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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

bristol and bath

Though it's been a few days since our return, I wanted to document the trip a bit.

On Saturday, we left via train for Bristol, which is near the southern part of the border with Wales (and incidentally, only a train stop or two from Cardiff.  These little excursions hammer out British geography better than any class could.)

The idea to visit Bristol came when we were passing through on the way home from Cardiff.  Truthfully, the decision to go was a bit impulsive, but even more truthfully, nothing is accomplished without a bit of impulse.

Bristol turned out to be quite a lovely place.  Tourist destinations were sparse, but that lent a certain peacefulness to the city, and the streets were filled with locals instead of foreigners in baggy pants and rumpled fishing hats.

For future reference: those bus tours that are double-decker with the open-air top level are really worthwhile.  The ticket gets one access for 24 hours, and consequently, one can get off the bus at any stop to poke around at sightseeing in-depth, and then simply board the next bus to come round.

We did the bus tour for a while, seeing heaps of fine architecture, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and Clifton College (where Kate Middleton's dad went?), among other things.  We stumbled into the main square just in time for a fundraiser event for Water Aid that involved a thousand-person choir and money collectors dressed as taps (alas, no photos for that one.)  We laid in the shade in a green park and watched the clouds go by.  Note: Clouds travel faster here, it seems.

After a night at the Victoria Square Best Western, we took off for Bath.

Bath would have been fantastically peaceful and scenic but for the swarms of tourists.  (We were even shocked to see a gaggle of EF tour groups had also decided on Bath for the weekend.)  But at any rate, it was quite lovely.

The Roman Baths were a bit underwhelming for me, though perhaps that is because it is always hard for me to grasp the gravity of how old the structures here are, most especially how ancient the ROMAN bathhouses are.  I was more impressed by the Museum of Fashion, where Kaitlin and I were able to try on corsets and hoopskirts.

A short weekend, yes, but I was quite satisfied at how much we were able to pack into two days.  Better a short, fulfilling visit than a long and strung-out one, no?

Friday, July 8, 2011

british etiquette

I have never personally worked in the food service business, so I am a bit unsure as to how the entire system of payment for waiters and waitresses works in relation to tips.  However, things get even more inscrutable here.

In America, tips are not usually required for the bill.  Fast food completely omits the obligation for tips.  Otherwise, the generosity of the tip is a direct reflection of the service quality and the tipper's disposition.

In England, the tipping game is a bit of a free-for-all.  Usually the tip is included in the bill.  When it isn't, you might get any sort of notification from a reminder on the receipt to a small addition to the fine print at the bottom of a menu (these places are betting that hungry customers are much keener than I would imagine!)
Those times when it is not included and requested, I always raise an eyebrow.  So then, where is the money going for my fourteen-dollar (approximately) burger?  The VATs (value-added tax, I didn't know that til just now) can suggest sums as much as 20% too!  Shockingly (to an American), Pizza Hut was asking for a 20% tip.  How often do customers actually grant them this much?

Secondly, the fact that the tip is usually contained in the regular price gives the waitstaff a certain liberty to let their personalities and moods govern their customer relations.  I expect that I am being a bit stuffy and stubborn, spoilt in America where customer is king, however I am a bit indignant when I have to actively flag down a waiter for a bill after 15 minutes of pushing my plate away, or when orders are mysteriously forgotten or bungled.  Also on my list of negative dining experiences: unhelpful, exasperated, or unfriendly staff (or staff that decide to simply take breaks from paying attention to customers for 20 minutes but continue to stand at the cash register,) dirty dishes, peculiar aromas, and an aggravatingly frequent tendency for everywhere to be out of stock of several staples.  (One bar was completely out of Bailey's when 75% of their cocktails required Bailey's, while McDonalds had inexplicably turned off their ice cream machine in the middle of the day.)  Such things would be considered embarrassments for the establishment in the U.S. -> when we would run out of half-and-half for italian sodas at the movie theater where I worked, "We're out of that" had to be preceded by "I'm terribly sorry."

