Archive for January, 2010

The Hub

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

The other day I was walking along the Royal Mile, which is the main street in the Old Town. I came along this church near the castle, and I decided to go in. It was currently not a church, it was converted into a cafe and restaurant called The Hub. It was unexpected to see bright purple and yellow walls, but I actually kind of liked it. Then I realized that there was another church about 2 minutes from that one that was converted into another restaurant. Also there is a theater near the school that used to be a church. I do not see this done a lot in the United States, but I like it. Instead of tearing down a beautiful building, they adapted it to their use.

Celebrating Burns’ Night

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Every year on January 25th, Scotland celebrates Burns’ Night. This is celebrating Robert Burns’ birthday on January 25th, 1759. He was a famous poet from Scotland…one poem you might recognize is ”Auld Lang Syne.” Traditionally, people celebrate his birthday by eating Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties.  (Neeps are turnips and tatties are potatoes.) And then usually people have a Ceilidh (pronounced KayLee). This is traditional Gaelic dance in Ireland and Scotland. So, I had to participate in all of these traditions while I was in Scotland. I went to an event at the University where they served Haggis and had a Ceilidh. First we ate haggis, neeps, and tatties and I thought it was good! I would like to try it again! It kind of just tastes like ground beef. Then we went upstairs to the dance. I found out that a Ceilidh is just like square dancing except with traditional Scottish music. At first, I was intimidated by it because everyone seemed to know how to do the dances. Most people in Scotland learned these dances in school. Then I just tried the dance…even though I didn’t know what was going on half of the time, and I had a great time! The band explained how to do the dances in the beginning, just like square dancing. The second dance we did was the Virginia Reel! I have done that, of course, because that is square dancing. They band made everyone say “Yee-Haw!” Is that what we say in Virginia? Well, the last dance was a huge line dance. We had to go down the line linking arms with every other person. I took a few pictures of the Ceilidh, but not a lot because I was dancing. I will definitely go to another one!

My first taste of Haggis

My first taste of Haggis




Yes, I’m From America

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

As an American studying in London, I’ve encountered three kind of odd things:

  1. People always ask, “Are you American” as if my accent doesn’t give it away instantly
  2. Deciding how exact I can be when answering the question “So where in America are you from?” It’s very hard to gauge how good a person’s grasp of American geography is when you’re meeting them for the first time. Hence why I’m from the East Coast, DC, and Virginia.
  3. Immediately being considered an expert in all things American.

The last one is particularly difficult because I’ve spent the last five or so years learning as much as I can about British culture while spending very little to almost no time concerning myself with American culture. Sure I know about popular trends in a vague sense (thanks AV Club and EW!) but it’s not as if I’ve made a study of these things. This is especially true of American radio, which I had been ignoring long before I became obsessed with British radio. Except now, at least in my music radio class, I’m expected to pretty close to an expert on American music radio. I actually admitted in class today that I don’t listen to American radio any more because I think it’s crap (which was very liberating let me tell you.) It will be interesting to see how that goes.
The geography bit is difficult as well, largely because deciding where I’m from can be difficult. For instance, I’ll decide to say “I’m from DC” and the have to modify it to “the East Coast.” Or I’ll say “I’m from Virginia” and then cringe a little bit because no one from NoVa every says they’re from Virginia and the person I’m talking to doesn’t know what the heck I’m talking about anyway. Also, you’d think people would know where the largest and most powerful nation’s capital is. I’m just saying, even radio people should know that. It’s just sort of bizarre because American’s are pinned as not knowing anything about geography, but it turns out lots of Europeans don’t know anything about geography either. Or at least not simple American geography. Like knowing where its capital is.
Still, it’s not that bad really. I’m sure that British exchange students get the same treatment when they’re in American. Except for the accent thing because I’m fairly sure every American can identify a British accent. When you’re a novelty, it’s should be expected that you’re going to be poked and prodded and generally considered the ultimate example of your nation or culture. It’s just a bit difficult when you’ve been spending years trying to assimilate into the country and culture you’re visiting.
Finally I’d just like to say this to the people in my music radio class who, before class insisted they aren’t scenesters/hipsters, but then said they listen to NME radio: You may not consider yourself a hipster, but you are because you listen to NME radio and dress like you shop exclusively at second hand shops and Topshop. However what you really are, are closeted hypocrites. It’s time to come out of the closet and just admit that you’re a hypocrite. Trust me, it feels good.

