30 March 2007

Follow me... to Amsterdam! (Day 1)

After the arrival in our psychedelic artsy hostel after a horrible coach journey (which deserves its own post), we took a stroll through the city to capture the air of Amsterdam. Amsterdam's structure basically looks like Vienna (eg, an inner and an outer main ring road, a big river crosses the northern part of the city) and there is always sth which reminds you of sth you have seen elsewhere (Centraal Station looks like St. Pancras in London, the tram looks like the Badnerbahn tram in Vienna, the Grachten resemble Venice even though Amsterdam has more canals than than Venice and the more residential places at the outskirts remind Kat of Potsdam). The only difference is that the whole city smells like weed.

The first things that struck us in Amsterdam were:
1) they actually have proper black bread.
2) they have REAL "Kaas" not some British cheddar shit.
3) they have shop diversity.
4) everything is so cheap again compared to the UK!
5) cars come from the left side and...
6) ... bycicles from all sides.
7) paying with € needs re-accustomisation, especially a the 5cent coin looks exactly like the 1p coin and the 2p coin is larger than the 5cent coin.
8) Dutch is a REALLY quaint and funny language.
9) everyone speaks English (according to Bart & co. it becomes less and less necessary to know Dutch to go to uni, as most lectures are in English anyway but it still is a requiremnt to take a language foundation year prior to your studies, Erasmus excepted).
10) houses are often crooked.

We went through the Flower Market (absolutely LOVELY!). You can buy a bunch of sunflowers for 5 € whereas you can buy only a single one for 5 £ in London! They sell everything from (black) tulips over carnivorous plants and papyrus to cannabis starter kits. After that we passed through a crowded shopping street (Nieuwendijk) which resemles Getreidegasse in Salzburg on Saturdays, ended up in Dam Square where we saw the Koniklijk Palais and the Monument which is so ugly and plain, it basically just there to say you have a monument. It looks an oversized white dildo.

Finally we reached our first museum for today: The Sex Museum. It is a quite interesting collection of sex-related antiques, pornographic pictures (incl. some disturbing bestiality), modern erotic art, even wooden penises from all over SEA and Papua New Guinea and even a Viennese musical box which you see below. The description reads "The wooden bed of this funny 19th century musical box contains a mechanism that when put in motion, plays the tune 'Edelweiss'. [...] The two wooden puppets on the bed move their bodies on the rhythm of the tune."

After this enlighting visit Kat and I passed through Old Chinatown, the Red Light District (Christ! Women DO really stand in the display window!) with its coffee shops, theatres, erotic entertainment and sex shops but also the hash museum, the prostritution information centre and the Erotic Museum which was our second museum for today. Below you see Kat and me in that one. On our way back to the hostel, we passed the uni Amsterdam and discovered there was not much left for us to do on the next day.

In the eve, we took the train to Leiden, to meet up with Bart (Kat's flatmate in Ed who currently studies there) and the others (a delegation of people cam over from the UK for his 21st B-Day, the rest were folks from Leiden University). I wish we would have had a day to see Leiden which I found BEAUTIFUL. On the train, Kat was astonished how flat the Netherlands really are (fields upon fields stretching to the horizon without so much as a hill) and I was disappointed because there were hardly any flowers in bloom.

First the whole crowd went to have dinner at a pancake place which sold more than 100 varieties of delicious pizza-size pancakes. By chance, one of the guys from Kat and my table, Maurice, grew up in Eastern Africa and his parents worked for an NGO. He became quite skeptical of the whole development aid thing - so we engaged in a discussion of development policies and tried to explain to the Greek exchange student and nicotine locomotive Vangelis, why preventing children in Africa from dying of starvation is not as simple as the people in the Western countries stopping being selfish.

We then went to a pub which is a vault with additional seating on a footbridge since it is directly on Gracht-level. We met a girl who grew up in Northern Ireland, whose parents are from Malaysia and whose grandparents are Tamil. It was great fun to meet these people, his friends are really okay, everyone talked to everyone. Kat and I talked about this later and agreed on the discovery that in the UK and the Netherlands, people are more open to meet new people whereas in Austria people tend to stay in their groups.


29 March 2007

Follow me... to Oxford!

My old travel partner and I united again this Easter to undertake new adventures! Our first trip takes us to Oxford. After some hassle with the coach company (more on that in another blog post) and a brief shock at the prospect of the journey being terminated before it has even begun, Kat and I arrived in Oxford on a beautiful day! Our first impression: It is wonderful, quite relaxed in character, (Kat compares it to Baden, Lower Austria) and classic! I was particularly delighted to see a city which is the opposite of London, namely with a lot of green areas, cycles insteads of cars and nice little shops in a clean environment.