I suppose these things are normal here.  In truth, I'm a bit of a self-conscious traveler, so I often wonder if I am being taken advantage of because there is little hope of us Americans being regular customers, though this is a bit of a paranoid approach.

This is definitely a learning experience.  At the very least, I'll appreciate the promptness at McDonalds exponentially more.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

fourth of july

This was one of those times where I was curious to see if any 250-year-old tensions could possibly resurface.

Yesterday was the 4th of July, and for some reason, (likely the irony of celebrating Independence Day in dependence of the nation the U.S.A. split from), I felt like being especially patriotic (read: obnoxious) in celebration.

Not to say that I succeeded in being as celebratory as I had in mind, but I did don red, white, and blue in my outfit (same colors as the Union Jack -> the founding fathers did not expend much creativity in the aesthetic details of the new nation.)  We didn't (weren't able to) light off fireworks or organize ourselfs enough for a rousing Independence carol or otherwise do anything that the British locals could really react to.

However, I saw a flyer on the ground advertising 4th of July festivities at the Purple Turtle.  The flyer was really astute about the 4th as well -> the stars-and-stripes-flying-eagle artwork was the sort of thing you'd see on a motorcyclist's forearm.
But honestly, this was the Purple Turtle (which we have already discovered is the weirdo of the pub locations in Oxford.)  I am unsure as to whether or not this speaks for the rest of British culture.

My curiosity goes unquenched.  As soon as it struck the 5th of July, however, my odd rush of patriotism disappeared so I am not that concerned.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


The title refers to content as in peacefully happy, not content as in matter contained.

Anyway, I am in Wales!  This weekend excursion happened seemingly at a whim.  I honestly knew nothing about Wales prior to departure, other than vague facts, such as:
- They speak Welsh
- They are the model for Tolkien's (and therefore everyone else's) elves
- In The BFG (by Roald Dahl), Wales sent the BFG Wellington Boots as thanks. (Edit: I think I've bungled this recollection.  Wellington is in New Zealand, no?  Perhaps Wales sent the BFG barrels of fish.)

Upon arrival, I was a bit apprehensive.  Cardiff seemed a bit rougher compared to what else I had seen of the United Kingdom.  Things seemed more modern and industrial.  The skyline is really low here, actually, so when the train pulled in, I did not immediately realize we had arrived.

We dropped our bags at the hostel, got directions from the receptionist, and stepped out onto a cracked, thin neighborhood street, feeling miles away from the scenic feel of Oxford.

That was not really very true.  We were a 5 minute walk away from the main shopping plaza of the city center.  The main street was pedestrians-only and gorgeous.  I understand now why Cornmarket Street in Oxford gets such a bad reputation for being uptight and hurried.  I found myself unconsciously meandering (instead of simply walking) down the streets in Wales.

Cardiff did not really begin to feel friendly until today.  After an inconvenient lodging change (due to us booking accomodations rather late), we found our way to Cardiff Castle.

The entire experience of exploring Cardiff Castle and the Victorian House within was rather surreal, as you might have guessed.  And this is all within the heart of the city.
We were a bit hesitant at first to pay 10 pounds for a tour of the "Victorian House," but I am immensely glad we did.  You see, the Castle grounds were owned by a man named John Crichton-Stuart, a marquess who was fabulously, ridiculously, magnificently wealthy.  This is what his home looked like.

This is right next to the little fort in the picture above.  We toured the inside of the building, which was fantastic, to say the least.  Every inch of every room was decorated to an astounding degree of detail.

We left feeling completely dazzled.

And then we went to the seaside.
It had a completely different feel...more modern, and there were lots and lots of locals.  (For some reason, a lot of the tavern inhabitants were dressed in costume.  We watched some young men in drag tie four of their friends to a flagpole.)  But the fresh air and the sea and the sun and the good Italian food we had all just sort of came together to make me feel calm and content.

