28 December 2006

In Hell's Kitchen

Three crazy-minded girls, two recipes and a kitchen together is a bit like baking cookies successfully without a food processor: You combine, improvise, put the mix in an oven not knowing what will come out of this - and the result turns out to be entirely weird but in a good sort of way.

The whole adventure started when Stacia and I decided to engage in a transnational christmassy cookie baking night and although initially a bridging of the Austrian and US-American traditions, the underlying spirit of a competition was clearly in the air. It was the Vanillekipferl against the Chocolate Chip Cookie. Who would emerge as the winner?

Well, turned out that the champions showed some sportsmanship by joining their powers to improvise for the obstacles they encountered:

_ Lack of a food processor for the choc chips, as required by the recipe (in the US, the food processor is indispensable, since it had been invented even before the wheel)

_ Conversion from American measures to European ones:

Stacia: Shall I look up pounds or ml?
Heidi: I can work with ml. (five minutes later upon reading the reprinted recipe) 118 ml (!) of sugar???

_ The unpromising condition of the vanilla dough (Felt too fluffy, did not taste even remotely like vanillekipferl and looked like puke. The consistency was resolved by leaving it in the fridge for two nights but it still looked like puke).

The real fun came up when we were joined by Nancy in "Hell's Kitchen". Although she is finally in London, she feels like replying in French whenever someone adresses her in English.

Nancy: I talked to a conductor about hooping*, how do you say?, klaxonning**? Conductor, is that the right word? Conducteur...?
Heidi: You mean la personne qui conduit la voiture?
Nancy: Äh... nein!

(She was actually referring to so. conducting an orchestra)
*hupen = german for "to hoot"
**klaxonner = french for "to hoot"

All in all, the three of us had an enlightning night: We discovered that:

_ the Austrian equivalent of "Let's take it out!" is "Lass uns aussegehn auf die Bluatwiasn!" (provincial dialect for "Let us go outside onto the bloody meadows!")

_ the one for "rack" is "Gestell"

Stacia and I watching the choc chips in the oven.
Heidi: Look at this rack they have! I don't know why racks in Britain look like that! MY rack is much better!!!
Stacia: (erupts in laughter) "Rack" is slang for breast in English!
Heidi: Oops! But it is interesting that it is like our "Gestell" (which is slang for a woman's legs)!

_ and last but not least that German-speaking and English-Speaking people do not have the same sense of humour, thanks to a Monty Python sketch. (Can ANYONE find this funny???)

Also, we established what the Austrian national sport was:

Stacia: (explaining a joke about baseball)
Heidi & Nancy: (blank faces)
Heidi: We don't have baseball in Austria, do we?
Nancy: No, we don't.
Stacia: So what is your national sport?

Heidi: (thinks hard for 10 seconds and then says) Sackhüpfen!
Nancy: (almost falls off the chair laughing)
(For all those of you who are not Austrians: That was a misunderstanding, it is actually skiing)

At some point (to be more precise, at some point at 6am), Stacia suggested we should finish the Vanillekipferl which turned out very special because of the bang of salt in the aftertaste and the funny shapes:

The next afternoon when Nancy and I got up, Nancy reaches for a vanilla cookie and starts grinning.

Heidi: What?!
Nancy: I am having vanilla cock and boobs for breakfast!!!

Vanilla cookies rule, hehe! But Americans can do good cookies too!

26 December 2006

A long way down - a different Christmas!

The reason why I decided to stay in London over Christmas instead of spending it with my family was partly due to the fact that I wanted to experience a different Christmas for a change. Turns out, that's exactly what I got! But let me tell you my story from the beginning:

It all started when I wanted to see the annual Christmas Swimming Race in the Hyde Park Serpentine, where every year at 9am, the bravest of the bravest dive into the freezing depths (more like, shallows) for charity! Leaving a bit later than I intended at 8am (because, ironically, I was immersed in Nick Hornby's "A long way down"), I ventured for a ~ 3,5 km x 2 walk on a fresh winter morning (on Dec 25th, there is no public transport whatsoever).

So on my 1h 10 min "stroll", I didn't see more than 20 or 30 people! It was as if London was dead! Imagine! There are usually THOUSANDS of people that account for the cosmopolitan buzz of this city. I can tell you, it was creepy! It was like a ghost town! Obviously an Indian pedestrian I met on the street thought so to because he wished me a Merry Christmas, just so!

So when I arrived at the race place, it was 9.10h and the event was actually over! But I got my eyes on two amazing individuals that took the challenge (or "the Kneipp", you could maybe call it). I was admiring the swimmers in awe, the more so because one of them was probably in his 60s or 70s. I appreciate the metaphorical reference to living with handicap and I find this a very noble way of showing solidarity. Btw, is there anyone who is interested in trekking the Wall of China or one of these charity adventures in SEA?

A few impressions of the swimming race:

(The copyright to these pictures belong to the Serpentine Swimming Club)
Anyway, so when I sat down on a bench to rest while watching the participants, a trio of Frenchs passed by who were commenting on the goings-on in a cliché-like fashion, "C'est une façon de vivre!".
When I wanted to head home and got up again, I grimaced in agony: I had gotten myself several blisters and had rubbed off the skin on the sole so that it was very sensitive. I sat down again and thought: There is no public transport, I have only 25 £ for a cab (that will never get me home) and I could hardly ask any of the strangers to give me a lift (well, maybe I could have but I am not that type of person). So I decided that I should at least try to walk for a while to reduce the cab costs. It didn't hurt so much as long as I kept walking. But then I had another problem: It was so cold that I couldn't really move my jaw or feel my limbs anymore. Usually, the best remedy (and only way back) is walking, so that's what I did.

On Oxford Street, I saw not more than 50 people between Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road (for which there was a police patrol that kept driving up and down). I receive a call from my family which kept me distracted and until I noticed it, I had walked more than half of the way already. But when I stopped for a second to figure out how to get to the other side of a street, an acute pain eruption set every mm² of my feet on fire and it was not without some hunching that I made it to a bus stop to sit down. I assessed my situation: I was maybe only ten minutes' walk away from Dinwiddy, had not enough tissue papers to relieve the pressure and friction on my feet and didn't have the number of the cab service. Half of my brain was already mapping out an emergency plan if I was to faint of hypothermia while I was on my own. My jaw didn't really open that much anymore without some conscious effort, my butt was a block of ice (typically me, I was wondering if you can get frostbite on your buttocks) and I found it very very difficult and awkward to stretch the muscles on my arms and I honestly barely managed to move my fingers to write Stacia an SMS, asking her to look up the cab service for me. The University College Hospital was maybe a 100 metres away but 1) walking was not an option 2) I found it silly to call an ambulance to pick me up from around the corner.
By that time, eight occupied cabs had passed me, as well as two groups of people that looked at me as if I was the only person in all of London not to have noticed that the doubledeckers have vanished from the streets (but only one of them pointing it out to me). Two empty cabs didn't want a job, the number wasn't working (it was a tape) and I had been waiting for half an hour already. And then, like Santa Claus with his sleigh and presents, a cab driver that pulled to the side!

He was a nice and chatty man in his 50s or 60s and revealed to me that I was like a christmas angel appearing out of nowhere with a white jacket and hood stretching out her hand, when he had been driving around for two hours without a job! I wanted to tip him (because I remembered from Orientation that cab drivers expect that and sometimes can even get quite aggressive if you "just" pay the fare and also because I was in a grateful mood) but he wanted to give me back my due cash and said that he was happy to have had someone in his cab and since I really wanted to be charitable on Christmas Day, I settled on half the tip (which was 50 p but it's the idea that counts!).

