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?