I've not been here for two whole days and yet I love Cardiff.  I will be sad to leave tomorrow, but mostly I'm just glad that I made it here, seeing as how it was a weird, impulsive decision that brought me here.  But that's life, isn't it?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

first impressions

In a way, this is exactly what I expected.  The experience was at once both a confirmation and a debunking of the stereotypes.

Confirmed Stereotypes:
  • It is green.  There are rolling fields (see above) and statuesque trees and shady hills and it is deliciously cool and beautiful.  The breezes on hot days are indescribable
  • The buildings are OLD.  I was surprised that there are habited residences here with peeling paint and cracked wood paneling, but the fact is that most of the structures are just so incredibly old that some level of disrepair is expected.  Regarding the actual Oxford buildings, the bricks are so ancient that they have developed this particular yellowy-gray (or should I say, grey) hue.  When I stand among many of these buildings, I'm reminded of the desert, which is a very odd feeling indeed.  Perhaps this bit should have gone under "Debunked Stereotypes."
  • The accents are every bit as strange and wonderful as I imagined.  Sometimes, after I have been in town for a while, they start to sound normal.  In fact, after I left the airport, by the time I was on the bus, my heart had stopped skipping beats when I heard accents, which was far quicker than I imagined.  And then someone will come along and sound just like Michael Caine or have an extra dash of cockney mixed in and I will be unable to resist a smile.  I hope they don't think I'm making fun of them.  It just tickles me.
  • In other news, I noticed that it even sort of smells like how I (unconsciously) imagined England would.  I remember thinking this on the bus to Oxford.  It smells like dust and old perfume (like something an elegant elder queen might wear), broken every now and then by the freshness of a cool breeze.  So glad the weather is being like this.
Debunked Stereotypes
  • Everybody is not drunk or at pubs all the time.  Unlike the U.S., however, pubs do have some booze customers pretty early in the day.  (Or maybe I just don't have a great idea of what American taverns are like.)  For some reason, U.K. pubs card even if one does not intend to drink, and it is early in the day.  American pubs usually let all ages in for food until the late evening.
  • Police cars are green?  They have that PT-cruiser-ish shape but are white with neon green stripes.  Also, I only had a vague concept of this stereotype, but one of the ladies pointed out that these police cars do not make the "wee-woo" sound and instead make the exact same noise as the cars of the American fuzz.
It's odd to already be making conclusions about a city that I have been in for only three days (a very small portion of which I have actually been conscious), but I suppose, as was mentioned in lecture, that is a very American thing to do -> to make theses and conclude without sufficient knowledge.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

research project

The word "research" used to make me cringe until I realized that it doesn't necessarily have to mean science science.  I much prefer social sciences.
Lucky that the Oxford class revolves around British culture and history anyway.

I am most interested in contemporary cultural and social aspects. Harry Potter was brought up as a possible topic, and being a lifelong fan of Harry Potter, I would love to study that (the effects of Pottermania, Rowling's social mobility, what aspects of British culture make it into the Harry Potter books that Americans miss or don't understand, etc.)  I also find the accent fascinating -> the break between American and British accents must have happened less than 250 years ago, and I always thought that was a very small time period for large linguistical changes to occur.  I'd love to look into British slang, or the relationship of movie theater entertainment versus dramatic theatre entertainment.

How does one research things like slang or accents, though?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

americans on brits and vice versa

After the hubbub about the royal wedding, especially here in America, I was a bit curious as to what the general American view on Britain was.

I mean, we had a direct war against them, so it's interesting how hostilities have died down.  I suppose it has been over two centuries.  But the USA was founded on antagonizing the British, leading to the nationalism that was able to unite the colonies against the Loyalists and win the Revolutionary War.

