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!

20 October 2006


Yesterday saw my very first film preview! Ben (PG Taiwanese Studies student) was approached on campus and invited to watch "The Fountain", the new movie by "Pi"-director Darren Aronofsky. They said, he could bring someone else along (as long as they are aged 16-39) and all we'd have to do was to fill out questionnaires at the end of the screening. Later, that is, after we had handed them in, some people were asked if they wanted to stay for ten minutes to give a personal feedback (we did and got a 5 £ UCI-voucher in return).

The movie itself is a very intense, surrealist reflection on the circle of life, death, love and time, conveyed through a married couple, very well played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz and taking place across multiple layers of time (Beneath the question "How would you describe the movie to your friends?" on the questionnaire were two tiny lines).
Although there were some scenes that reminded you of other movies you've seen and the beginning was objectionable from an anthropological perspective (it was!), I would absolutely recommend the film, especially for the way (the lack) of sound/music is used in some scenes and what I call "onomatocinematography", that is the way that the set was designed and the scene shot (Natascha, the expert, suggests the term "photographic composition").

I really wonder, if and how much the movie will have been altered when they finally release it. So if anyone of you watches it, please get back to me!

19 October 2006

Erratum ad Vietnam War

Oops, I misunderstood Sam entirely (see comments)! Sorry for that!

So, instead have a look at intelligent design:
  • I'll try in english!
  • I'm certainly not going to read that in any other language than german!

Policies concerning history

This is the German Studies Section at the academic Waterstone's. The bookshop's about the size of the Amadeus (I refuse to call it Thalia) in Mariahilferstraße and has 5 floors (the ceilings are very low, it's an old building) of, well, everything you seek from (Fine) Arts, Business, History, Humanities, Social Sciences to Law. What is particularly striking to me is that the Anthropology Section is almost larger than the reference section (Freihandaufstellung) in my former institute in Vienna!!!
Anyway, among other things I found a German Studies section which you see above. I thought, "Hm, let's see what they've got here". According to the display of books you see (click on the images to enlarge) someone might get the idea that german history only started in 1933.
Sam told me (I forgot to mention that all english speaking natives in my flat have learnt german for at least some time in school) that in the US, when you tell someone you're from Germany, it is very likely that you are met with the prejudice of being a nazi. Someone made a similar remark to him when he said that he studied German and the other person was like "Oh, why are you studying German? Are you a nazi?" The funny bit about the story is, that Sam has jewish ancestors and even a german surname.
When I explained that in Austria and probably in Germany as well, the nazi period is taught very seriously in schools, Sam informed me that the Vietnam War isn't covered in the US and Chris told me that he had never learnt about the British Empire! Imagine! He explained that it is believed to teach about the Empire is believed to propagate a pro-imperialistic attitude. *shaking head* To leave out the most recent events in your respective country's history is one thing but to obliterate the last 500 years is completely unbelievable!!!

18 October 2006

Hot food

No comment...

16 October 2006

Don't be shy, you're on air!

Britain is obsessed with CCTV! Whether you're stepping undignified on a pile of dog shit on the pavement, or snogging passionately with your partner in a cafe or dragging yourself semi-consciously to your lecture: rest assured that someone is always watching your every move! There are living areas where there is AT LEAST one camera attached to every building. It is estimated that there is one camera for every 14th resident in the UK. I conclude that it's virtually impossible to disappear in the UK.

On the one hand CCTV suggerates safety (even if it won't prevent a crime being commited), on the other hand though, I feel concerned about the greater dimensions of this phenomenon.

I wanted to take a picture while in the tube station but was afraid that the police will appear out of thin air, confiscate my camera and interrogate me to find out if I am involved in any terroristic activities. That's also the reason why it took me so long to take the picture you now see.