At home, I only managed to change dress, turn on the heater on max and collapse into my bed and probably would have fallen asleep the moment my head hit the pillow (I had been awake for around 20 hours), if I hadn't been concerned about the fact that I was not warming up and feeling very cold under one blanket, one shirt, two pullovers, thick socks and leg warmers. I put my hand on the heater for a while and went back to bed but the cold that was spreading through my body from my behind was really worrying me. It might have been dead or sth, so I leaned/sat on the heater for around 15 minutes until circulation and body heat came back again. Relieved that I had successfully reanimated my buttocks, I peacefully fell into a deep sleep.

Certainly a Christmas to remember!

Since the Christmas Cookies deserve their own post, more about them to follow next time!

21 December 2006

The Fun About Safety

While trying to be faster than the other 99 people in Covent Garden Station that were waiting for the lifts (the Tube runs 50-60 metres below the surface, in Vienna the underground tunnels are usually 20 metres down), I tried the stairs. - I should maybe leave this standing there because it is a joke for itself, you will find out why in a second. When I reached the top 15 minutes later, panting and having the feeling that I achieved my fitness deed for the last week, there was a sign that said, "This stair has 192 steps, please use only in an emergency situation".

This event inspired me devote a blog post on the curiosities of safety precautions that I have encountered so far and that are documented below:

This is your way out from the Tube in an emergency. I assume that a rush of adrenaline will get you up in no time:

While people are getting on and off the train there are repeated announcements to "Mind the Gap!" Sometimes, especially when the platform is bended, you have to take care not to fall into the abyss between itself and the train:

The picture above was taken a SOAS toilet cubicle (during the holidays when the building was deserted, of course). When I was new, I wondered what the hell is this strip for?? What kind of emergency are they speaking about??? The sticker reads, "Security will attend immediately on activation of this alarm. Do not activate this alarm unless you are in a emergency situation." I later found out that this is actually a rape alarm, at least for the female toilets. I wonder if they these alarms on the men's toilets too (perhaps more in case of a mugging):
Some of you might have already seen this picture, taken in a women's WC. Quite ironical, don't you think?
Last but not least (I hope you can enlarge this photo, if not tell me), Dinwiddy's restrictions on Christmas decorations. Most gravely, we are not allowed real trees! Speaking of which, I haven't seen any places where you can buy them (1) and I don't know if you can take them into the Tube (2).

18 December 2006

Follow me... to Covent Garden!

After many (too many) weeks of reading, essay writing and seclusion in my room, I took the day "off" and declared my personal OC-Day (Oyster Card Day), means that I will try to use my Oyster as a day ticket (after a certain limit, it will stop charging you more on that day) and therefore have the freedom to travel around where I like.

First Stop: Covent Garden - bustling with people as ever! No punch but lots of interesting stalls where I bought someone a present, hehe ;) Part of the reason I went there is because it is one of the most vibrant areas in London (the area - "Viertel" around the market proper is named after it) and has its own very relaxing and at the same time elating atmosphere that I tried to capture for you with my camera!

There are a lot of cool shops around, for example, Stanford's, THE place to go when you are looking for a map - any kind of map - on any region. They even have a whole shelf just for Austria and sell maps for the respective regions in the Alps (I was impressed by the selection). I bought a SEA wall map and it is a very good one, too!

Also, I saw a shop that made me think of Taschi, as it sells a cool variety of stockings and thighs in funky designs! Right opposite the Tea House where Stacia and I once picked from a selection of over 100 flavours is a tiny fair trade "café" (it is a vitrine with two chairs on the street) where I'd love to drag Taschi to (who will cross the Channel in about a week!)!

Next stop was Shaftesbury Avenue, where I popped into a vinotheque and asked, out of interest, if they sell any Austrian wines. Turns out that from the 400 or so varieties, there was ONE Grüner Veltliner from Loif-sth! I have already noticed that supermarkets fly their wines all the way from Australia, South-Africa and California instead of what grows right in front of their door. I know I am not a connoisseuse but still!

Katha and Kati will probably remember my business idea to open a book shop that specialises on fantasy, sci-fi and mangas where everyone of us specialises on one area? Guess what?! I found a shop like that, a *big* shop like that, they sell everything from collectibles over printed material to DVDs, I absolutely recomment peeping in there! It is called the Forbidden Planet.

Finally, since I haven't been in there yet and it is claimed to have one of the most extensive and valuable collections in the world, I went into the British Museum and straight for the SEA section, only, it wasn't where it was labelled to be. I asked three employees, two sent me to the current "Power and Taboo" exhibit (which is absolutely rubbish because Oceania doesn't even belong to the region) which I found quite interesting, considering that I have done a course on that at univie (it is a good feeling if you actually know about the stuff that is on display - or not - I wondered why they didn't have a kava bowl) but unfortunately, the ethnological museum in Vienna (that houses a permanent collection on the region) was closed for renovation. The third member of staff just repeated what was on the map and I kept saying, "I've just been in that room. There is nothing in there from SEA." - "What do you mean when you say SEA?" GUYS!!! I finally told him that, "I am disappointed! This is the British Museum, after all!" *sigh*

So, to reward you for reading through this long post, I will simply cover the rest with the video from the stalls within Covent Garden and some pictures in the following order: 1) antique (working!) telephones sold in the stalls 2) the underground station 3) the main court in the BM 4) the Rosetta Stone everyone pilgrimages to (I bumped into it on my search but still good to remember from physics class that the reflection angle for glass is around 42,7° => no flash light coming back!). Enjoy!!!

Living in London - Expenses

Since a lot of people have asked me over and over again what living in London actually costs, I thought about putting up some figures for you, now that I have been living here for three months and can therefore present you with the experiences I have made so far.

Student halls of residence are the cheapest thing there is, according to what I have heard, also the least complicated. Most of them are located within Central London, that is, Zone 1, ergo you can save a lot of money that you'd otherwise spend on transport. Dinwiddy costs around 100 £ per week, utilities included (I remember from SOAS's orientation meetings that people who have to pay utilities themselves were advised to use the shower in the gym if they join a sports club, not a bad idea). Needless to say, there are a zillion people out there who are competing for accomodation!

Getting around:
As I have repeatedly said, students pay 650 £ per year for transport within Zone 1 (or maybe also Zone 2). If you are unlucky enough to live in Zone 5, well... This and the dense traffic are the reasons why a lot of people just walk or risk cycling. An adult tube ticket costs 3 £ without concessions. If you have an Oyster Card (a pre-pay electronic card), travel off rush hours or complete your errands all in one day, it gets cheaper.
Buses are the cheapest options of getting around, also nation-wide. A return ticket for a bus to Edinburgh (several hundred kilometres away) for example costs around 30 £ whereas you would have to pay 22,20 £ for a return ticket for a train to Luton (not more than 50 km away)!

I have never been a shop-'til-you-drop or drink-until-you-drown person, so I will focus on shopping for necessities such as food, toiletries etc.
Well... I am a quite modest person and spend 10-20 £ per week on food. I don't feel malnourished in any way. If you compare UK to Austrian prices, you will find that the amount is usually the same, only that instead of € you pay in £. For instance, if you buy a mango for 80 pence, it costs you 80 cents in Austria or if you spend 1,30 € on onions in Austria, they will cost you 1,30 £ over here. => If you add 50 % to the Austrian price, you can roughly judge your expenses. Of course there are some places where you can go shopping for less, depending on which product you are looking for, for example the 1-Pound-Shop or China Town (for Asian food). And if you know where to look, there are a couple of cheap offers or freebies (for example, free condoms from your doctor). Loads of services are offered by your university as well and since you pay them that much, you should really take advantage of all you can get!

If you have any further questions, please post them here so everyone can profit!