I might have mentioned that I am considering moving out of London for next year or at least during the summer in order to relax? Well, Oxford and Cambridge are on my short list. I have heard, Cambridge is nicer than Oxford (less tourists and more green areas), but I will see during the next weeks! I realised that living in London, I should seize the opportunity and travel to the surrounding cities in Southeast England once a fortnight or so. After all, if you book on time, a trip the distance of Oxford can be cheaper than a tube single fare in zone 1 (2,25 £ compared to 4 £). I know that if I move out it might cost the same as living in London if you count the commuting costs but I am at a point where I value life quality over money (within reason).

Anyway, so Kat and I headed for the Bodleian Library which is the second largest uni in England and the third largest in the UK (behind the BL and the National Library of Scotland) and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. They have Shakespeare's First Folio, one of 42 surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible and even some of Mozart's manuscripts (I was wondering why they sold mugs with Mozart scores in the University of Oxford Souvenir Shop). It also provided the set for the Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter movies.

Since a full tour cost 6 £, Kat and I split up. She went on the one hour tour (which is really worth the money, according to her account) and I went to see Christchurch Cathedral from the inside. It is a huge building, with a wonderful Hall (which in fact, is the one from Harry Potter), a beautiful square with a fountain and colourful tainted glass windows. Also, so the warden (a retired Cambridge alumni, in fact) told me, the organ is made in Austria (Rieger?) and a team of Austrians actually flies in for major repairs and regular maintenance! Christchurch Cathedral is also famous for its world-renown choir, the Sunday Times Literary Festival and other scenes of Harry Potter as well (I only noticed when I was looking around and the guide confirms it).

I decided to save the rest of Oxford for a weekend trip in the near future, maybe after my exams? Due to time pressure (we had to catch our coach to Amsterdam in the evening), Kat and I could not pay our respects to Tolkien's grave (Did you know that the inscription on his gravestone reads Luthien & Beren? This is so romantic!), nor was I able to indulge in the Pitt Rivers Museum (I only found out about the existence of this treat for anthropologists from the direction signs).

It remains to say that the whole city is basically a university. The majority of the local population is probably either student or professor, the rest of the people who crowd the city centre are tourists. Below you see in order of appearance: part of the Bodleian Library (professor-ish passer-by included), Christchurch Cathedral quadrangle, the Hall of the cathedral and the entry to Hertford College (it says "closed to visitors" on the sign).



26 March 2007

The End of Things

Serrula:
I already saw this coming but it still is really uncomfortable to learn that you don't have a job anymore. Last week, both my shifts were cancelled (compensation: 25 £ one-off per cancelled day) and all employees were told that we were now coming to an end with numbers and the project. I asked one employee while we were alone, if there were going to be other projects and he said jokingly, "Serrula didn't build this office in London just for [this project]!" Another woman said that they didn't know yet about the following week (we usually have to write our preferred shifts one week in advance) and they would notify me in case there was nth to do for me on last Saturday as well. This struck me as really weird, as it doesn't really take time to upload a few numbers into our network and if they had had another project, they would have just prepared some numbers.
Nth really indicated that this was going to happen, they even bought some new equipment lately. Maybe the people in our London office only found out about it themselves just now? I have a contract, so I at least have some kind of security but not everyone does (I am entitled to holidays). Best thing is, that I booked summer accomodation for Dinwiddy some time ago with the same credit card I am going to use for my last term-time instalment. Probably, I will have both of them on the same receipt which is... shit. Lila has to pay her international tuition fees (10k £) plus rent and some other people have to work off the mortgage on their house, as far as I know. Funnily enough, the London office wants to organise an end of project party. I wonder why they do that. Do they hope to keep everyone interested, in case they rise again from the ashes or do they want to save their image? REALLY WEIRD. EVERYTHING. Great part is, I now have to look for another job so shortly before the exams!

HSBC:
Good news: I received the pin code for my debit card.
Bad news: They sent it to my last address in Vienna (even though an employee deleted that one from the system some months ago after I had complained that some letters were sent to Austria)
Good news: My mum sent it to me, not knowing what was inside. The issue date was 15 March 2007. My debit card was ordered on 13 March 2007 when I was in the bank and the guy confirmed my address. It seems, they never sync their databases (the pin was sent from outside London, probably from a specialised office). I call this a breach of security! Sending my pin to a random address, that is really grossly negligent! They will hear from me about that, trust me.

