Thursday, August 4, 2011

welcome home

I wouldn't call this "reverse culture shock," but there are just some things that I need to get used to again.

The fact that I am not living out of a suitcase anymore is one.  I keep forgetting about the clothes in my closet that I didn't take with me to England (so nowadays naturally assume that I do not have access to.)  I certainly do not take my soft mattress for granted anymore.  And I love having WiFi wherever I go in my apartment.

Overall, I am experiencing that mixture of relief and sadness that follows any homecoming from travel.  Seattle feels so comfortable now -> it's so easy to be here, except for the few things that I have to recall after a month's disuse.

But yesterday, it was a week from the garden party, and I started to miss things.  I spent 2 hours making cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches and bacon and chicken salad sandwiches (like the ones I used to buy from Tesco) for an impromptu garden party with my friends.

I've already noticed a change in me, as well.  For instance, today, my fashion looks distinctively British: I think it is the red pants I bought on Oxford Street.  Superficially, my keyring is full of keychains from Europe, and my lanyard has the Oxford crest on it.  In terms of character, it is more difficult for me to say how I have changed, but I am very aware of the memories that have been swirling in my head every day I have been back so far.

Some day, I'll be back; there's no doubt about it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

curating britain

I am not really a museum person, but my stamina held up astoundingly well while in England.  Because I was given the freedom to explore each museum at my leisure and also, being older, had developed some appreciation for what I was seeing, I think this trip has been the most educational trip I have ever taken, even if the class aspect were taken out.

Realistically, most of the artwork and artifacts being displayed in the museums is under low security.  The Mona Lisa was considered very peculiar in that it was behind bulletproof glass and held above an escape chute.  Meanwhile, for other paintings, one only needs accurate timing to be able to sidle up and take a permanent marker to the portrait, as they are guarded only by a fallible guard patrol.  And even without cunning vandals, the museum's treasures are being stored in rooms that have constant traffic of sneezing, sweating, scratching human beings.  Eventually, won't dust, moisture, or germs cause harm?  I was puzzled about the seemingly low level of security in relic halls.
The most I heard of pro-active museum protections was of the British Museum's hurry to evacuate its contents in fear of a blitz bombing.  (Though there was a display of melted coins and other debris from the wreckage of the indeed-bombed museum -> apparently those coins were just left laying around?)

Otherwise, with so many museums lined up back-to-back, I was able to analyze other aspects, especially object arrangement.  I used to think that the museum's acquistions were simply put on display by the same methods as the Bodleian -> by date of acquisition.  It seemed like such a hassle to have to rearrange all the goods if someone delivered a huge Roman mural, but the section on Rome was already full.
The Pitt-Rivers museum in Oxford proved that even a location that does attempt to group things by category can end up a little bit messy.  (To be fair, the Pitt-Rivers museum also had a very small space to work with.)

I would really hate to be that person who has to design and arrange plinths, move wall hooks, etc. whenever a museum room needs to be updated.  (It probably isn't very often, but still.)

Places of Museum-like Historical Education that I Visited:
- The Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford)
- Cardiff Castle (and the Victorian Mansion, Cardiff, Wales)
- Blenheim Palace (Oxford)
- M Shed (Bristol)
- Roman Baths (Bath)
- Museum of Fashion (Bath)
- Tate Modern (London)
- National Portrait Museum (London)
- British Museum (London)
- Victoria and Albert Museum (London)
- Also, there was a Natural History and small art museum in there somewhere that I cannot remember because we were not allowed to take photos.  I am not too glum to have forgotten where it was -> the museum was nothing to be too excited about.
(Good Lord, that is more than I even remember.)

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Departures become exponentially more difficult when there are interpersonal goodbyes involved.  I think everyone vaguely understands this formula, but it has become more clear over this trip.

Only met a handful of people in Oxford.  Said goodbye to the recurring friends, and cliffhangered the rest.  On the bus ride out, I had my iPod set to the Scholars, a Banbury alternative band that we saw play O2 Academy and got to meet afterward.  Surprisingly enough, listening to that helped -> usually remniscience while leaving makes me tear up.  Among the program group, as we are all based out of UW, it is very likely that we will see each other again.  In fact, I am sure we will run into each other even by accident far more than we expect.  What gets me is Gawon's return to Korea.  I suppose in perspective, I have a very good chance of seeing her again, being culturally connected to Korea and already having intentions of a trip there next summer.
Most of all, I just hate being told "No more."  Even the faintest possibility of a future encounter is better than nothing.

In London, Clara and I happened to be staying with a sweet girl from Brazil who ventured on the London Pub Crawl with us last night.  She leaves in a few hours (we've already said goodbye, as I should technically be asleep about now.)  I was surprised at my actual genuine feelings of sadness to say bye to someone I've known for just a day or two.  But at the same time, I was proud that, being somewhat older, I could offer my hospitality if she was ever in Seattle and hope to see her again.

I suppose I've just been very lucky to have intersected (however briefly) with wonderful people.