14 December 2006

The Sushi Incident

Heidi says: nth to eat :( i want sushi
Stacia says: I bet there is a place that delivers?
Heidi says: mmmmhhh looking at some sites
Heidi says: 5 pounds delivery if below 25 pounds!
Stacia says: just order 25 pounds of sushi :)

Heidi says: hehe i will now order this: [link to Salmon Sushi containing Chili on the menu]
Stacia says: haha, now is that level 3 or what? [A/N: explanation given below]
Heidi says: *lol* i don't know what that chili sushi is either.
Heidi says: u want anything?
Stacia says: omg that is the one from picadilly!!! that has radiation!!
Heidi says: -( are you sure
Heidi says: (besides, that was polonium) [A/N: turns out it was Thallium]
Stacia says: uh well it's from picadilly
Stacia says: maybe they can take that and market it - now with extra raditation
Stacia says: like level 1 2 3 just like domninos :) [A/N: the level of hotness at Domino's Pizza; before you order level 3, they advise you to check your health insurance first]
Heidi says: :D
Stacia says: Ok one sec let me see if I want something

Heidi says: they don't HAVE a branch at picadilly: [link to Yellow Pages with search results]
Stacia says: [link to company press link where it says:]

"[Company name], through no fault of its own, was caught up in an international incident that achieved massive coverage in the press. As expected, all of our staff have been given the 100% all clear. As far as we know, the same applies to our customers. [Company name] is now closed and we hope to open it again in early 2007. "

Stacia says: HAHA it is that restraunt!!!
Stacia says: I was kidding but I was right
Heidi says: shit!
Stacia says: omg do you still want to order from there? I guess if it's from another branch it'll be ok
Heidi says: they didn't even mention the radiation [A/N: On the press link] ;)
Heidi says: the one for islington is another one.

So much for our Skype conversation tonight. And to comment on the food, that was the weirdest sushi I have ever ordered. Chili flakes on the salmon and chive instead of sesame or nori on the makis...

Read closely:

13 December 2006

Essays, SOAS Libe, Mor Karbasi

After weeks of procastrination, psychosomatic stress symptoms and depression, I have finally finished and handed in my essay for SEA GP. Thanks to Silvia who organised my chaos of amassed information and ideas about the "Impact of Colonialism on philippine nation-building"!!!

After the first obstacle, I am now working merrily on my two anthro essays. While I was searching in the library for relevant literature I stumbled upon such interesting titles as, "The curse - a cultural history of menstruation" (a chapter was called "Sorry hon, not today!"), "Border Fetishisms", "The body's perilious pleasures", "The red lamp of incest", "Colonialism and homosexuality" and "Conceptualising heterosexuality", right opposite Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan" and Alexis de Tocqueville. *sigh* I wish had more time to get out more of the privilege to use this library! There are so many diverse topics! As Kostas said, explaining why he never gives out study packs for Ethno SEA, "You never know what can happen if you go to the library yourself!". How right he is!

Last, but really not least, Silvia, Eva and I went to a free concert by Mor Karbasi at SOAS. The announcement on the SOAS website read:

"Mor Karbasi is a Ladino singer and song writer, mixing a variety of cultures, colours, sounds and languages into her music. Her songs are like a journey through her Moroccan-Jewish roots, with influences of Arabic, Hebrew, Jewish an Andalucian music. Both traditional and modern at the same time, her songs are sincere, heartfelt and touching."

This woman's voice is A WAHNSINN (absolutely breath-taking)!!! Great music. I haven't heard anything so enchanting in a very long time! She was accompanied by a percussionist and a guitarist. Mor herself has an enviable mastery of her voice, also I have never heard anyone singing a tremolo before! Unfortunately, she doesn't have a proper webpage but if you want to learn more about her, have a look at her myspace site (videos clips!).

08 December 2006

Essays, Exam Entries and Course Evaluation

If it is not a language course, you usually have to turn in one essay per term, around 2000-3000 words about an agreed topic. The essays count 20 % towards your final grade and if you turn it in late, you will be penalised 2 % for each working day. Means, after some time it will be useless to turn it in. Compared to Austria, things here are more formal. You have to bring two copies of your essay (in case one gets lost) to the Faculty Office (not the teacher), fill out a form and get a receipt that you have submitted it. If you have reasonable grounds that prevent you from turning in the essay in time, you can attach medical evidence etc.
In Austria, there are very few classes for which you have to write essays, at least in my course, and these were mainly descriptive essays and there are also no workshops, tutorials etc. offered on how to do these properly. Over here, you usually have to come up with a thesis and find evidence to support it, quite a challenge, believe me!

Exam Entries:
A few days ago I received an e-mail saying, "URGENT NOTICE!!! Can you imagine going to an exam and finding out that you haven't been entered for it? Please go to your Faculty Office and make sure you are registered for the right exams until [date]!" Now, being from Austria, this is actually rather funny, considering that in Vienna, you can decide up to the last minute whether you want to participate in the exam or not, as it is an event that takes place at a certain time and place and for which there is no formal registration. This of course fosters some students who never go to the lectures but pick their exams by the level of difficulty, just to collect the credits.

Course Evaluation:
In classes, you are handed out a four-page course evaluation sheet, basically, a questionnaire that is processed by computer but where you can also add a personal comment. This is something that is unnecessary in Austria where there 90 % of the universities don't require application, after the motto "Die Wissenschaft und ihre Lehre ist frei" (engraved in a wall at my college building in Austria, the quote means science and its teaching is free and has given continual questions whether the sentence is grammatically correct). But I find it a good means to give feedback to the teachers, tutors and the school that will be read seriously (well, we also pay them).

07 December 2006

Links and Uni Update

Just wanted to inform you that I have made a couple of changes to the permanent links. The features stay the same, I just subsituted the following sites:

- Leo instead of Pons as an online dictionary
- The Times instead of The Independent for the british press because their website is more clearly laid out
- The governmental site of London has been exchanged for the more touristy website that features loads of cool events and fun places!

Quick uni update while I am at it:
My first EVER argumentative academic essay (the English doesn't matter to me as much as the content) is giving me nightmares, literally. I haven't gone out in two weeks save for uni and the necessary shopping! I consider attending the procastrination workshop by the LTU, although I don't expect to hear anything that I haven't figured out myself by now. More details about the essay and essays in general are to come when it is - hopefully - finished on Friday, D-Day. *back to work*

05 December 2006

London "Coffee House Culture"

For anyone who is not familiar with Viennese Cafés, it is an intrinsic and very essential part of Viennese culture. So if you haven't heard of it now, it is high time that you read up on this!
As I was sitting today in Caffè Nero (a pseudo-italian café chain with classical music doodling in the background) near Russell Square where I usually have breakfast on Monday mornings between classes, I was struck by the very imprint the british queuing phenomena has on the way they design cafés. You have to go to the counter, order, pay and then carry your coffee to the table yourself. It certainly has elements of fast food gastronomy. Even if you find yourself in one of the hidden small cafés, you always have to queue up at the counter. *shaking head*
In Vienna, we don't just "quickly drown a cup of coffee". Going to a Viennese Cafe is like a ritual, drinking coffee is like drinking vine, there is an air of nobility and grandness, a whole set of rules how a proper "Mélange" is made and served, a list of different coffees for the connoisseur/se and what is necessary to convey to the flair of a bygone age (OK, I might have gotten carried away but it is true!).
The pictures show the difference!
Another thing that I realised is that I haven't seen many bakeries so far, where you can buy fresh bread and sweet pastries or whatever they are called over here. Maybe because white toast needs to be manufactured? Probably, it's just not part of the british diet. This problem gives me a head ache every time I try to buy a snack that is not 1) sandwich, 2) wrap or 3) panini. At least I have found black bread, not the one with the grains but the "normal" one, in a big american-style supermarket. Yay! Just this one variety, lying lonely in a basket near to shelves upon shelves of different styles of toast. *sigh*

02 December 2006

William Rodriguez, Aids Day and SEA party

William Rodriguez:
20 years' janitor of the North Tower of the WTC and who was "the last person that left the building before it collapsed" was invited by the SOAS Open Mind Society for a talk. A short excerpt of the announcement e-mail will clarify who he is.
"On 9/11, Rodriguez single-handedly rescued fifteen persons from the WTC, and as Rodriguez was the only person at the site with the master key to the North Tower stairwells, he bravely led firefighters up the stairwell, unlocking doors as they ascended, thereby aiding in the successful evacuation of unknown hundreds of those who survived. Rodriguez, is believed to be the last person to exit the North Tower alive, surviving the building's collapse by diving beneath a fire truck."