15 October 2006

An introduction to my studies

Theory in Anthropology and SEA Ethnography are taught by Kostas Retsikas who has a quaint Greek accent which will make the structural method of Lévi-Strauss an entirely new adventure. Luckily though, he has sense of humour: "Do you underrrstand my ahhhccent? - You will durrring the yearrr."
In Ethno of SEA I came across a highly interesting book, "SEA and the Age of Commerce" by Anthony Reid (Yale University Press 1990). What I realised reading that book is how much neglected SEA as a region REALLY is. I was like, "Wow! I never heard of THAT at school!" It's like an entire new history to discover; a parallel universe that you have been totally unaware of. Amazing!
Back to Theory in Anthro: In the tutorial I found out that kinship doesn't seem to be covered as much as in Austria ("To understand Lévi-Strauss's alliance theory [...]. In English, we use the term cousins to refer to [...], however, in kinship theory it is distinguished between cross cousins and parallel cousins." - really basic for the laypersons among you) which annoys me, considering how difficult it was to learn the vocabulary of kinship terms in Vienna.

The course convenor of the team taught lecture Theory and Evidence in Contemporary Development is Jonathan Di John. In the tutorials two groups will be formed that will stay the same throughout the year. In the discussions, one group will represent the World Bank's / IMF's point of view, the other the critics' ("Although many criticise the World Bank, a lot of people have no idea what it actually does. We should not forget that the World Bank is the largest research centre in the world concerning development.").
Since online registration for the tutorials failed, lots of students just came to the one immediately after the lecture. What happened was that there were around 20 people in that room. The tutor said, "Some of you will have to move to another tutorial because a tutorial with 20 people obviously doesn't work." I smiled and thought back to the tutorials I had in Vienna with 35-80 participants and was really glad that I came here. I've heard that the highest number of students per tutor here must not exceed 12!

I chose SEA Government and Politics instead of Indonesian and am happy about it. Jason Abbott provides an interesting "framework for the understanding of modern politics in SEA".
Am excited about the presentation I will do on "The Philippines: Colonial and Cacique Democracy" in January!

13 October 2006

Clubs & Societies Fair

I would like to point another interesting thing that they have at UK universities:
On Saturday, 30 september 2006 the Clubs & Societies Fair (Fayre?) organised by the SOAS union:
Every club or society would have their own stall where they represent themselves (the Mountaineers in their harnesses, the Anime Society in a kimono, the Liberal Democrats with their ribbons), offer freebies (that's where I got my mug from) or try to indoctrinate you (reminescing a dialogue with a guy from the Socialists' Society; Stacia signed up just for fun but now can't get rid of their spam). There was another one from the ULU (for all students from University of London colleges).

I signed up for:
  • Human Rights in the Philippines
  • Model United Nations (simulation of conferences and assemblies)
  • Belly Dancing (making the most of my perfect prerequisite!)
  • Volleyball (at ULU)

I've only been to the Volleyball so far, simply because those were the only ones that had contacted me yet. Also, I don't think that you have to be active all the time in any of your clubs & societies. The volleyball club will probably require regular attendance.

Funny bits:
  • A person being transported on a stretcher with a ruff around the neck. I thought someone had fainted (lots and lots of people in tiniest rooms) but it was just the First Aid society or whatever they call themselves.
  • LUST - no, not what you think! LUST stands for the London University Swimming Team!
  • A man meditating with closed eyes in the middle of the all the noise (Sri Chaitanta Saraswata Society, I believe)

To get the idea of what different kinds of clubs & societies are offered at SOAS, have a look at our student union's website!

If anyone should be interested in how a course cover sheet / reading list look like, contact me (they are on the intranet so I won't post them here)!

08 October 2006

Classes and Workload

These are the classes that I am going to take this year:
  • Theory in Anthropology
  • Ethnography of Southeast Asia (SEA)
  • Theory and Evidence in Contemporary Development
  • Government and Politics of SEA

Everyone of those is worth 1.0 course units and you can't really take more than 4.0 per academic year. Additionally, I will attend tutorials to three of them (Ethnography is already a 2h class, instead of the usual 1h and we're just five people anyway).

How do classes work?

  • At the beginning of each academic year, you get a "course cover sheet" that contains the programme of topics, assessment and coursework information as well as the essential and further readings for each lecture.

  • The reading list consist usually of three titles (book chapters, articles) per subject that you should have read BEFORE the tutorials and ideally, before each lecture. All are accessible through the library, you just have to show up first lest someone else snatches them away from right under your nose.