Library:
Sometimes I wonder if being a student in London is all about fighting for your rights. The library was so efficient the whole year but after the survey a month or so ago, their service level crashed dramatically (if we ignore extended - but unstaffed - opening hours for a while). The security barrier in the Teaching Collection is broken and the extremely high-pitched alarm went off every time someone went through (every 2-3 minutes) during the 30 minutes I tried to do research there (the PCs are right opposite to the entrance) and it was still broken four days later. I wanted to pay my fines (because in that particular case I would otherwise not be able to take out books until three days later) but since I was 20 seconds late, they guy told me off. All this just because they only accept cash (I had to dash to the ATM where two people were queuing before me) and back again. He then made two disrupting announcements shortly after each other in a really unprofessional tone of voice. And today I went to the library to get a book I reserved which should be at the issue desk until Tuesday. However, it was not there, I was sent to look for it in the main library myself (I reserved it so no-one else would get that damned book), after a fruitless search I queued up again and asked if it was maybe reserved under my first name. This employee checked but since he couldn't find it either, sent me to look through the reshelving trolleys (which is REALLY not my job). Of course, to no avail. I didn't want to wait again so I went to the enquiry desk instead this time and the woman just said, that this is all really unfortunatey, they are sorry. I said, is it possible that my pick-up period is extended so you guys have time to look for that book? She relegated me back to the issue desk where in the meantime seven people were in the queue. I told her I will leave it and decided to file a complaint. I don't have time for these things. And I reserved it, I don't care if so. took it out and they have to call it back from that person. Funny thing, there was so. in the queue else who had just the same problem, he was even a researcher on visit at SOAS from Warwick University. You might find this library rant endlessly boring but it sparked an idea to start a "How to defend your rights as a customer"-society next year.

Orientation Week Working Group Meeting:
Gave me a good overview of how orientation is organised at SOAS, how much effort is put into it and who is involved. I also met some of the welfare office people. However, I will not comment on the contents and happenings of this meeting online, only that the deadline for the orientation handbooks (normal and international) is 24 April. So if you have any suggestions how you want it to be improved, contact me. Also, if there is anything about the enrolment/registration process which you believe can be improved!

Silvia:
Last but not least, Silvia has returned to Germany yesterday. Thanks for all the stuff I inherited from you, Silvia! I already showed off with my shiny "new" plate today and slept cozily in a proper blanket for a change, hehe! I believe the new resident has moved in already, however have not seen my new neighbour yet. Let's hope, whoever it is, does not have a relationship nor a passion for drum&bass! Amazing, how time flies by in this place...

24 March 2007

alluc.org and UCLH

Guys, I should have been writing my essay but I got hooked to alluc.org, which Kat had recommended to me. A database of free movies and tv-shows but streaming only. Still, it is much faster than downloading the whole episode which takes about a week. I watched Spooks Season 4 and Season 5 for three days, I even stayed up until 6 on Thursday, went to work for 8 and got sent home anyway. Ah well. If there is anyone interested, episodes 501 and 502 (a two-part episode) are REALLY good, an unusual kind of threat to the UK. The scariest part of this is, that I KNOW a lot of these places where the events are taking place (so. dies in a bus which looks very much like the one I use quite often and there is an attack targeted near the city), I know how intimidating policemen can be and the part which makes these episodes most intriguing are the fact that as I said, the suspects are quite unusual and you start to wonder if this can really happen anywhere in the Western world.

Due to that, there is not much I have to blog about. After several weeks, I finally managed to get to the UCL hospital to have my blood drawn (since I so INSISTED on having STH done). You should know, the UCL hospital is the NHS's prestige object (it is also where Litwinenko was). I have been there twice already and there are really nice people working there, organisation is quite efficient. I thought, this is going to take ages because when I entered the reception hall, there were a LOT of people but then I was told by one of the volunteers (an elderly lady who wore a blue thing which is why I mistook her for a cleaning woman - her male counterpart had a sash across his chest like the president on the opera ball, except "I am here to help" was written on it) that the blood sample department is in a separate department. I swear, I was not even sitting there for five minutes when my number was drawn, the nurse was really funny. In the "blood" room there were around seven nurses, three -of course - yes, you guessed right, Filipinas. It's like a conveyor belt and since I was so impressed how quick everything was over, I asked the nurse how many people he tortured a day, and he said around 40-60. I asked if there was an internal competition between the nurses. He laughed and replied, "Actually, the competition is to do as few as you can."