He was made a national hero, his testimony was heard in the 9/11 Commission but not included in the final report. Rodriguez now tours the world to voice his (conspiration) theory about "what really happened". He says he lives off donations for the DVD he sells (he signs them by default and lets people take pictures with him). I've got one where he holds practically the same speech at another event. If anyone's interested, let me know. You can also have a look at his website. His talk was very interesting, however, I don't think it appropriate to make a show out of it.

World Aids Day:
People were asked to wear red and/or to donate by purchasing the red ribbon. I wish I hadn't erased that e-mail, then I could tell you for sure that the Charity Society was organising this. I found the idea to wear sth read ingenious and there were actually quite some people who showed their solidarity!

SEA Party:
After the Rodriguez event I went to the party by the SEA department. Burmese food and music (with traditional instruments) and a lot of wine (some packed in bags which I find quite "uncivilised" as an Austrian *g*) - that's the setting. After a heatful debate about how glad the Germans and I actually are NOT to be of the same country (and of the Germans not to be from the same states within their country), we were joined by a rich guy from Kuwait (whose father is negotiating energy in Frankfurt at the moment and who told us that his peers are so spoilt that they go to uni six years after they graduate) who embarassed Silvia to no end and a Russian-but-grown-up-elsewhere-around-Europe who I was left alone with and who was having problems understanding my repeated (subtle at first, later rather clear) messages that I did NOT want to go somewhere else with him after that evening! I even had to call upon help from Mischa (a GERMAN, of all people! *lol*) to "rescue" me by engaging me in conversation! I just hope that Alexej will have had more Vodka than memory...

30 November 2006

Alias Season 4 - The Bristow Clan

OK, imagine this family: Your mother is a former KGB spy who spied on her own husband who worked for the CIA. Your mother spied on your father but both are sure that they are each others' love of their lives. While you were at elementary school, your father put you through a sleeper agents training and then had you hypnotised to forget that memory. This exciting "summer camp" probably predestined you for becoming a CIA agent yourself. Still, he loves you. Your mother on the other hand, shot at you while trying to escape capture by the CIA (being a fugitive and all). She loves you, too.

Best thing is, you have to subordinate to the man who had killed all your friends, including your first fiancé and follow his orders. Interestingly, it turns out that this man has fathered your half-sister who grew up with her evil aunt (still with me? *g*) that will later almost destroy the world. This half-sister was brought to her aunt to be raised by her by the dead (or not dead?) father of your future fiancé who is also a CIA agent (family business, see) . Your father-in-law has been killed by your mother. Your half-sister lookes and acts like an angel but alas, later turns into a zombie that tries to kill her sister in the end (as predicted in a phrophesy).
Your father killed your mother (or at least that's what everyone thought, the person who got the bullet through her head was actually a clone), believing that she had set a price on the your head. When your father meets her later again (she has been kept incarcerated and tortured), she first hits him with her fist and within 24 hours, kisses him passionately.

All this only topped by a merry family trip of all these people together into a deathly zone (an electromagnetic weapon designed by someone like Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago and rebuilt by your contemporaries) to prevent the global population from becoming homicidal zombies, one proposal in a CIA freight plane right before jumping into Russian air (parachuting is part of the family trip) and your aunt (who was responsible for all this havoc in the first place) being first tortured by your father, then shot in the head by her sister.

27 November 2006

15 things that indicate you are getting adjusted to London

1) You know how to get on the tube at rush hours (TFL announcements: "Please use ALL doors. Squeeeeze in there! Doors are closing! Please stand clear of the doors. I SAID please stand clear of the doors!!!").

2) You have developed the confidence to stick out your arm to hire a bus, without feeling embarassed.

3) As a continental European, you have found out the secret tricks how to use a british toilet (not to be underestimated).

4) You resignatingly accept the fact that "conceptions and constructions" of a Caffè Latte are not universal.

5) You react neither intimidated nor panicked upon seeing a security guard, even at the oddest of places (what does Starbucks need a security guard for???).

6) The feeling of being observed and either be the main actress/actor your very own Truman Show, stuck in the intimate fantasies of whoever is surveilling the CCTV monitors, or be seized and transported to a secret police interrogation room because mistakingly assumed to be an Austrian-Hungarian spy.

7) You can blend out the frequent shop announcements about NOT LEAVING YOUR PERSONAL BELONGINGS UNATTENDED.

8) The ear-splitting sirenes of the respective emergency services vehicles which, of course, get stuck in a traffic jam right anywhere where you happen to be at the moment, don't make you all aggressive anymore.

9) You get used to the thin walls that expose you to the risk of getting your ears on heavy evidence of your neighbours very healthy relationship.

10) You have a reason to become 21: the purchase of alcohol. "Please be not offended if we ask you for your ID if you are lucky enough to look under 21" - That's what they put on stickers next to the till.

11) Queuing ing up for anything, i.e. in the bank, in the always nearly deserted cloakroom of the British Library or even for no purpose at all, is completely normal.

12) You don't have a bike (either it has been stolen or you have had an unfortunate encounter with a double decker).

13) You perceive pedestrian traffic lights as merely ornamental.

14) You have learnt the lesson that shoes which go below your ancle are more labour-intensive than cost-effective (toasting your soaked shoes on the heater everytime it rains is not what I consider a potential hobby).

15) Last but really not least: Your umbrella is your best friend.

A very productive weekend

I am so proud of me.

_ I finished transcribing the 1.10h interview for my seminar in qualitative research methods in Vienna. For the lays among you, one hour of interview takes approximately eight hours to transcribe. I now have 30 pages of material. I think it took me twice as long as that overall. I added the pictures and only have to print it tomorrow at Russell and send it via express mail.

_ Finished my Ethno SEA reading on the extent of syncretism of Theravada Buddhism in Burma.

_ Finished my Dev reading on the rural and urban divide and peasant agriculture, and answered the questions to that.

_ Helped a friend and payed a debt by writing an essay.

_ Helped another friend by beta-reading an essay. We decided to establish an essay checking partnership.

_ Tomorrow I will go to the library for my f* essay and print the lecture power points from last week.

So as you see, I have loads to do. Won't be able to update until Tuesday, perhaps.

25 November 2006


One: On Thursday I celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time in my life! According to Emma, the best thing about it was that it was vegan (instead of a turkey we had tofu)! So basically, they made pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, cornbread, cranberry jam and, well, tofu with vegan pesto). We were joined by Hanni (German) and Marc (plain British). After the dinner, we did arts & crafts, in our case, drawing turkeys with crayons out of the copied shape of your hand (see above, yes, those are supposed to be turkeys). Actually, this is something five-year olds do in school but who cares?

Two: Following up my desperation with the wax, I know can add my definition of tampons to the list of Unobtainable Items. First of all, the shop shelves are flooded with tampons with applicators but if you want some without, you'd have to look hard (maybe it's a Austrian and German thing, but we prefer the low-tech stuff). Paradoxically, the tampons themselves look like antiques, just compressed rough cotton without any rills.

Three: Stacia and I watched another great movie with a highly interesting topic. It is called "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" and raises the question of [Spoilers! Highlight to read on!] if you'd rather live with a particular memory erased. I believe that I'd prefer the other way around: To have certain memories transplanted into my brain. Would be cool to hear other people's ideas about this, so if you want to contribute sth...