Something Terribly Clever

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

So it turns out that I can only think in bullet points. So here are more bullet points.

  • I knew where the radio 1 station is located in London. I’ve now forgotten, but if I walk past there again, I’ll know what I’m walking past (and why there are photographers there.)
  • British weather is even more temperamental than I remember. One minute it’s blue skies and freezing cold the next it’s grey and freezing cold. The freezing cold doesn’t change.
  • Thus far my favourite radio shows are Fearne Cotton and Nick Grimshaw, though it’s not necessarily for the music. In fact it’s mostly for the personalities.
  • Pret a Manger forces me to eat vegetables that I wouldn’t eat under normal circumstances. This is a good thing.
  • Oxford Circus is way too tempting for someone who could easily turn into a shopaholic.
  • I’m getting better and discerning mixed accents. For instance one of the module leaders for my Art and Society has a mix of Australian and London. Granted it took me a half hour to figure that out, but considering how most people can’t even do it, I’d say I’m getting better.

I’ve got Music Radio all day tomorrow (10am to 5pm is all day) and Friday and then I leave really fecking early for York on Saturday. Bottom line: In likelihood there won’t be any updates for awhile. I’ve got postcards to put up from the National Gallery (which I went to today for my Art and Society class, more on that next week) now. Don’t panic.

RIAA for the Win

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Today I had my first music law class and there was a great moment when the discussion had moved into illegal downloading (the original discussion was on copyrights, so it does make sense.) The professor, Kienda, began describing how back in ye olde days, wars could have started over one kingdom playing another kingdom’s music (not strictly true, but amusing nonetheless) and how in modern times this would be like someone coming around your house and shooting you for illegally downloading some music. He then went on to say that the US isn’t far from doing that. He proceeded to describe the enforcers of RIAA law and how much they look like SWAT guys. One of my other classmates asked if RIAA guys busting into your house isn’t some sort of violation of civil liberties and when the professor said no, I was just sat there thinking “All of you have it so lucky. You have no defined methods of dealing with illegal downloaders.” As I said to the young woman who was sat to behind me, they’ll bust into your house, take your computer and then fine millions upon millions of dollars. If you’re now wondering why this was such a great moment, it’s because I could just sit there thinking “Yup, those are my guys. All hail America.”
So yeah, classes are going well thus far. More info once I’ve been through all of them at least once.

Weekend in Hopkins Village!

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Over the weekend I went on a trip to the coast with 5 other international students and Ms. Rhondine, who we have come to discover is equal parts international student coordinator, best friend, supermom, and wonderwoman. We drove about 2 hours from San Ignacio to Dangriga, where we stopped for lunch at Pelican Beach, a beautiful resort right on the ocean complete with white sand, hammocks, a boardwalk over the clearest ocean water I’ve ever seen, and chocolate ice cream! yum! After lunch we hopped back into “little green” (yeah, we named our bus) and got a nice workout from holding onto the seats, windows, walls, and other passengers as the bus jerked and bounced down the narrow road into Hopkins Village, spitting up orange dirt onto everything within a 15 foot radius.

When I wasn’t turning my knuckles white with pressure, my bus buddy (Ted, a local Galen student heading back home to Hopkins for the weekend) was able to point out that most of the land surrounding Hopkins Village was used primarily for agriculture (the biggest crops in Belize are bananas, citrus, and sugar). We even passed a very American-looking citrus processing plant that Ted told me was the “most industrial building” in Belize. Outside the factory were 5 open semi-trucks filled to the top with oranges.

Once we made it to Hopkins, we took a “tour” of the village, which consisted of a one-lane road with small shacks, houses and a few scattered bars and coffee shops on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. About halfway down the bumpy road, I noticed that there were thick pieces of rope every couple hundred feet, put down to create “speed bumps.” I was struck by the sheer undevelopment of the costal village, and realized that if property half as beautiful as Hopkins was in the states, it would have been developed with monster beach houses, swimming pools and resorts long ago.