22 March 2007

HSBC - The Eighth Wonder of the World

You will never believe this! I finally hold my debit card in my trembling hands, at last!!! Of course, not without some further intervention on my part. Last week Tuesday, I went to the Russell Square HSBC branch and showed the officer my reference letter and letter of apology (a useless piece of shit where some senior manager I have never met before apologises three times and believes this will do the magic - go on living in your fairy tale world) which I received after I had complained. While Mr M. was studying these letters carefully, I was studying his name sign carefully. Surprisingly enough, a full name for a change (whenever you call the hotlines, it is ALWAYS just the first name). When you have this opportunity, you should seize it (I burned the name into my memory and wrote it down later). My introductory sentence was sth like, "Mr M., you're colleagues from other branches, to be quite frank, fucked up which is why I filed an official complaint." He promised to order a new debit card for me, however, was not sure at first whether he should enter "with chip" or "without chip" into the system (I wonder what kind of debit cards do not have one and how they work). Um, yes, he came to the right decision at last - on his own at that, for that I have to credit him. He printed out a screen shot, made a note on it and promised to call me back next Tuesday. Of course, I didn't expect him to do so. And of course, I was right in my assumption. Wednesday, still no news from him. Today, I was dismissed early due to a technical problem at Serrula (also sth you can count on) and thought I should make the best of my morning and pay our honorable Mr M. a visit. 9.30h, the bank opens and who stands before me - the very man, in the flesh. Without further ado I started, "It is YOU I want to see. You promised to call me back on Tuesday but you didn't." - "I apologise, I was not here on Tuesday. (!) Please have a seat and my colleague will sort this out for you." Mr M. obviously was the desk officer doing the reception today but he looked his colleague (who didn't have a clue what this was all about) over the shoulder every now and then. "It should be here already", one of them said. I replied, "It better be. Otherwise your branch will have a big problem." Luckily for them, it was there, in a sealed envelope. They already wanted to dismiss me but - haha! - I insisted on opening the envelope to "make sure this was a real debit card. You never know with HSBC. In the end, there is sth else in it." I examined it. I turned it around. It looks fine. "After five months, I finally have my debit card, at last. I can't believe it", in a deadly sort of voice. They caught my dissatisfaction with their service. I can only hope this will help them not to forget to send me my pin code. To be honest, I doubt that I'd be as lucky as experience another wonder of the world. While I was looking at the details on the card, I pointed out warningly that "I'd transfer my account to another bank, if it wasn't so much trouble." God help them, if they fuck up again. I will write to London Student Paper (I have contact details of our ULU editor), I will also get in touch with consumer protection organisations and have a look at the Office of Fair Trading website. I'd also like to find out if there is sth like a market research on the financial sector which supports my view. The UK financial ombudsman might give me an answer as to why I get charged for transactions within the European Union. Furthermore, I will advise freshers this autumn to not go to HSBC if they want to see their debit card in this life. HSBC meddled with the wrong person here. I will not let them get away with this without repercussions.

Party Time!

Last Sunday I was at Lila's birthday party. She lives near Brent Wood, zone 3, a lovely area. Lila is a work colleague of mine who happens to be a cosmopolitan grown up in Manila, Pakistan, Germany and the UK. Her flat mate is moving out so she offered me his place. I have to say, when I got there, I was so surprised that that place can be London too: It had a suburban air and reminded me of Mödling, the city I went to school in. There were detached houses, trees and loads of lawns. It lacked the buzz and loudness of Central London, the tall buildings and the lines upon lines of shops there. Around the corner of the tube station (it is on the Picadilly Line, that is, directly connected to SOAS), there is something like a high street with loads of independent supermarkets! No Tesco! *glee* Apparently, the supermarket chains in Central London have their monopoly because everything is so expensive there that 1) independent businesses cannot afford rent and 2) customers cannot afford independent business prices. Although it is 20 minutes to SOAS, Brent Wood is really a remote place. Life quality might be better and I long for some quiet place with green areas to take a walk in. However, I am not sure if it pays off with transport, as I also don't know my schedule yet. But I long so much for a place that I can call home, where I open the door and can do whatever I like without restrictions (attach stuff to the wall, open the window as far as I want, wax my hair in the kitchen *g*, sing as loud as I want to and choose my own furniture). That would be really lovely.

About the party: It was great! Lila is a dedicated cook and prepared some delicious Pansit (the first time that I have eaten some real one since I left my family), Moussaka, trifle, Leche Flan, Chicken with Adobo, Salad. She cooked so much, that although therer were around 20 people alltogether, there was still enough left to take home! I met some very lovely people! It was especially cozy at the end, when there were only five or so left. Lila studies BSc International Relations at London Met and this is ironically reflected in her range of friends: We had people from Nigeria, the Carribean, Somalia, Northern Ireland, Britain, Sweden/Poland, France, Lila's multicountry-background and myself! It was really the coolest party I've been to in a long time, we discussed everything from Tony Blair to Africa's representation in the media to the Cold War and funnily, crying as the secret weapon of women to why animal testes are delicious and why crematories count as eating places! Everyone who knows me, knows I LOVE a good discussion, hehe!

18 March 2007

One Day After The Other

Happy Red Nose Day, Happy St. Patrick's Day and Happy Mother's Day!

Red Nose Day was really fun (at least for those people that did not have to turn in an essay, of course *g*)! We had a Sumo Wrestling - you know, where you skinny stick don one of those Sumo Costumes and try to knock down your equally nouveau corpulent opponent! Really hilarious just to watch! Unfortunately, I was on my way to the Faculty Office, else I would have used my headstart at full advantage! Ah, I realise I am turning into one of these people which save things for "next year"or "next week"... Since I want my mum to go to a graduation ceremony rather than a funeral and since I also want to enjoy my life and my time here in London (oh yes, and I will stick to my New Year's resolution to discover at least one new spot a week), I am determined to shift gear!