Four: Sim City is now going into a more advanced level. *cocks eyebrow* There are definitely some amazing free add-ons available on the net that definitely... increase the anatomic accurateness of the sims. *wide grin*

Five: Isn't usually that Europeans laugh at US-Americans's lack of geographic knowledge ("Austria? Oh yeah, I've got a gran down-under!" - "Austria? I thought that was a part of Germany!" or simply putting Germans and Austrians "in the same pot, which is actually bordering on an insult) ? So, while looking for a quiz that lets me check my SEA knowledge, I came across one that asks you to drag the name of the US-States on the right place on the map (Heidi: "It's so difficult because your states look all the same on a map" - Sam: "I know, they are all boxes but they are all different boxes!"). In the next level you are to choose the right capitals of the respective US-States (Stacia: "The weirdest thing is that the capital of a state isn't necessarily the biggest city."). I consider my geographic knowledge quite well (when not asked about West Africa or Russia) but I completely sucked at this! Check it out!

23 November 2006

Wax Attack and TV Fee

Earlier today, I was waxing my legs in the kitchen (better light and more space) when Chris came in. He went past me to his cupboard, looked at me and said, "Isn't this something you do in the bathroom, rather than in the kitchen?" I replied, "Why?" and pulled off the strip on my shin. Chris eyes widened, he said, "OK, I'm going" and had fled the scene faster than you can say "Wanna join?" The reader should be informed that Chris has had a traumatic experience with depilatory wax while applying it to himself. I might have a sadistic tendency (Kat, are you nodding?!), I somehow feel amused about reviving his memory. I don't even know if he got what he was looking for before he left.

Quick note about the wax: Seems nearly impossible to find a wax jar. The drugstores sell all kinds of veet stuff (even veet for men), just not in a jar. And the only jar I could find at Boots (the british "dm") was from a company I had never heard of before but cost 14 £! Stacia got me a Superdrug (the british "Bipa") wax jar for 5,50 £ that smells disgustingly like papaya but that's the price you pay for beauty. Maybe some products falls into the category of potential ingredient for explosive devices (for security threats in drugstores, read Stacia's report from 22 November).

Also, the TV licensing company claims that I hadn't replied to their inquiry and informed me today that I had been put on a investigation list and might face trial and charged a 1000 £ fine. I had e-mailed them TWICE within the given deadline and hadn't heard of them until now. It's not my fault that they hadn't been forwarded. Result: I have been entered into the TV Licensing National Enforcement Database. These bastards. *sigh* It's the same in every country, isn't it? At least you don't have to pay for radio (and consequently, broadband internet), as in Austria (see the GIS website for details).

21 November 2006

Work, work, work and a crisis on top of this

Have been quite busy last week and am on the verge of exhaustion. Although I have been reading like a nun these past weeks, my To Do List won't get any shorter:

- My first essay (in SEA GP) is due in less than two weeks and I have no idea what to write about or how to go about the essay. However, I already know how to reward myself for it: Will see "Breaking and Entering".

- Univie professor Seiser sent an e-mail to everybody who participated in her Qualitative Research Methods seminar last semester to inform us that at that time, she had not even received 50 % of the transcribed interviews we are required to submit (deadline 30 November). So I spent Sunday doing that until I ran out of battery and I couldn't find the other batteries I had. Guess where my battery recharger was: In my locker at Russell Square. 2km of walk. Neither time nor ganas being already stressed out and all.

- After a nap earlier this evening, I got up at 11 pm and finished reading the excerpt on Vietnam in my reading pack for my SEA GP lesson at 9 am today. Took me five hours to work through it. I should really try to read things in one piece and stop the time I commit to doing that to increase efficiency. As I logged into the online platform later to check if the lecturer (the one that makes me squirm every time in his tutorials) had assigned any further readings, I found one (another 23 pages) and also the information that George W. Bush visits Vietnam now for the APEC meeting. The course convenor expects us of course to read some articles from the press coverage. Great. Luckily, I didn't find much on Vietnam in The Times Online and I didn't try harder.

- Lately and absolutely the most serious on top of this is that I remembered that Development Studies has actually never been my first choice. I took it in Austria because the education system in Austria is structured into credits (equivalent of weekly hours) which are divided into major subject and "the rest" (either one minor or several ones combined or an individual combination of lectures). Consequently, I picked development because it provides an introduction into politics and economy and therefore compliments anthropology, being a humanity (also, I was thinking of the graduate job market for anthropologists). When I applied to SOAS, I thought, "I have already started with this, let's take this as a combined course". What I didn't know was that Development Studies at SOAS is taught much more from an economic perspective, compared to the more theory-oriented approach (at least at the beginning of study) in Austria. Additionally, the education system is different and therefore implicates increased effort in the study of the subject (such as spending 6 hours on average on reading) and I guess you concluded yourselves, that I lack the motivation to do this.
Everytime I go to the tutorial, I think, "What am I doing here? I have no idea what they are talking about!" Problem is, it highly likely that it is too late for a degree change but I will talk to my tutors nevertheless and see if there is anything at all that can be done about this.

Keep you updated.

16 November 2006

HSBC, a history - Part 3/3

Since I have been quite busy this week, I'm afraid it will be the third part of my bank experience. If you really reach the end of it, I will be very proud of you!

- I doubted this and went to another branch on the very same day. When I complained to the guy that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand does within HSBC and showed him the letter, he says it means that I just have to wait.

- I wait and get sent another letter saying that I have to bring my passport, my UCAS letter and proof of residence to a branch. I do so, queue up again for 20 minutes and am told later that my account had already been opened weeks ago and he didn't know why I had been sent that letter. He apologised and didn't even try to make it sound sincere. He says, I will receive my debit card within 5 working days (it was a Thursday).

- Instead, I received yet another letter, asking me to pick a 6-10 digit security number for online banking. Normally, I'd receive one but since I live in shared accomodation, I have to choose one myself. Oh well.

- I am sent a card, that doesn't look like a debit card but claims that it does have the same functions. There is neither chip, signature field or Maestro sign on it and my general impression was that it is a toy card.

- In the last week of October, I am sent a bank statement. It says that I have to pay 5 £ as a charge for my account. I am not going to pay for a service I couldn't use!

- That's what I told the employee I met next. He says: "So you want me to close your account. Is that what you are asking me?" I said, "No, I don't. There must be a way for me to complain and not pay these fees!" He was really nice and saw how desperate I was. He registered me for online banking (only possible through a branch because you have to pick a security number but I guess this is the same number I had to pick earlier, only that no one had told me how to use online banking) and explained that I still have to register the first time I log in to online banking. Every time you log in, it asks you for your date of birth, account number, sort code and particular digits out of your security number. It's tyring. I showed him my card and he says that that was a service card, not a debit card and he didn't know why I had been sent this.

- Since I cannot do anything about the 5 £, I decide to transfer money to my UK account. I need the IBAN. I ring HSBC. I was disconnected twice but got through the third time. I was given my IBAN and the international HSBC sort code.

- I logged into Bank Austria online banking and entered the details. Sort code incorrect, I am told. I tried different ones from their webpage until one worked. I just hope for the best. I don't know what happens if the money doesn't arrive in time because international students are not allowed an overdraft.

This is not something that happened to me alone. It is common knowledge that the situation with customer service of banks in the UK is like this. I wonder how on earth did the UK become one of the world leading financial centres???

14 November 2006

Edinburgh revisited

I spent the last weekend in Edinburgh where I visited Kat and her two hilarious flatmates Bart and Paul. First thing I noticed was that in Ed, it was cold as shit, as the weather forecast put it: "9°C but feels like 7°C" (due to the damp and the wind). My feet felt like two blocks of ice and my bum like concrete, that is, dead. Funnily, as I was walking over North Bridge and admiring the sight over the gorgous city, my eyes fell on a quite impressive sight: A girl walking in my direction with a spaghetti top and hot pants. Another girl that braved the elements was exposing her kidneys to serious inflammation. Ah well, perhaps the women up here are hard boiled.