All the direct oceanfront property is public, even though there were some houses and small inns built on the ocean side of the road, and as a result, it sometimes seemed like we were swimming in someone’s front yard…but everyone was always really friendly and incredibly inviting. The only guy in our group even met a guy on a run and ended up getting a private tour of the lagoon and the seeing “best view in the whole village.” I specified that he was the only guy in the group because all the girls later agreed that no matter how friendly the village was, we would never have been able to just jump in a stranger’s canoe and still feel safe. Must be nice to be a boy :P

Sunday morning, I woke up at 5am to see the ocean sunrise, and it was nothing short of amazing! I don’t care what anyone says: sun rises are 100x better than sun sets. I had my feet in the water (so warm!) when a dolphin swam right past me and into the rising sun. I love Belize.

Hopkins Sunrise

Then I found America. I was taking a bike ride down the coast (feeling like I was training for the x-games because of all the little hills and bumps in the road), and rode less than 10 minutes before I ran into huge multi-level spas and resorts with $56 meals and people whose only job was to rake the sand into designs around the palm trees. A little further down, I came to a 10-ft coral colored wall that I later found is going to be the edge of a gated community of summer beach houses. The only problem? The property of the proposed development is home to some of the tallest mangrove trees in the world. The people who are building these huge homes (that will most likely just sit on the coast for the majority of the year) are not Belizean, they’re not even from Central America. They’re wealthy American developers who see the beautiful undeveloped coast of Belize as a gold mine of real estate, instead of realizing that the real beauty is in what they’re destroying to build unnecessarily large houses.

Stepping off my soapbox now. And signing off from an amazing weekend. Enjoy this wonderful last week of January! I love you all so much!


Also, here are some more pictures from my trip to Dangriga and Hopkins:

DSCN7543Ms. Rhondine, Galen’s international student coordinator on our bike ride through Hopkins.


No lie, this grasshopper was literally 5 inches long. That is a medium sized dog. Holy Cow.

drumming!Learning how to play Garifuna Drums in Hopkins! I have the Segunda (bass drum), and Alison is playing the Primero  (tenor drum). Spar was a good teacher, and also runs a scuba touring company! Totally coming back to go scuba diving with him!

DSCN7548Though I am absolutely opposed to ripping up the tallest mangrove trees in the world to build huge resorts, the people were really friendly, and it was beautiful. There’s still a way to do this sustainably.

Kelly Goes To Buenos Aires! 2010-01-25 20:04:47

Monday, January 25th, 2010

I’m in Delaware dropping off my car and seeing my Mom, John, and Lizzie! I now have everything I need, but haven’t started packing. Oh well. I am baking cookies though : )

My last day at L.L.Bean is Wednesday. My flight from Dulles leaves at 3:15 on Friday. 20 hours later I’ll be in Argentina!

Near Death…

Monday, January 25th, 2010

There are three reasons that I am able to tap out this blog post on this rainy Saturday Cusco night.  They are: God, a talented kayaker, and a very strong Australian.  Today, January 23rd, for about one minute I thought I was going to die.

I went whitewater rafting with my friends from England, I knew them as well as two weeks would allow, but now we have a bond.  A bond only forged when a near death experience occurs.  I will start from the beginning, an innocent invite to go white water rafting on a Wednesday afternoon.  Fast forward to the day of the adventure.

It had rained for almost two days; therefore, the Class III rapids of the Cusipata River had turned into monsters.  I was excited at this idea, being, well now…an EX adrenaline junkie.

We received our safety talk.  All the procedures we should perform in the event of something happening, for example: the boat flipping over.  After understanding all the broken English I could we slid the blue raft down a little cliff into the racing, brown, smelly water.  Awkwardly we all hopped in.  Four English ladies and one American boy were ready to conquer the river with our Peruvian guide.

We were all screaming, cheering, and cursing during the first thirty minutes of the rapids, really enjoying ourselves.  Then I had my first experience in the water – out of the boat.  Our guide put us to the bank of the river and told me to jump out and pull the boat up the bank.  I jumped, landed on solid ground, and then was pulled into the river by the boat.  I had nothing to stand on and nothing to hold to pull the boat and I back to the bank.  I was pulled down river with the boat for a minute or two then our guide told them to pull me back in.  This was easy for them.  We all questioned the whole purpose of my venture into the water.  One guess was that our guide just wanted to get to me completely soaked.  We paddled on.

Our guide began to inspect the raft out from his seat.  He told us that we needed a new raft because we were loosing air.  “Great,” I thought.  Luckily, we were next to campsite, so we pulled off and pumped up a new raft, after ten minutes we were off again, still ready to conquer the river.