Anyway, so since this Saturday was St. Patrick's Day, there was a whole festival week of events throughout London: concerts by Irish musicians, a parade, Irish film etc. Unfortunately, I only found out about this when it was too late. So: next year, then! (Yeah, I know) Also, loads of shamrocks, people wearing funny green hats and - of course - loads of drunk people. I guess St. Patrick's Day is one of the few days in 365 where folks actually have the blessing to get pissed (not that anyone in the UK or Ireland would care anyway).

Concerning Mother's Day, well, I don't know what to give my mum. On this time of the year, flowers and flower shops suddenly grow sprouts and since it is quite difficult to get past this thicket without looking at the colourful arrangements on display, I noticed that one florist actually charges 5,50 £ for one single sunflower!!! Christ, you can already have a whole bouquet for that money in Austria! Now, you might probably be shocked and confused about whether Mother's Day is not supposed to be in May (my mother was actually surprised when I congratulated her "out of the blue" today. She probably thought I was nutters) . Let me tell you that there is no need to worry: There are only three countries where you celebrate today: Ireland, the UK and Nigeria (historically, though, it has nothing to do with mothers). My mum is now quite happy to have two days to be celebrated!

16 March 2007

π-Day, Essay, ISO, Summer Accomodation

After days of hesitation and careful calculation, I have finally decided to book Dinwiddy for the summer period. The problem is, you see, that Dinwiddy offers current residents a discounted rate and priority booking over individual tourists who will occupy the rest of the rooms - on the condition that you pay the WHOLE AMOUNT ON BOOKING *sob* Since there is high demand for rooms over the summer by SOAS students, you should of course book asap. I now unproudly declare *painful expression* that by the end of April (VISA), I will be 1547 £ poorer! My overdraft and my salary should get me through (the last Dinwiddy instalment for April-June is due soon - 600 £ - and pocket money is of course also necessary to survive). Studying in London really does it to you. Even UK students on student loans seem not to have enough. It is a certainty, that while you are a student here, you will have to make use of your overdraft (unless of course, your parents have bank accounts on the Cayman Islands).

ISO-wise, I have introduced myself to Ambie René from the Welfare Office as future ISO and mowed through their leaflets to see what information is available, what issues are covered and if there is anything which is absent.

Essay-wise, I am finally getting to an end in my SEA GP essay. It cost me a lot of effort, and roughly five weeks to write that essay. It better be good! At the moment, I am taking a brake from delving into the geopolitical constellations during different periods in SEA. I am trying to answer a question that I believe we have not really discussed in class and which requires individual comparative analysis - in short, a time-consuming task. However, a good revision of country case studies in relative perspective.

On the 14th, Stacia introduced me to a world-wide holiday I have hitherto been unaware of: π-Day (American date 3/14). You usually celebrate it by eating a PIE. I suppose the mysterious phonological similarity between π and pie as well as the fact that a pie has the shape of a circle mirror the beauty of the number π. More enthusiastic people (drunk or undrunk) will do their best to recite as many decimals of π as they can and will toast to Albert Einstein whose birthday coincides with this unusual holiday!

14 March 2007

From National Insurance Over Indonesia To Cold War Politics

After three weeks of waiting my interview for national insurance has finally arrived. The UK version of the Austrian AMS, is called Job Centre Plus. Three weeks ago I rang them to ask how to do this and they immediately asked me a couple of questions which were probably recorded. Today I had an appointment at 10am and was surprised that I actually did not have to wait at all but was directly sent to an employee's desk (in Austria you can usually expect to wait a looooong time before your number is drawn, here they didn't have any numbers). The guy asked me a couple of questions about the nature of my stay ("Are you here to study or to work?" - As if studying in the UK or in London is possible without the latter) etc., wanted my former address (I needed a few seconds to remember my last one in Vienna, this is the first time in five months anyone asked me about that) and had the authenticity of passport checked.

What happens next? I will get a National Insurance Number (or NINO, as it is called over here) in four to eight weeks but it may take up to six months (!) until the card is issued. This country is amazing. Interesting is also the design of the office. It is an open office with islands of desks all over the room and generally looks quite welcoming. In Austria, you at least know what you get when you enter the office: The barrier of bureaucracy is represented by a barrier of desks and anything beyong that desk is taboo. I now have to wait for HM Revenues & Customs (the UK Ministry of Finance) to check my records (as of course, I have not received a payslip in my post as I was told by Serrula).