  • The lectures offer basic inputs, possibility for real discussion is left for the tutorials.

  • In my case, I have to write one ~2500-3000 word essay per term in each subject until the end of the respective term.

  • At the end of the academic year, you will have a written examination in each of your courses. Therefore, the third term is mainly reserved for exam preparation.

07 October 2006

Beware of drunken englishmen!

These are Stacia and Chris on my bed, after Chris had practically swayed into the conversation Stacia and I were having at 2am. He was woken up the very same day on 10am by the fire alarm drill! *broad grin*

06 October 2006

Live your life, love your home

The IKEA slogan above fits perfectly for the subject I am going to post on today: My flat!

These are some impressions of my humble abode:

Left, my room: There are restrictors on the window which is why it doesn't open much more than that. Below is a bookshelf and on the right (outside of the picture) is my wardrobe.

Right, my bathroom: It looks disgusting but you get used to it. Cleaning it yourself again, helps.

Pictures of our kitchen will follow. The whole flat (a room is a unit within a cluster flat) has one mail box. If anyone wants to send parcels, please go ahead, as they will be kept at the reception for pick up!

Since I will mention my flatmates sooner or later, I will introduce you to them shortly, so you know who's who:
  1. Sam
    is from New Jersey/New York City, is vegetarian and studies Chinese.

  2. Stacia
    is from New Mexico/California, is vegetarian too and collects weird independent movies.
    She did Japanese Art and Literature and now studies Zulu and Sanskrit, I believe (@Stacia: Hit me if you don't!). Being JYA (Junior Year Abroad) student makes things difficult because they can choose any lecture that they like from any courses offered.

  3. Silvia
    is from Bavaria, studies South East Asian Studies etc. in Passau and speaks Indonesian and Chinese. We are desperately in search for rye bread, so if anyone has any knowledge of where we can get by it, please tell us!

  4. Chris
    is an endangered minority, being the only student from Britain. He joined the Ale Society.
    I don't want to produce any misconceptions and stereotypes but that's what he did! (Sorry, Chris!) He's quite a charming guy, as he tries to convince other people who he wants to borrow books (for uni) from. Ah yes, I almost forgot *g*, he's a Historian.

  5. Jia-Jia
    is "the phantom" because we hardly ever see her. She's from Shanghai and on a foundation course. She wants to do Economics, I think.

  6. Emma
    comes from Texas but studied in Massachusetts and studies Politics. That will make three people from the US that are vegetarian, so please no prejudices!

02 October 2006

Rain, Classes & Elections

Since it’s raining outside and my umbrella is somewhere between Vienna and London, I thought this would be a good opportunity to keep dry in the IT room…

I have just had my first three lessons: Theory in Anthropology (50 people), Ethnography of South-East Asia (=SEA; 6 people), Government and Politics of SEA (50 people).
In the UK, you have to submit your timetable by the end of the first week of teaching which means that you only have this one week to try out several classes. You actually have to register for the courses (lectures) you take.
Lessons here last usually one hour, sometimes two. As a result, the “academic quarter of an hour” is reduced to five minutes at the beginning and at the end of the class.
At the moment, I consider taking Indonesian classes but I think that by Friday I will change my mind to courses that are dearer to my personal field of interest (SEA & migration).
At SOAS, a wide range of exotic languages are offered, ranging from Amharic over Yoruba to Zulu. They might offer for lessons for non-students as well, if anyone should be interested

What else? I went to the embassy yesterday to vote for the elections. It’s on the other end of London (south of Hyde Park) and already is three bus stops into Zone 2! Today I was given a Financial Times for free at uni and they had a half page coverage about the elections!
Apparently, it will be a close race between the OEVP and SPOE.

While at the embassy, there was a man who wanted to vote but apparently had difficulties with the voting system (he had no Wahlkarte or didn’t know that he had to apply for one) but also with German (but he had an Austrian passport), his friend who just accompanied him translated from German into their native language. What surprised me was that the woman from the embassy, although seeing that the man in front of her obviously had difficulties with German, did not switch into English which I found very mean. I tried to translate but he left later because they couldn’t find his Wahlkarte.
Why I mention this? Because he was black.