After a few near dismounts from the raft on my part the guide told us, we were coming into the “Canyon”.  I jokingly said, “If I couldn’t make it before, then I’m a gone in the Canyon.”  He yelled for us to, “PADDLE FORWARD.”  We all dug into the river.

From here, my memory is scattered.  I will just tell you want I remember seeing and thinking.

We were paddling into the giant wall of white water then up, up, and up we went.  The raft flipped, similar to when a horse rears up and flips onto their back.  I remember seeing the nose of the boat flying as water came crashing onto my body (my heart is beginning to pound now that I am reliving this).  I do not know how long I was under.  When I came up I saw the boat, bottom side with up fifty feet of river in-between it and me.  I saw two of my friends still with it, and the guide tying ropes to the side of the raft.

Another rapid crashed over me.  I came back up having swallowed a lot of water.  My breathing was very short; I was unable to breathe fully, under again.  Again light.  I actively told myself not to panic, just as we were instructed before we departed.  I put myself in the position that we were also instructed to do if we fell into the river.  My arms crossed over my chest, keeping my body flat, fighting to keep my head above water.  I was in the river, for a minute and a half or two minutes, combating to keep myself calm and to continue breathing.  These were the scariest moments of my life thus far.  At one point, I did not believe I was going to survive. Every time pulled under and taking in more water made it more difficult to breathe.  My life did not flash before my eyes, so maybe I was miles from death, but it was the closest I have ever been before.  I remember looking around for something, a boat, a rock, a limb, anything to grab and pull myself out of the river.  I only saw our boat flipped over, the guide attempting to turn it right side over.  My body then pulled so I was facing down river.  I saw Iona near another raft.  Then I saw a kayaker paddling with the most endearing, determined face toward me.  When he reached me, I assumed the “sexy position” as our guide called it.  I grabbed the front of the kayak and clinched my legs around the nose.  Breathing was still difficult, but now I knew I was going to survive.  He took us to a raft, where people were yelling for me to grab their oars.  This is when I realized I still had my oar and for reasons beyond me, I handed it up to them before I grabbed hold.  This is when the Australian grabbed my life vest and heaved me into the boat.  I just remember then grabbing hold to the safety rope on the raft with white knuckles closing my eyes and beginning to catch my breath.  This is when I began to pray.  Why I had not before I do not understand either.  I think I prayed before we all departed, but I do not remember much before the flip.  I also remember seeing my flip-flops next to me in the raft, I had let another Australian borrow them for the trip since he had picked up two right “thongs” in the hostel that morning.  They were not on his feet but floating next to me when I thought to grab hold of them so they did not fly out, I quickly decided that was completely unimportant.  My flip-flops are safe for those concerned.

Then I looked around the raft to my relief I saw Iona, the first feeling of relief for five minutes.  I stayed in my new raft home for the duration of the “Canyon” just clutching for life.  We pulled to the side where everybody cheered.  I began to shake; I believe I was experiencing shock.

Our original raft floated up to us.  The guide told Iona and I to climb in, I did so very reluctantly.  At this point, my body was shaking – my feet, legs, hips, chest, arms, hands, head, and teeth.  The other rafts had pulled off to the side and the other girls made their way to the raft as well.  One was laughing, the other two in a similar state as me.

We all made sure we were okay.  Scared, we set out again.  As our guide was trying to calm us down by telling us that the worst rapids were past us, and explaining what had happened I began to break down.  I cried a little, still shaking.  My tears were sporadic.  I did not know what to feel.  I was happy I was still alive, but what if…  I pushed those thoughts out of my head, but they popped back up every ten seconds or so.

I kissed the earth when we hit the shoreline.  I got out of the raft as quickly as I could, we all did.  I went and thanked the kayaker who came and saved me.  He just laughed and reenacted my face, his lax perception on my desperate situation gave me some perspective but I still did not laugh.

I put four spoonfuls of sugar in my tea at lunch.  I took milk with my chocolate cake that night at dinner.