After I came out and had some lunch in Camden Market not far away from this branch (Indonesian Satay Chicken! Mmmmmh!), I wondered what kind of benefits I am actually eligible for (probably none until I have stayed here for three years or so). The leaflets at Job Centre Plus were not helpful (disabilities, people who need constant attendance and convicts in mental hospitals), I roamed the internet a bit when I got home to find out if there is a site like www.help.gv.at which I had overlooked despite earlier tries. Turns out, instead of a joint online platform provided by the state, the distribution of information is left to independent Citizen Advice Bureaus (CABs) all over the country which are usually based on volunteers. This matches Adrian's statement back in Vienna that in his home country, access to benefit was not as easy as in Austria (I had asked him why he had left the UK and he replied, life quality is much better. After five months, I now understand what he meant by that). I guess this intransparency from the government's side is what also makes it difficult for international students to find the relevant information they need. They definitely try their best to make it as complicated as possible and whoever does not believe, should make an attempt at getting an overview over visa regulations via the UK Visas website.

Anyway, in the evening I finally proceeded to my third, last and probably most important hypothesis in my SEA GP essay for which it was and is quite difficult to find literature. Also I realised that something in my post-WW II history lessons went wrong. Maybe it was due to the curriculum but the teacher I had presented different events in history isolated from each other. After I brushed up my knowledge on the Cold War, I know have a general idea why the Chinese and the Soviets were not friends (I didn't even know that before), why China supported the Cambodian regime, why the Soviets suddenly worked together with the Americans and why China's "Great Leap Forward" was a huge influence for Pol Pot. I had great help from Nancy who I asked out of the blue at the dead of the night what the ideological difference between Leninism and Stalinism was and also learned cool words like obduracy and found out that a Versorgungsbrücke is not a supply bridge but a supply lift. You learn something new every day!

12 March 2007

Hairy Matter

Today I discovered that I have grown a second grey hair since I came here (I discovered the first one on my shopping trip in Oxford Street at the end of last year, remember? I do!)!!!
I was in the WC and I to the cleaning woman who was the only other human soul in that room. She came up to the mirror, ran a hand through her hair and said, she has LOTS of grey hair (below her dye). She was in her 40s, though. I am only 21. What will I look like when I am 30? Or: How many grey hairs will I have by the time I graduate? *sigh*

10 March 2007

Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines

By some lucky coincidence, there was a technical problem at the call centre, we were all dismissed and I had the chance to go to an event I have been looking for: Crisis in the Philippines? organised by the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP).

It was a professionally conducted one-day conference at SOAS with interesting presentations by speakers from Amnesty International, SOAS and International Alert about:

_ "Human Rights in the Philippines"
_ "Class and Violence in the Philippines: Some ethnographic observations"
_ "The Fourthcoming Philippine Elections"

And then workshops on:

_ Mining in the Philippines: Benefits, Dangers and Pitfalls
_ Filipino Migration: A "brain drain" (guess which workshop I attended!)
_ Human Rights in the Philippines: Actions and Campaigns

The first things I thought after the first presentations and questions from the (mainly Filipino) audience was

1) this is the first time ever since I came to London that I saw so many Filipinos
2) this is the first time that I see Filipinos and Filipinas engage actively in political discussions and current issues, not only on a lay level but also on an academic level. The people I knew in Austria lack what speaker Prof. Eduardo Garcia called "political imagination" - and I understand it is greatly due to the nature of "democracy" in the Philippines and people not believing in politics and elections. However, although Filipino migrants in Austria live under considerable better conditions than their fellows in other countries of the world, they can hardly be unaware of the experiences others have. Nevertheless, - and I am referring to the circles I was in - whenever I started a discussion about Philippines-related issues, it is interesting how little response and participation followed from that.
3) there DO ARE other (half-)Filipino students in London! I met George (grew up in Los Angeles and studies at LSE), Jonathan (grew up in the Philippines and went straight to LSE) and Antonio (?) (SOAS student and president of the CHRP).
4) there DO ARE other (half-)Filipino students who have studied anthropology.
5) I have never seen a Filipino professor in person, in action!

Other things I noticed:
1) Pansit is not pansit (it had Broccoli, red pepper, and onions which all do not belong into original pansit but I guess this was the British Cuisine finding its way into philippine dishes *sigh*).
2) I have never been to an event organised by Filipinos and Filipinas where there was white & red wine, cheese (not even that crap cheddar cheese but Austrian-style cheese) and what Tesco sells as German Peppered Salami. I am impressed.

Conclusion:
There is so much more I want to say on this... congregation and the political issues which were the reason for its being... I still have to digest what I have seen, heard and observed. It has been a greatly inspiring event and also intriguing for the anthropologist in me. To see another group of Filipinos I have never met before in a country other than my country of origin is quite similar actually to what Filipino migrants themselves experience upon coming to another country. So, it is quite ironic to walk part of their way with them, even when our circumstances may be different. Haha, you could even call it a twisted kind of participant observation! No, I was not on some undercover research trip to analyse "subjects"! In fact, I met some quite nice people there, Filipino and friends of Filipinos alike, who I hope to meet again in the future, maybe even at a Barrio Fiesta (which I have heard are huge in London)!

