow ended up with the two heaviest ones.. hmm) and headed towards the tube... it was quite the journey. It began when my pounds got rejected for being too old by the ticket officer... and he seemed genuinely curious where i had acquired such ancient notes, but with the help of a visa I was able to acquire an oyster card and be on our way... the  tube trip required three transfers, one of which was in one of the busiest stations in central london. It also should be noted that, the stations had huge staircases and no elevators (lifts) by the last transfer, we were so tired of hauling the bags up and down the stairs we all just pushed them down the stairs and met them at the bottom a few seconds later... luckily there were no breakables, however, the handle of one of the roller suticases did come off. About two hours later, we arrived at Jacks flat exhausted and sore. I promptly fell asleep in his bed for a quick nap, dreaming of chauffeurs and teleportation, only to be awoken with the reality that we still had to bring the bags to my place. Running on about 2 hours of sleep and an airplane pastry I really think I would have collapsed if I had to transfer my bags on the tube again... so we opted instead for a ride in one of London's signature black cabs to my flat.

My flat is in the Shoreditch/ Hoxton area of East London. I haven't had much time to explore my neighborhood yet-- but so far it seems very hip and has a lot going on (especially at night). I live in the 3 level building next to a greek restaurant, each floor is a "flat" of 8 single bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a kitchen. I am on the first floor and have a nice corner room. I'll post pictures later! Anyways, after checking me in we headed to Oxford Street to get Christina and me cellphones and other necessities. That night, Jack and Christina left, I went out to a bar with my RAs and the other international students in my area, a school sponsored drinking event... strange, but fun!

Yesterday, I navigated the tube system alone (even with the central line closed!) to meet Jack and Christina back on Oxford street. We then headed to Harrow (a suburb of London) where Christina will be living to move her in. Her place is more like a Skidmore- esque campus with greens and classrooms located just moments away from her room.  
After settling her in a bit, all three of us headed back to central london to meet up with another friend, however, this girl didn't yet have a cellphone so we ended up missing each other-- how did people survive before cellphones? We browsed around some of the big stores (huge topshop!) and Jack brought me to "Ben's Cookies" where I ate the best cookie (or biscuit) ever. Readers, if you come visit, we will definitely be making a stop there. We then headed back to Jack's where we cooked pasta and met his other flat mates. Christina and I then navigated the night bus route back to my place (with just a few mishaps..)

This morning we had an early wake-up to get to our orientation in central london, it was made a bit more painful, that both Christina and I set our alarms not in military time so we had about five minutes to get ready. We took the bus to one of the many Westminster buildings in Central London and sat thru a rather dull (but informative) orientation on academic procedures, campus resources etc.. Afterwards, we headed with a group of other Skidmore and Madison kids to Primark (huge discount store) where we got all sorts of things to set up our room. My favorite purchase was my 5 pound british flag throw blanket (when in rome...)

Ok- this is getting quite lengthy and I'm off to dinner so i'm going to stop.. but I'll write more soon! XXX (the british version of xoxoxo)