On a less romantic note, thank god for Facebook.

Friday, July 29, 2011

post-oxford london

I was really glad to be coming back to London last weekend when we came as a class.  It's strange that I've transitioned to a period where I don't really know anymore.  Part of me wishes I were home (which I would almost certainly be if I had left yesterday with everyone else) but I am also glad that I did not have to do the people goodbyes, Oxford goodbyes, and England goodbyes all at the same time.  The first two were enough.  On the taxi ride out of Herbert Close down to Gloucester Green, I felt like I had bungee cords around my chest.

Traveling alone after this past month is very peculiar indeed.  I feel less motivated when there aren't others to move me along.

Beyond all the melancholy, I made it to the Portrait Gallery and the Britain Museum here.  The former was personally interesting because I used to read all sorts of children's novels on Mary Tudor, Mary Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I.  Now I actually have a mental picture for Mary Tudor.  A lot of the portraits were lost on me though: I imagine that a lot of the portrait subjects there had been noteworthy enough to make it into British history books, but too far-flung to be featured in American textbooks.  In the latter, I saw the actual Rosetta Stone!  It was a lot more sophisticated than I had anticipated.  The clockwork exhibits were neat as well.

I am unsure if I will be able to stomach another museum tomorrow, however.  I am not the type to be able to distinguish between museums after more than two or three in rapid succession.  The things I've seen were definitely interesting, but I do not have quite the age to appreciate the full history behind most of them.

On another note, I am getting really good at navigating the Underground.  All the subways in Korea and Mexico that my parents took me along gave me a really good head start on how the maps work.  Not to say that the system is that difficult, I suppose.  But at this point, I find it rather fun.

Monday, July 25, 2011

things missed

Whenever I go somewhere new, I usually pine away for a handful of things in the States, but upon arrival, those things immediately become meaningless, and I wish I had appreciated the time abroad more instead of dwelling on home.  Doesn't everyone?
In perspective, I am doing rather well at living in the moment here in Oxford.  The excursions to Cardiff and Bristol (and most recently, to London) really help with this reality check, because each time I return, Oxford is "home."

A week from my homecoming to Seattle, I am on the precipice of my wish to be home.  I really adore lists, so here is what I miss from Washington.
  • My roommate Chloe, who is currently braving Summer Quarter alone
  • My apartment, which I sweated to set up before I left, and is waiting for me along with Chloe.  This includes the fantastic, brand-new mattress and fluffy duvet that is my bed.
  • My family, including my sister, who will be moving to Seattle with me in August, and also my fatty dog, Alex, who allegedly dug a hole through the laundry room floor in my family's absence from the house.
  • Warm, high-pressure showers.
  • Drinking tap water that is not ridiculously softened.
  • Having all of my wardrobe at my disposal.  I neglected to bring several pairs of high heels that would have been perfect for evening activities here in Britain, and agonize over it frequently.
  • Eating balanced meals on a particular schedule.
  • Jogging and swimming.
  • Making bracelets from cheap plastic beads.  It is my stress relief.  It was too impractical to bring along the beads on this trip, however.
  • The use of my iPhone.  I feel crippled without step-by-step Google Maps directions, precise bus schedules, and unlimited texting.
  • Buses that run regularly for reasonable fares.  The 5 here in Oxford has been most cruel to us.
  • Walking on the street without being mobbed by crowds.  Also, I miss the scarcity of EF students in Seattle.  (Just wait, as soon as we get home, we will seem to see them everywhere.)
  • Eating out for cheap.
  • Wall electrical outlets that I do not need a converter to access.
  • Regular internet access from a variety of locations.
  • Modern toilets and sturdy toilet seats.
Not included are most of the friends I have made this past year at University, as most of them are home for the summer so I would probably not have seen them much even if I had not gone abroad.

Yet I already have a list built in my head about things I will miss about Oxford.  That's the thing about a month-long stay: it's just long enough to get over the alienation period of culture shock, so that one begins to feel fond of everything.
  • British Accents.  I am pretty sure that everyone understands this one.
    • Especially the children's accents.  I have resolved already to raise any children I have in England.
  • Having things to do in the evening.  Seattle shuts down at 8pm unless one fancies a movie.
  • Sandwiches at Tesco/Sainsbury's.
  • My room at Herbert Close and living across from Kristin (with the shouting conversations that ensue.)
  • Double decker buses.
  • Cornmarket, High, and Broad Street
  • Walking past beautiful, ancient architecture on a daily basis.
  • The well-kept grass, even though I am not allowed to roll in it.
  • The way the clouds move faster here.
  • The sounds the kinds of birds make here.
  • That sheepdog that, every morning, tries to herd the groundskeeper's tractors.
  • Sweet, cheap, fresh blueberries and raspberries.
  • Meat pies, coleslaw with too much mayonaise, bacon on everything, WKD Blue and Iron Brew (never got to the Purple kind.)
  • Beautiful trees in the beautiful park.
  • Subways in London.
  • Frequent, fast, comfortable trains.
  • Well-dresssed, handsome youth.
  • The Union Jack.
  • Being able to actually wear high heels from time to time.
  • Punting and the clever ducks.
  • Cheap clothes at Primark.
  • Those children along Cumberland Road that always ask, "Are you American?!" as we pass.
  • Dubstep on the radio.
  • Britrock, namely, the Scholars.  I wish I could see them play another gig.
  • Harry Potter references.
  • Europop and techno at clubs -> Inna, Swedish House Mafia, Afrojack, etc.
Oh, now I've done it.  I think I will be in tears at Heathrow in a week.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Top of the list of must-have accents in any drunken carouser's arsenal is the British accent.  The British accent is the standard replacement for other accents in movies where characters are from countries that do not speak English.  One's level of class and expected snootiness is kicked up ten notches simply by having a British accent.