SOAS Elections! - The Count

Democracy is an interesting thing. Today I observed a ballot count for the first time in my life. Since I was the only candidate present at the beginning, I accompanied the SU General Manager as well as the Returning Officer (someone from another ULU college who will oversee the election) representatively for all other candidates to the document safe of SOAS wherefrom the votes were transported to the room where it would be counted. A few volunteers then sorted the papers and two other observers showed up. The latter were not allowed to be anywhere near the table where the votes were counted. Very official and correct everything. I wondered why I was surprised at that. I guess because of my father who regarded any kind of political student activism or engagement in democracy as a not very serious thing. Amazing how this man shaped my view on quite a few things in my life.

Anyway, long story short, I AM THE NEW INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS OFFICER!!! 699 people voted for me, 104 against me but basically, all the part-time officers - who were all uncontested - got elected. Quite an honour to have this position, let's see how I will live up to it!

08 March 2007

Rye bread, German & Cybercandy

On Tuesday, I went to Gower Street to get a doctor's notice for uni (it is not *that* strict but just in case - no-one should say later, I had no good reason to stay away from classes) because I am coughing my lungs out and get headaches from that. While I was in the waiting room, I was looking at a peculiar poster which said, "Coughs and Sneezes spread Diseases" for about an hour, wondering what little children are taught in this country while a very elegantly styled woman next to me was sneezing her germs merrily for everyone to catch, without covering her nose.

Anyway, I was lucky this time and actually got the doctor that I am supposed to have (registration card). He was really nice and actually tried to listen to me as best as he could with so many patients a day. Unfortunately, he is bound to NHS which means it didn't come as a surprise that I came out without a prescription (except of course... yes, you guessed right, to maintain a healthy lifestyle). I asked him about general check-ups and it seems as if NHS is more focused on evident sicknesses rather than more subtle symptoms and leaves it to the patients to follow a healthy lifestyle (in London surely a logistical problem, but elsewhere? Isn't it cheaper to fight diseases than treating them??). I complained about trying my best to follow a healthy lifestyle but that i find it difficult to find the black bread i am used to. Next thing he says was, "Have you tried the German Delicatessen? It's in the City." He explained to me what they offer and I said I don't think I have been there. He instantly offered, "I'll write it down for you!" And I was like "Wow!" So yeah, that is what I got instead of a prescription (well, I am sent to a blood check) but I am totally satisfied! (His daughter was doing a project at school on Germany)

After that I quickly popped into Clare's office at SOAS (SU Fin&Com officer) which is just around the corner. We completed my registration for the ISO workshop (deadline soon!) and while she was flipping through some files she asked me suddenly, "Wo kommst du her?" I was taken by surprise, turned out she went to school in Berlin for three years. I asked her when that was and she replied, "1989 - no, that was when the wall came down" (I thought, right, that's too long ago, can't be) and she continued, "around 1985" and I was like "Wow!" And with my usual tact, I added, "I don't want to say that this was even before I was born!" *lol* (She is 33)
Why does everyone in this country speak German???

It is just amazing what kind of weird stuff happens in this city.
Also, I had a job interview for Cybercandy, in Zone 3. Never been that far out. I was surprised to find a shopping centre and a cinema right next to the tube station, you would think you were in Camden somewhere. Anyway, it was the weirdest job interview I have ever had because of the questions: "So you play volleyball?" - "You are going to SOAS? X, one of our employees also goes to SOAS, also 2nd year, you know her? She is a tallish, Y-haired girl with Z eyes" (I was like, "Um... There are a lot of students at SOAS to who would fit that description") - "What are you doing in the summer? Going somewhere to study the pygmies in Australia?" (My pride was a bit hurt at the style of the question, I tried to explain that I am planning to stay in London and that we also do anthropology also study in the urban context) - "How was your time at McDonald's?" (I guess, she expected sth else not my stories of my saturday night shifts) and then suddenly "Do you have any questions about the shop?" (The first thing I came up with was fire safety, for some reason. Well everyone in London is all panicky of a second Great Fire after 1666, so it was not *that* out of the blue. I also asked other questions but maybe not what she wanted to hear because I have read most things on the website already, however, forgot to mention that, I was just too tired and felt sick). Oh yes, and somewhere in the middle we started discussing globalisation but I didn't want to go down that road, for, after all, we were here to do an interview and not discuss global development. And lastly, at the very, very end when I already thought the interview is over, she asked me, "How do you feel about being alone in the shop?" (I mean, the shop is not that big, I have handled more stressful things than that at the call centre and would sell myself below my market value and my financial needs to work for Cybercandy, just so that I have more time to read but that's not what I said) The weirdness of the whole interview made me doubt if I will accept if she decides to take me.