Anyway, after a morning in chilling out, a time travel in the afternoon to the beginning of time (Dynamic Earth) and a hike up to the Salisbury Crags on Sunday afternoon which form part of the crate of an extinct volcano and wherefrom you get the most stunning view over Edinburgh (!!!), we retraced our "auld ways" on Sunday evening, walking up the Royal Mile, over George IV Bridge and down to Cowgate where we rediscovered the hostel we had stayed in on our first visit two years ago, the Budget Backpackers. They have repainted the building but to no avail. Memories of the disgusting bathroom and the even more disgusting toilet came up. How this made them so successful, I don't know but they now own the building opposite too and even have a professional reception with a counter, tourist information and a logo. They were one of the cheapest within the city centre, so if anyone is adventuorous enough to dare living in the lion's den while on his or her trip to Ed, please report back to me!

Interesting facts:

_ There is a 50 £ fine on cigarette litter. "Keep Edinburgh clean" Good idea but it's not as if anyone could hold any evidence against you. Ed is not as CCTV infested as London. I merely saw five cameras and these were all where you expect them to be, on bank buildings.

_ "Frustration can cause accidents", this is what you are told when you are on the motorway.

_ Eejit: Scottish for "idiot". This site offers a hilarious insight into Scottish slang!

10 November 2006

HSBC, thou art a wickedness! - Part 2/3

- On the next morning, 14 September, I go to Westbahnhof, one of the two major railway stations in Vienna, buy a telephone card and call the number. It is a tape for telebanking ("If you want to check the balance of your account, press 1"). I can tell you, I was furious! I rang up and I swore to myself that if I they don't get this settled now, I cancel my application. I complained when I called the same hotline as in the night before and explained that I don't understand why my I have to run after them to get that damned account opened before I arrive in the UK (little did I know that this was a naive hope). My emotion apparently showed in my voice because I was forwarded twice until a woman answered that seemed to be an experienced "high level" employee. She was the first person of HSBC that I spoke to on the phone which has given me her full name. Imagine. She promised to send the correct form via e-mail, as well the instructions to get this finally done and a couple of questions that I need to answer in written form. She also tells me what documents they require.

- What followed was a 10-hour-marathon: I went to uni to check my mails. No application form 30 minutes later. I went home (takes 40 minutes), got my passport, my residence registration, drove to the Magistrate to get a certified copy of that. I go to the next Bank Austria branch to get the last six months' bank statements (as required). I also need a bank reference. The employee calls my personal bank officer and tells me that only my personal branch can do this. While waiting for the bus, I call that woman (she gave me her extension number) from HSBC and tell her that I need the e-mail asap if I want to send this today. She promises to send it now. I go to my personal branch, they are very friendly and supportive, give me a bank reference (saying I have got an active student account with them) and stamp and sign both the reference and the statements. I drive back to uni to download and print the HSBC form that has arrived. The e-mail really includes everything Ms Mitchell promised to send. I printed the form (a fucked up layout in PDF => three A4 pages on one) and rang HSBC again to ask what groups of people can certify my passport (it was already 5pm by then). "Police officers? Very good!" I go back to the IT room, look up the number of the Vienna Police Directorate and call them while walking to the building (not far away). The man on the phone tells me that they used to do that but don't anymore. He connected me to the city council. They don't do that either. The Bank Austria headquarters are right in the middle of the uni and police, so I hope that this branch might still be open (bank officers can certify too). It isn't. I call the 24/7 Bank Austria hotline and ask whether, by any chance, there is a branch in Vienna that isn't closed yet. There was! There is a branch in the 21st district (outskirts of Vienna) that's open until 7 pm (I don't know why, as it is not very central). It took me one hour to get there by tram and one hour back to Westbahnhof (long opening hours post office). I used the time to fill out the form. The first part of the form with blue pen, the second part with green fineliner (I lost the pen), the last part with black pen (as required for automised reading). I sent all the documents + my tricolore application form on the very same day. Quite an achievement! Try to copy that!

- A few of the questions I had to answer in the e-mail to Ms Mitchell were:
--Purpose of opening the new account with HSBC UK (My life was boring?)
--Where the initial source of funds to be credited into the new account will originate (From the account number that they will see once I transfer the money??)
--The anticipated level and nature of activity through the new account (Am I supposed to have lived abroad before???)

- Upon moving in to Dinwiddy, I already have a letter in our box saying that my application would now be processed once I arrive in the UK but doesn't say whether I have to do something.

- I go to a branch on 25 September and ask the woman at the reception (it's like a conveyor belt, people queue up, briefly outline their problem to be either solved immediately or be told to wait for 15-20 minutes until their name is called) if I have to do sth. She looks me up on the database, says I am already on the system but I have to do the online application again in order for my bank account to be opened for good.

09 November 2006

A break from the break that isn't a break

After reading all night through and omitting sleep, I decided to take a break and joined Laura (German UG Politics student) and Silvia on a walk alongside the Regent's Canal on this bonny autumn day. Practically, this means that I went from this:

to this:

I felt like a walking challenge and continued to Camden Market. The other two have been there already, so I went alone but shopping isn't anything you can spend a lot of time talking anyway.

The market is amazing! The stalls have all kinds of clothes, from Asian, funky, gothic and corsets to hippie style. Three things I of the things I discovered which I want to outline here:

  • Ottfried Fischer laughing on a huge photograph while lying in a hammock (superfluos to mention what the shop sold). I didn't know that he is known outside of Toelz.
  • A shop selling clocks, jewellry and lampions (those were pretty beautiful) made of computer platines (really inventive).
  • Austrian hats worn for national dress (must be cult in Britain) and a dress that looked like a dirndl adapted for a goth party.

After an extensive exercise to and around the stalls and home again (5 km in each direction!) I now feel relaxed and treat myself to a DVD that I bought at , "Closer", the story of "four strangers - their chance meetings, instant attractions and brutal betrayals".

HSBC, a tribute to the world's local bank - Part 1/3

Everyone who is courageous or simply unlucky enough to be in need for a UK bank account, may nod in sympathy, remembering similar experiences with the bank of their choice. The reason: In the UK, it takes at least one month to get the holy grail, a bank account because you have to prove that you are neither a fraud, a terrorist or a money launderer. In most cases this will be HSBC, "the world's local bank" as they call themselves, represented in I don't know many countries. As it turns out, HSBC has more customers than it can manage or they simly don't care a shit about customer satisfaction (it is nearly impossible to find a contact adress for this purpose on their website). But let me introduce you to my very own ordeal:

Once upon a time, it might have been 27 August, in a country not so far away (Austria), there was a student that wanted to apply for an International Bank Account at HSBC for she would leave the country on 23 September to start a new life as a student in the United Kingdom.

- I go their website and apply online. I fill out a form and am required to enter a UK telephone number. How am I supposed to have one??? After an hour of racking their elaborate website and trying different numbers via Skype, I am finally connected to...

- ..."HSBC International", the division that is rumored to be responsible for international accounts. I ask the guy who picks up the phone ("Good evening, my name is John, how can I help?") for help on what to write in the required field "UK telephone number". "Enter your Austrian number." OK. I try. Error message: Too many digits. "Enter any number. If there is space at the end of the application, you can enter a note there to explain." - "And if there isn't?" - "Then call us back." I had to.

- Two weeks pass (the usual maximum time it takes to open a bank account in Austria), and still no confirmation letter from HSBC. My application might just as well have never happened.

- I call them. The woman says: "Of course you have to fill out a printed form, you cannot just apply online!" (which contradicts the information on their website). I ask her where I can come by a form. She tells me to go to offshore.hsbc.com.