I never realized that there was so much variation within the subject, though.  Honestly, how many different American accents are there?  Most of them are from the East Coast or the South so it's very easy to forget about them, at any rate.

Despite the United Kingdom's comparatively small area, it would seem as though every last little town has their own accent.  This particular accent serves to identify a British citizen's origins and perhaps class status.

Note: I have no real discernment skills of my own to speak of between regional accents.  Of course, I can pick out Scottish hints, but really, I am simply assured that these regional differences are there, so I must assume that such is true.

I have come to a bit of an indignant conclusion that highlighting differences between people leads to new categories of elitism.  (Purposeful or not.)  At any rate, My Fair Lady makes a lot more sense after learning a bit about accents.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I was reluctant to blog about the readings for this course as it somewhat alienates those who have not read them.  Not that I am even aware of readers outside of the program, for I didn't go to much trouble to show it to my family or friends back home, but in the odd chance that someone found it via Facebook, these kind of posts are, in a way, duds.

Yet at the same time, I realize that the readings are what allows this trip to be called a 'course' and not simply an 'excursion.'  I hereby try to reconcile these differences by concentrating my reading ponderings to one post.

Currently knee-deep in Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, I shall begin here.
My favorite 'book,' (of the mostly-independent sections within the greater novel,) is "An Orison of Sonmi-451."  It seems to be set in the debatably dystopian future, of course.  I bristled at first at how some other non-Korean things had been mixed in, such as the clone name series of Ma-Leu-Da, being rather sensitive to the lumping-together of Asian cultures that occurs far too frequently, but the book later informed that Japan had been absorbed and was called "East Korea" (my, Japan subjugated by Korea, fancy such a notion!) and it would be feasible to say that at least part of China had also joined.
This chapter reminded me of the film, "The Island," because of the similarities in cloning for soullessly pragmatic reasons.  Both also approach the subject from the perspectives of the captives.
I feel a bit distracted at the way I must always stop and practice pronouncing the name with a Korean accent.  Romanizations of Korean names bother me.  "Boom-Sook Kim" looks so odd.  Especially since Koreans would say "Kim Boom-Sook."  In English romanization, the name might seem silly, but written in Hangul, it seems so natural.  김붐숙

I also wanted to remark on In-Yer-Face theatre.  I do believe that graphic and shocking depictions are sometimes necessary.  I remember when I was little, I used to read the Redwall series (written by a Liverpool native, actually) and, during the fights and death scenes, I would gloss over actual visualizations of what it would be like to throw swords around or actually kill someone.  Perhaps I am of a rare bunch, but because I did not bother to imagine the realities of violence, I was generally rather unaffected by it -> it did not make me retch or flinch.  A few years later, the film Atonement (based on the novel by Ian McEwan, also a Brit) was released, and my rosy world finally understood blood.
But only because the film bothered to open my eyes to the realities of what it would be like to participate in war.  Come to think of it, Atonement wasn't all too graphic, but it was enough to make me realize.  Until that point, I had been against war merely because of my parents' pacifist tendencies, but now I could see how horrible it was for myself.
I think that is what the In-Yer-Face theatre writers must understand.  Especially in Blasted.  The main character, Ian, peacocks his gun, but when faced with real violence, on which he is on the receiving and not the dealing end, he realizes he never really understood.

Lastly, I find it interesting how cloning became such an issue here after Dolly.  Perhaps it also did in the U.S., but I think I was too young to be anything but oblivious in this time period.  Yet in the present-day, one could pore through an entire week's worth of news and hear nothing on the subject.  In a way, it makes me feel as though all of these moralistic debates and "what-if"s are somewhat pointless after a while.  We could talk about, if one were suddenly made Jesus, if one would continue requiring death of every individual, from dawn to dusk, but really, what's the point?
I think I remember Professor Reed mentioning something about this in relation to the British approach to truth: while Americans agonize over defining "truth," it seems that Britain has decided that truth is concrete and are all in unanimous agreement of a "single truth" in academics.
The idea of a "single truth" in America would be so dangerous.  We have enough trouble getting evolution to be considered worth teaching as it is.