We all know the way that the Revolutionary War is taught in American textbooks.  Americans are painted as the honest farmers who simply want to be recognized by the Crown.  (Actual reasons for revolt varied much more than that, I suspect.)  So how are the American colonists depicted in British textbooks?  I would predict we are painted as rebels that ran off with the colonies and abandoned the motherland that spawned us.  That is fair enough, I suppose.  It's just interesting how perspectives change everything.

History sometimes seems really universal and concrete.  I mean, if a certain battle occurred on a certain date, etc. etc., then how much is there that can be fabricated or twisted?  In two ways is this assumption incorrect.  First, as the cliche goes, history is written by the victors, so any losers that were stamped out have no voice in what we hear today.  (Perhaps we lost evidence of any more egalitarian, pacifist societies that were overrun by the war-friendly; we shall never know.)  Second, it is difficult to realize that even in the "unified" present there are still so many fault lines where we differ.  (The present being commonly described as "unified" in the sense that the internet is able to share ideas and when international relations are arguably at their most prioritized point to date.)  We could learn so much just by looking at the differences in what our children are taught to be facts.

A lot of this internal discussion was spawned from the following picture from my favorite webcomic, Married to the Sea.

Cheers to the fact that we seem to have mostly gotten over our differences in respect to the Revolutionary War.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mr Begum

I like the idea that not everything has a point.  It really allows me to relax when I read.  Knowing that Zadie Smith did not necessarily intend for some profound meaning is comforting.  In fact, I think I would be a bit of a mess if I had continued frantically searching for a point in both short stories we have read, "Picnic, Lightning" and "Mrs. Begum's Son and the Private Tutor."

I wonder if Smith's descriptions are a little bit too polarized, however.  I used to write fiction too.  (You could call them short stories -> they were intended to be novels, but the word count never made it past short story length.)  There was certainly a dilemma on how to word my descriptions succinctly, yet...well, descriptively.  I can't help but feel that Smith forces herself to choose whether her characters will be comical or credible.
For instance, Mrs. Begum never comes off as much more than a ridiculous matriarch-wannabe.  The description of her home drips with disdain.  Geeni is a very stereotypical child figure: I made a face at the phrase, "As Geeni tugged pointlessly at the hem of her mother's skirts" because the act of 'tugging at skirts' always seemed like such a cliche.  The people on the bus are carricaturized as well.
Meanwhile, Pembrose, the narrator, seems to be the only credible figure, except for perhaps Magid (though Magid's original description brought up a "fat kid" stock image in my head.)

Then again, as Pembrose is the narrator, and not necessarily Smith, all of this could just be indirectly informing the reader of Pembrose's perceptions of superiority.  Nevertheless, the cliches make me cringe.

I suppose that Mark displays a bit of both sides.  The words that describe him seem to emanate with cigarette smoke themselves.  Yet he displays remarkable understanding and compassion for his father's situation in life.

Speaking of Mr. Begum, I developed a theory on what Mark was talking about.

'"I think your mother hopes you and Magid will have more opportunities," I said weakly.
"It's not enough," he said quietly.  "It's not enough.  Someone's got to pay it back. ..."' (pg 10)

The concept that parents work to better their children's future seems pretty standard nowadays.  People hear this sentiment, nod, and smile.  Yet it is rarely considered how the parents fare in this deal.  Mr. Begum worked quietly in the garden, struggling through all the adversity quite literally thrown onto his head by outsiders that did not know him or care about the well-being of his garden.  He struggled to help his plants to grow.  The plants could not really help themselves to grow.  It was all Mr. Begum's responsibility to take care of them.  Yet when the plants do grow and blossom or bear fruit, and the passerby stop to admire them, it will be the plant that they admire, and not the admirable efforts of Mr. Begum.
Isn't that what raising kids is like?  Parents endure the financial and practical responsibilities of children.  The act of even raising their offspring to be functional human beings is quite a feat.  If the parent does their job well, the child can run out into the world to succeed.  Meanwhile, the parents are left to "pick up shit."

Admittedly, the final dialogue between Pembrose and Magid was somewhat lost on me.  I still am unsure what to make of that.