Radio 1

Monday, January 25th, 2010

I’ve been listening to Radio 1 (the main and biggest radio station the UK) pretty religiously since I got here. The reason for this is because a) I have to listen to the radio for one of my classes and figuring out what shows I like will be helpful and b) it’s a British institution, like cheese and Monty Python. Thus far the music has been…not horrible? It’s mainstream and despite some of my own musical tendencies, I’m far less pop and far more rock than Radio 1 is. However most of the DJs I’ve heard are really enjoyable to listen to, so the crap music (so much N-Dubz, far too much) is undermined by the pleasant DJs. Every once in a while they’ll play a song that I actually like or at least don’t find horribly offensive to my ears (like N-Dubz or Ke$ha.) I just (like 10 minutes ago) had a moment like that.
I’ve always assumed the minute I started listening to British radio I would just continually be hearing songs I love and artists that I love. Of course this isn’t true, but for every time I hear N-Dubz (I really don’t like them, can you tell) I’ll hear Kasabian or a not crap song by an artist I don’t really know that well. Such a moment happened toward the end of Scott Mills’ show, when the guest DJ, Sarah Cox, played Mika. I almost never listen to American radio and when I do it’s horrible, so it’s nice to listen to British radio and find out that while a lot of it is not very good, some of it is. And sometimes they play my songs.

My Weekend in Not So Brief

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

I have finally been able to put up some posters on my wall. It turns out scotch tape doesn’t work and the walls must be made of cement because I couldn’t make push pins work either. Today though, in a fit of efficiency, I got Blu Tack and finally got my posters to stay up for longer than 2 minutes. I’m use to having an insane amount of colour in my room, so not having any for a week was absolutely miserable and I’m quite enjoying having the vibrant colours of my newly acquired poster. One says “Keep Calm and Carry On” which I got from the V&A Museum. I also got a poster of the cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was acquired at the Beatles Coffee Shop near the St. John’s Wood tube station. Of course I also put up my mini-poster from A Clockwork Orange. I’ve also put up some postcards on the pin board that the school provides, so I’m very slowly becoming more pleased with the appearance of my room. I also got a pillow case that’s 100% cotton, which considering how everything else on my bed is a 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester, will be quite nice for my head. Now onto more interesting things.
Yesterday I spent the day in the city with a friend of my Mum’s and got stay over at her house which was really nice. During the day though we went to Westminster Abbey which was really very beautiful. My only disappointment was that I couldn’t take a picture of Handel’s tomb marker inside the church, which would have been absolutely brilliant, but sadly no photography inside the church. The best part of the day though was that we took the bus everywhere and we sat on the top level so I got see parts of the city that I hadn’t seen before. While the Underground is definitely faster than taking a bus, you don’t get to see all the streets and houses and stores that you get to see when you’re on a bus. It also helped that we were going along Regent and Oxford street which are the main shopping streets in London. So many big stores, so little time. After Westminster, we went back to her house where we preceded to watch the most recent episode of QI and episodes from the first series. It was actually really nice because I also got to call home and talk to everyone except the dogs (though I did tell Dad to say hi to them for me, hopefully he did that.)
This morning I had my glass of juice and nothing else (damn you stomach!). Marjie (my Mum’s friend) finished knitting the hat she had started last night and then we headed out to Abbey Road which she lives really close to. She took some pictures of me crossing the street, which considering the weather came out okay. Then we walked back to St. John’s Wood tube station where I got the poster I mentioned, a postcard to keep and a postcard I’m sending to my Mum, and a keychain of the submarine from the cover of Yellow Submarine (clever, I know.) Then began the long journey home.
As you may or may not know London is hosting the summer Olympics in 2012. Because of this various parts of what makes a city run are being renovated so that when even bigger groups of tourists come to London, they’ll be impressed. This includes the Underground. So today the entire Metropolitan line (my line) and the northern bit of the Jubilee line (Marjie’s main line) were closed for renovations. This will be an ongoing problem on the weekends, because for some reason London doesn’t care about people who are outside of zone 1 (I’m in zone 4.) Today I got to see all the streets I manage to avoid by taking the Underground. I took about an hour and half to finally get back to Northwick Park which is where I am. Now I had music and found looking at the buildings very interesting but if I hadn’t left around 1pm, or let’s say I had left at like 2pm, I wouldn’t have been back until 3:30 or 4pm and that’s just ridiculous, especially considering how everything closes at 5pm on Sundays. Still, it was really lovely to see so much of the city that I will probably see again next weekend.
One last note: If you’ve ever seen the 5th Harry Potter movie, the night bus sequence, while fantastical, is not completely outside the realm of reality. Bus drivers are crazy. They drive incredibly fast, I don’t know how they make the turns they do, I was constantly waiting for the bus to get into a horrible accident with the other cars on the road, and sides of the road are for other people. But then again, I think that’s just how people drive here. Until next time, don’t panic.