06 March 2007

What I haven't done in a long time

I haven't...

#1 eaten a Fitnessweckerl (healthy sandwich made of wholemeal black bread with sunflower seeds AND NO MAYO) ever since I left Austria

#2 used candles

#3 watched TV

#4 got a lift in a car

#5 read a book

#6 gone to relax in a park or on a hill

#7 taken a train (tube does not count)

#8 bought newspaper

#9 went to a real restaurant

#10 been to the cinema

#11 seen animals (even pets!) or school children

#12 sat down gemütlich in the sun (usually a problem of the latter)

#13 baked (anything, especially my mufffins I used to make for my friends & family)

#14 had breakfast with my mum

#15 went shopping

#16 eaten Filipino food

#17 eaten healthy Bircher yogurt

#18 worn aesthetic high-heels (just too inconvenient if I have to walk all the time)

#19 drunken Melange (or Kappuziner)

#20 sung along the radio at the top of my voice while busy in the kitchen

... in quite a while.

04 March 2007

Follow me to... China Town! (HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!)

As you see, the festival is still going on! Mind the Chinese characters on the street name signs, if they are legible (sry but the more files you upload in one post, the smaller they get)! This is the place where to have a cheap hair cut (within Central London), cheap Tofu (3,5 x Tesco-size and PURE, that is without the disgusting marinade, for the same price), East Asian food. You will also find Chinese travel agents, restaurants and interestingly, an HSBC branch customised for Chinese customers (I wonder if they are any different from the other branches concerning customer service). For more info about China in London, have a look here.









02 March 2007

Studiare Ad Nauseam

Yeah, I anticipated but never really believed I would say that this whole experience is finally claiming the last of my nerves up to fibre level. I am sick of studying, sick of work, sick of the dependability on work, sick of my full calendar always looming somewhere in the back of my head, sick of London (oooh, this is really bad, as so. once said, "Whoever is tired of London, is tired of life"). See the following list of things:

_ Most of the problems emerged when I finally started working under pressure to pay my rent. At first I worked three days a week (God only knows how I managed that, I had a 50-hour week), and after I threatened to leave the company, negotiated two days a week. Just to illustrate: I have heard from someone who works only six hours a week and is already struggling.

_ SOAS workload is above the average workload of a lot of other universities, as I have mentioned often before. The last three lectures in TECD required ~100 pages (!) per week (!!) which is already a strain if you are not working part-time. And since I didn't have the study pack then, it took even more time and energy to chase down articles if available at all and print them (I bought it, I'll tell you how the study pack causa ended another time).

_ So far, I am behind with reading and probably will have to use the Easter Holidays to catch up on dev (luckily my essay topic coincides with the 100-pages topic), theory in anthro (I have already started to do one past reading per week) and - oh my God - SEA GP.

_ I don't know what it is with SEA GP but either I will fail at the exam unintentionally or I will fail deliberately in order to study the whole summer and do it damn right in autumn. Oh how I hate that subject and regret taking it.

_ Simultaneously, I have to write two essays in anthro over Easter.

_ I so wanted to do the British Red Cross Desaster Response Challenge which is the opportunity of a lifetime! Problem: Time and network to raise the 500 £ I am expected to pledge as donation for the BRC. So maybe next year. You know, I actually consider a career in the humanitarian sector and it would therefore additionally broadening your knowledge about desaster relief work it would also tell me if I want to do sth like that or not.

_ Also I am sick of chasing down errands.

_ Due to the fact, that I am under so much pressure, I am always tense. The smallest thing can irritate me very fast. This is also why this city drives me crazy. London is a very loud city, there is always a sirene, a fire alarm, a warning sign (bus/tube), the sound of the struggling motor of a doubledecker, a hooter, a security announcement, a f***ing and drum&bass-listening neighbour, a girl laughing in a pitched and hysterical voice or a guy laughing so loud it pierces your ears.

_ This all influences my appetite. Obviously, I have to eat something everyday but I don't have any appetite to do so. I am sick of Tescos, Waitroses and Sainsburies where shelve upon shelve they sell their self-made products and offer the same range of food. I am sick of pastries, paninis (I could make you any of Starbucks' and Caffè Neros' paninis in my sleep) and the smell of freshly baked white bread. I look at food, I look at the breads on offer and am overcome by nausea.

_ Everytime I think about my future career I wish I hadn't because it adds to the stress. I should do some relevant work for the course I am studying (that means either unpaid or underpaid) during the summer or after but don't know when or how. I despair.

I really just want to take my diary, the manifestation of life as I currently experience it, and give it to someone else or throw it into the Thames. I want to get out of this city, out of this hell, to put things into perspective, I want to go to the countryside for a hike or take a stroll through a museum just to clear my head. Sometimes I find myself doing that even if I should be doing something more productive but if I wouldn't, I would implode!