- I download the form which has 29 pages that I printed in colour (what a waste of ink). Upon discovering difficulties with filling out the form, I call them. Turns out that this is a form for an offshore account that requires a minimum sum of 10 000 €. Ergo: HSBC International is not HSBC Offshore and I found out before the woman that told me the link. She promises to have the responsible department send me the correct form.

- Half a week passes and I still haven't received any e-mail attachment or mail. I request to be called back. They do. I ask the employee if we can arrange for a personal branch that will guide me through this and where I can go to later. I am told: "You can't just pop into a branch!" (HSBC International and HSBC UK are two separate things but both are centred on the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man).

- I call back minutes later because I have another question and this time I am advised to open a UK account which, as I explain to the employee, I have read on their webpage to be only possible for those non-UK residents that have already been resident in the UK for three years.
It's now 11 September.

- On 13 September, around midnight (24/7 hotline) I arrange to be called back (I had quit internet at my flat and didn't have a landline. So I called my mum, who called them via her landline and gave them my mobile number). Where on that damned webpage can I find the form or what has happened to my request? I expected a database at their call centre but they don't have one and he couldn't give me the information I needed either. It's not the employees' fault but they are not trained enough to give competent answers. He claims not to be responsible, so he gives me a number that is available from 8 am the next morning. I was so angry that tears welled up in my eyes and I couldn't sleep.

08 November 2006

Reading Week, Sim City & The Milk Shake Chase

SOAS students currently enjoy the "liberties" of Reading Week where no classes are held in order to let you catch up on your reading list or pick specialised books from the further readings or work on your essays - or all of that. While a lot of people might cry "Hurray!" and try to establish a new record in the Seven Day Binge Drinking Marathon, some people *ahem* actually take the Reading Week literally, albeit too arbitrarily perhaps (remembering indulging in fanfiction until 9 am in the morning last Sunday...).
Today saw me in the following situation: Heidi reading on international migration in SEA, having a stack of four other related books at the ready, as well as a bowl of delicious Gulasch Soup (Never tasted better! Thank you, Taschi!) and an issue of Cosmopolitan (for studying breaks).
I've got to write a 3000-word-essay in each single one of my subjects (that is, four). I want to do one on "SEA government policies concerning international migration" in SEA GP but will have to speak to my course convenor about this, as it is a self-formulated topic.
I found some more jewels while browsing the library (The Philippine Statistical Yearbooks! These look much more user-friendly than the webpage I had to use for my independent study project for my graduation)! I am really impressed!

About SimCity, Stacia and I created a virtual almost-equivalent (we reduced the number of residents to five to keep an overview) of the people in our flat with The Sims! *lol* So far, our kitchen caught fire twice, a person has died of shame, we've got some love triangles going on and a guy in a kilt *g*! Sounds like our very own soap!

I found this Milk Shake Chase among other interesting videos online and don't want to keep it any longer from you, enjoy!

04 November 2006

Follow me... to Oxford Street!

I am so exhausted from yesterday's shopping spree on Oxford Street. I spent six hours and 100 pounds on two (gorgeous!) tops and a pair of comfortable boots for winter. I think I told you when I arrived in Britain with my one pair of high heel boots, that I found it difficult to find sneakers, probably because boots are so en vogue. Now that I come to think of it, I haven't seen that many "defeminised" girls as you see them in Austria, the ones in rave style. Or maybe I just haven't been to the right places yet.

Whatever, so from walking down this high street, I would have given it a length of three times Mariahilfer Strasze in Vienna. Upon measuring it on my map though, I discovered that it is merely 200 meters longer? This seemed unbelievable, so I employed the most effective tool to find out (Google) and found this instead. Apparently, the introduction of a fast lane for hurrying pedestrians is discussed. The disrepancy between relative and absolute length is probably due to the fact that 90 % of the shops have three floors on average.

Three things I observed:
The technology that, in Austria, is used in ice-cream parlours to accelerate the ordering process, in London is used in shoe shops. The shop seller in the customer room scans in the product, required size and colour and the person in the stock room brings it.

A lot of clothes shops have student discounts. I got 10 % each in two shops. When you are in London and you have a UK student ID or ISIC, you should always ask for it!

Apparently, in the UK, you have the right to dress accordingly to your religion. For example, I have seen a librarian wear a kippah and a shop seller wear a chador. I remember the political discussion that came up when two sikh tram drivers wanted to wear their turban at work. They went to court and in the end, the Wiener Linien (the public transport company in Vienna) even made them one with their logo. I will grant cultural diversity in Britain its own post eventually, as it deserves.

02 November 2006

International Students Committee and London Film Festival

International Students Committee:
Yesterday I went to the first meeting of the International Students Committee at SOAS. Gopika (female BA Anthro & Dev Studies student from India), our International Students Officer was looking for people who wanted to help her, she being in her final year and having to write her dissertation. Four people turned up: a female egyptian LL.M student, a male czech SEA Studies student, a male south-african African Studies student and - me! After everyone had introduced themselves, we went on to [short interruption by fire alarm at 3.20 am *rolling eyes* this is the 10th or so fake fire alarm, mainly because of people that leave the kitchen door open while cooking. We've never had one at the dead of the night, though.] business and discussed things like fees (Non-EU students are charged up to 10 450 £), pre-arrival information, knowledge of the education system in the UK, cultural orientation, work experience and "fun" (*g* Gopika: "There is an International Students Day on November 17th" - Heidi: "There is?" - Gopika: "Yes, a lot of people don't know about this. Let's prepare an event at SOAS!"). We've had loads of ideas and all seem very committed. I hope this will also manifest itself in our activities, not only in our lip service.
The reason why I wanted to join the committee is that I really enjoy being an international student at SOAS and would like to contribute to and find out more about the experiences other students like me are making!

London Film Festival:
Went to "Lunacy", a movie by Jan Švankmajer, a surrealist czech director. Stacia had introduced me to the surprising and challenging work of "Jan", as we call him: During a boring night we had watched "Conspirators of Pleasure" at home. His movies are very intriguing, however maybe not anyone's taste! In Lunacy, Jan brings together influences from Edgar Allan Poe and the Marquis de Sade. I guess you can say, that it is quite blasphemic, in some scenes I was expecting people to stand up and rant about it - but everyone remained seated. I guess if you don't want to see it, then you don't go there. Maybe that was an irrational reaction developed through growing up in a catholic environment. In Lunacy, Jan shows two ways in handling the patients of an asylum: Either you leave them in total freedom or you set up strict rules they have to comply by. But Jan raises spans a third dimension: Lunacy in our everyday lives.

31 October 2006

British Library

Today is a very memorable day: I joined the British Library! 30 million books and even more other items at my disposal - for free! I'm not even member of the Austrian National Library (not even been there), that stores "only" 3,4 million books.

Three brief facts about the BL:
1) It is one of the six legal deposit libraries in the UK that receive one copy of each book published in the country (the others are Oxford, Cambridge, Wales, Scotland and Dublin).

2) The items are stored on 625 km of shelves and 12 km are added each year.

3) The building is the largest in the UK constructed in the 20th century.

30 October 2006

First wave of exhaustion and panic attack

Update on uni proceedings:

As the term progresses, our required readings become more in-depth and demanding. I experienced some difficulties with the texts due to my not being native speaker. The thing is, that I don't associate as many emotions or memories to english words as I do to german ones. They are a white sheet without stains to me. That's probably the reason why using english words in German is so cool - they are new and not laden with long-used or outwashed meanings (Can you say that in english?). However, the point is, that this fact makes it more difficult to recall what you've just read (or heard in the lecture - making you try to jot down every single word because you can't restructure sentences that quickly yet). I guess my language centre in the brain is stil running the German Operating System. Probably my thinking still follows german patterns even if I speak and think mostly in English these days. There must be some research on that, maybe in connection with bilingualism, I should definitely look this up on the internet.
Also, Stacia has got me hooked on Neurolinguistics now, after giving me a free lecture on this (and the dimensions 3+) while we were waiting for the laundry!