Lastly, how on earth do you pronounce Magid?  I've been saying May-gih-d, but that can't be right.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

stages of culture shock

I just finished my IPE (International Programs and Exchanges) Orientation last night.

In the booklets they passed out, there is a chapter devoted to the stages of cultural adjustment.  Briefly, they are:
1. the honeymoon period
2. irritability/hostility
3. discovery of perspective
4. feeling at home

When I traveled to Denmark and Korea, I really did experience these stages (though I did not map them out so concretely in my head).  Unfortunately, I only spent 10 days in Denmark and 2 weeks in Korea, so I never quite reached the fourth stage in either place.

I know what it will be like to reach the fourth stage, however.  I made it through all four when I came to UW, (for I came from a radically different upbringing, so UW truly was a foreign culture.)  It is easy to remember how fascinated I was by the city at first, and then how I plunged into semi-depression (though not homesickness!) at the initial loneliness.

Speaking of loneliness, I am concerned about stage 2 in that aspect.  Making friends is really important to the transition from stage 2 to 3.  While I anticipate making friends among the UW students that are going, I also really hope to meet some Brits.  I know we will not be living right alongside them, necessarily, so I predict that will be something of a challenge.  I didn't do so well with this part in Denmark or Korea, but in retrospect, it took me two weeks to even out at UW, so it could be that I simply did not have enough time abroad to adjust.

Is it politically correct to call them "Brits?"  I know "Japs" definitely isn't an okay abbreviation.  But "Danes" for Danish citizens seems to be acceptable.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


How does one become a Princess?  Most of the answers that people will give today are in terms of "inheritance," where a woman will either be born or marry into a royal family to receive the title.

Now, in medieval Europe, where intermarriage between social classes was considered even more ridiculous than today, how would one become a princess?  With luck and enough knights in your (Lord) Father's army to conquer the incumbent King/Queen and their offspring.

The second option really isn't that appealing.  (A lot of things from the medieval period are, in general, somewhat unsavory.)  The Princess Diaries would have been really different from that perspective.

I try not to dwell on the fact that inherited glory is generally more tempting than self-earned glory.  My work ethic itches a bit to think that the current Windsor family has lived a pretty cushy life without ever having to consider the common man's definition of "work."  I recognize that the royal family lives with constrictions that the average American can shrug off-> when (if ever) it is appropriate to burp or scratch one's nose, if they can ever suffer the indignity of learning to snowboard or play video games, or what costumes are appropriate at Halloween parties (I'm looking at you, Harry.)

So where does that leave Kate?  Her beginnings don't appear flamboyant -> her parents were airline employees (though, I admit that I do not understand the finer points of British socio-economic status; perhaps the position of stewardess is lucrative in England.)  Her decision to date Prince William came with an extra fifty pounds of etiquette and the loss of all privacy.

I was especially intrigued by the fight that the couple allegedly had a few years ago.  How does one "dump" a Prince?  It is easily feasible that she felt burdened by the extraordinary relationship, but the breakup would have been just as extraordinary.

In my very narrow worldview, Kate is either an unbelievably mature young woman with strong values, or she has a very acute sense of ambition.  I'd really like to believe the former, but nowadays, when reality shows demonstrate just how insane humans will become for their five minutes of fame, the latter is not beyond belief.

However, if indeed she is riding William's coattails, then she is really, really good at faking a smile.

Monday, April 11, 2011

pre-departure: relative ignorance

Images that come to mind when I think of "modern" England and the United Kingdom:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (film, 1975)
Atonement (novel, Ian McEwan, 2001; film, 2007) 

Old Gregg - The Mighty Boosh (comedy show, 2004-2007)

At least Atonement had some historical basis.  I wonder if the average Brit is aware of what pop culture points have jumped the Atlantic to serve as ambassadors.  I wonder what the Brits think of when they think American pop culture.  Please God let them not know about Jersey Shore.