Yeah, result of that problem is, that I freaked out last week and dashed to my UG tutor "Jonathan" (I also have to get used to calling professors by their first names) for advice. He was really relaxing (and rational, in contrast to me). "The point is not to make you fail. I am human too." After this huge sigh of relief, I picked up my Development reading pack and started reading "An Analysis of IMF conditionality" and wanted to throw myself out of the window again (guess it saved me that it doesn't even open far enough for my hand). Economic terms all over the place - it's not that difficult to look them up in the dictionary but it takes time to do cross reference in order to understand the relevance for the given argument. Spent hours on Wikipedia to read about the East Asian crisis, capital account balance, the calculation of balance of payments and (side-glance at Taschi) macroeconomics in general.
I guess I am not the only one who is whining. Other people in the tutorials were complaining too. This is probably what the PhD student I met said about SOAS: "They will push you to your limits but you learn a lot."

29 October 2006

Follow me... to Portobello Road!

This video is supposed to give you an impression of Portobello Road on a Saturday afternoon. For anyone who doesn't know it: The shops mainly specialise on antiques but it's also a place to get creative accessories (like Octopus), cheap clothes or unusual jewellry (mother of pearl earrings in different colours, jigsaw-puzzle earrings or jewellry made of cutlery). On weekends, there are also lots of stalls that line up along the road.
I'm not really satisfied with this video clip. I'll try to improve resolution and light next time and pick a better vantage point.

The "Follow Me!" thing is a series that I plan where I record special places or events in London in order to give you the feeling to be part of my adventure. The title is inspired by the Follow Me, um, event that I witnessed once in the inner city of Vienna where someone walks around with a "Follow Me!" sign without any apparent reason and passers-by just join up, for no apparent reason either. Weird.

28 October 2006

Graduate Fairs, Anthropology and Intelligence Services

This week I have been to two graduate fairs and will shortly post about the highlights of both of them:

The London Autumn Graduate Recruitment Fair in the Islington Business Design Centre (quite impressive venue):

Among two other development/volunteering organisations there was this one, called Raleigh International. Luckily, the stall was deserted when I had finished reading the leaflets, otherwise I might have had a heatful discussion with the representative! Their marketing strategy looks like this (at least on paper, I couldn't find any hint of this when I checked on their webpage): "You can help building huts, you will be an essential part of every project, you can help poor people when you are not sure what to do with your life and want to take a gap year." On the pictures (available online), you found white Raleigh participants (with T-Shirts) holding laughing black children and maybe carrying one on their back. It seemed like a development project designed for you specifically, you are going to be in control of everything, you are going to be the "white angel". Never heard anything about partnership? Alignment? Ethical principles in development? As I say, it might be that it was just the leaflets that had been badly designed because their website is not that aggressive.

Something more cheerful: I was approached by someone (a PhD, as it said on his business card) to teach English at the Cambridge Business School in Kairo! Wow! Sounds really interesting, Kairo and the opportunity to do this, but unfortunately, I don't trust myself to be a) a good teacher b) to enjoy myself in a region entirely different from where I want to be (SEA). Besides, there must be a hook somewhere when they ask a random person who's not even a native speaker (he commended me on my English: "Your English is good enough, it is very good!") to teach in another country... They must be desperate.

The Graduate Jobs Fair in the Brunei Gallery (SOAS):
Among the employers you could find: ICRC, Reuters and... the MI5! ("Apply your language skills!") Who would work for the MI5? That probably involves very unethical interests! When I mentioned this in a tutorial, my tutor said that there was this article that says that the CIA actually funds Anthropology students in the US. These have to bind themselves to work for them for a minimum period of four years or so otherwise they'd have to pay back the cost for their education plus penalties much as was paid for them! See the AAA (American Anthropological Association) website for an article on anthropological research abuse and the viewpoint of the concerned themselves: "Spies in our midst" I tried to research some more on that on the internet and found this highly interesting article (especially for you, Clemens!): "If CIA calls, should Anthropology answer?"

I'm hooked now, I think I will be reading some more on this. There's also this guy in my tutorial who has written an essay on a similar or even this very topic...

Did you know that "The Arab Mind" a book written by Raphael Patai (an anthropologist), an published in the 1970ies was abused for Abu Ghraib?

26 October 2006

National Gallery

The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square houses "one of the greatest collections of European painting in the world. These pictures belong to the public and entrance to see them is free".
That's one of the things that are so paradoxical about London: No matter how expensive everything is (a theatre ticket might cost 25 £ at least, a tube single ticket 3 £, a student transport card for a year 650 £), there are still places, mostly museums, where you can get in for free.

I tried to find a public library network which is similar to ours in Vienna, where you pay 3 € per year as a student. Interestingly, though, I couldn't find anything comparable. It seems as if you have to pay at least 100 £ to become member of a borough library, you need to bring a reference (by a teacher, a tutor) to become a member and entrance is not open to the public. So obviously, in the UK or at least in London, you are encouraged to go the museum instead of a library.

Among others, I went to see Canaletto (whose love for detail is absolutely stunning), Venus and Mars by Boticelli (I remembered how I loved renaissance in my art classes, I marveled at that painting for at least 15 minutes), the Arnolfini Portrait by Van Eyck, William Turner (who Prof Hartinger held in very high regard) and Cézanne. I wanted to see the sunflowers (my favourite flowers!) by Van Gogh too but I would have had to return to Level 2 (the famous Sainsbury Wing) from the Ground Floor (where I expected a lift) to take the lift to Level -2 (where they keep everything from Manet to Picasso) and that was just too much for my poor high heel tortured feet. But since the museum is free anyway, I can return to it whenever I desire to!

24 October 2006

Guess what and where I am! An interactive quiz!

So guys, I carefully selected these pictures to spare you the cliché postcard motives you know anyway.

Let's see how many of you actually check my blog regularly!

1) A university graduate
2) Someone who grew Marihuana in the garden
3) You find me in front of Buckingham Palace
4) A cardinal was present at my inauguration

a) The marble woman
b) The glass buildung
c) The smith
d) George Washington (& dove)

The Thistle and the Rose united in London!

Okay, maybe a cheesy title for this post. The thistle is Scotland's national flower, just as the rose represents England (and the edelweiss Austria). Let's get to the meaning of this introduction to heraldics.

My dear friend Kati who I now from secondary school and now enjoys a fabulous Erasmus year at the University of Edinburgh took a 600 km journey to visit me and London (or the other way round *g* Just joking, Kati). But we're talking about London after all!

Among the most impressive locations were Portobello Road - with its dangerous Oxfam book shop and London's version of a Weltcafé, looking forward to celebrate "austrianness"(© Ben) with Taschi - and the venus fly trap of all bookworms: The Picadilly Waterstone's ("Europe's largest bookshop"). Some people might think us crazy, but we did a detour from Notting Hill on our way to home to King's Cross, just to see that Waterstone's! *g*

Last but not least, we went to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre! It's a truly magnificent building, considering that the whole wood building is held together without nails or screws. During the plays which take place during the summer season, they try to keep to the historical methods as much as possible, i.e. rolling a canon ball on the drawing floor to imitate the sound of thunder.
Another interesting thing is that since in Shakespeare's days, plays used to be shown in during the day but they're now shown in the evening, they light the theatre so that it appears to be in full daylight, meaning that the actors and actresses see the audience, as opposed to a "black box" in "contemporary theatres". Must surely be frightening to some, as you see all the reactions from the audience - or the lack thereof!

You can find Kati's account of our weekend on her own blog, The Well of lost Thoughts!