28 June 2007

Settling In

I realised recently that you guys still don't know what my flat looks like. Here you see a part of my room (note the spot of green outside the window and the lovely fireplace!) and our gorgeous shared bathroom (with the French tap!). Unfortunately, I do not have a fisheye option on my camera, everything would look so much bigger!
Anyway, I have made myself more comfortable already, I have rearranged my postcards and friend's pictures too on a smaller cork board and my Southeast Asia map will soon find a new wall. Also, I feel safer when dealing with the gas stove and oven. At first, I was shocked that I would have to live without a microwave but somehow I am glad because I will be forced to learn how to cook (I did Chili Sin Carne some days ago and was surprised at how good it was) and it should be healthier, too.
A weird guy called on our landline lately, saying he was from the Home Advisory Service and that he had spoken to Deborah a few days earlier (which is true). However, he kept asking strange questions and wouldn't give me neither his name nor his phone number. The Home Advisory Service compares gas/electricity and water providers and finds you the best quote, I checked it up on the internet. In the UK, you have to be really careful with your postcode, name, date of birth as identity theft is quite common here. What I was more afraid of, was that some kind of burglary was coming up because the guy asked me if we studied engineering. He'd be surprised to find that there is nothing really valuable in our flat.
Brings me to next subject:
Since I am still waiting for a reply for jobs and especially Baker and Spice (after my job interview), I went out for a brief shopping spree on Kensington High Street which also has loads of stylish shops but isn't as crowded or polluted as Oxford Street. Anyway, the term shopping spree might be contested, as with spending not more than 15 GBP I feel back in the Austrian/German 1950s or in movies about poor Irish families where - as I already said to Kat - everyone already got excited over a bar of chocolate.
My precious toys were a natural light bulb for my desk lamp (GOD! What a LIGHT! I have been illuminated, at last!) which really helps with make up, a night cream for my face, a proper eyeshadow brush, a box for my DVDs and a PC game (Myst: Masterpiece Edition. Why it only cost 0.97 £ is really mysterious but I will find out soon). To round up, I had a glimpse of Kensington Gardens (the Western and quieter half of Hyde Park) and the Palace therein.
A modest but nice day out for one person to get to know the local area.
As of now, I am through most of the DVD collection including one season O.C. and Prison Break each and now start on the books. Actually, I borrowed some from the SOAS library and am now reading on UK Asylum and Immigration Law to prepare for my next year's floater. Come to think of it, SOAS also has some novels from native writers. Southeast Asian literature, that could be interesting... Alternatives: Buying books myself or reading in French (also from my flatmates), both not really an option.
Will now send out some more CVs...
P.S. I was shocked for a few minutes when I misspelled my own blog address and believed my blog - my diary! - had been attacked by some evil hackers. See for yourself!

25 June 2007

Earl's Court, Refugees and the Joys of Boredom

A lot of time has passed since I blogged last. I have a good excuse, at least for some time: I was busy with moving.

Imagine dragging a huge suitcase and a huge sports bag through an antiquated underground system with hardly any lifts (luckily, there is a brand new one at King's Cross) and then up three floors with no lift at all. Imagine doing that AT LEAST once daily, if not two or three times. Sounds like excercise to you? Definitely felt like it. People who witnessed me moving before will remember the eternity it takes me to pack up my stuff. Well... I didn't change.

For the last batch, I took a minicab service from King's Cross to Earl's Court which is pretty exactly 10 km and paid 25 £ which is much less than I expected! I would have paid 18 £ were it not for the luggage (in the UK it is forbidden to put luggage on a seat, therefore if the cab driver has to fold a seat, you will be charged extra). Last time (and first time) I took the cab was on boxing day and I paid 10 fucking £ for a distance that takes me 10 minutes to walk just because it was a holiday!

Anyway, after some initial difficulties to enjoy the new flat despite its sheer beauty, I have finally settled in quite well. I have enjoyed the undescribable feeling of touching a shiny and clean surface with my feet while at the same time getting re-adjusted to a detachable shower head. Finally, I can wash my hair properly (non-detachable shower heads are logically but frustratingly never built for people my height). My room is bigger than my Dinwiddy one and I have a lovely double-bed, too big for one person... I look out of the room and see the rustling leaves of a big tree in a private park (to which we unfortunately do not have the key). The only downturn is the sometimes unstable internet connection, that makes it difficult to find a good pastime activity, especially if you have already seen all interesting movies available at home on DVD and the video rental is 3,60 £ or so per disc per night (in Austria, you never pay more than 1,60 €)!!! Luckily, there are three internet cafes around the corner where you can use the Russian version of Skype and the grimy keyboard if you are really desperate. Once I have some money, I can hopefully invest in a good modem. *sigh* Until then, we have a special telephone rate from talktalk where it doesn't cost anything (apart from a monthly fee) to call for free to 36 countries worldwide, as long as it is a landline. Voipstunt or skyping is cheaper but then - the internet - is a dog, as we say in German (or a rub, as you say in English)!

The last week I have also tried to top my record for writing job applications. I got one call from a call centre in the City (they said they will put me in the database - so probably a no) and one e-mail from a lovely authentic/rustic restaurant that has four branches in London and that I stumbled upon while paying a visit to Queen's Park for the first time (it is an area as well as a park). They would be interested in a job interview but said they are looking to fill the position permanently. So that is a no, too. My mum suggested - what else - McDonald's *rolling eyes*. I won't comment on that anymore. There is a pub down the road that is looking for bar staff. Now, I am really not picky but I'd rather do something where I don't have to deal with drunken smart arses who harass me (I saw the ad on Saturday night, guess how inviting the clientele looked to me).

My plan for today is to call up all companies I applied to and try to find some more I can send my CV to. Also since I am getting the Hauskoller (into a paddy), I will walk around town and keep my eyes open for any more job ads.

By the way, I went to Piccadilly today after 15 minutes on a refugee festival in Brent Cross where Ken Livingtone was supposed to speak (I missed him, I came too late) and 75 minutes trying to get there only to realise it was a rather small festival where everyone knew everyone and where there was little entertainment apart from food and a police enforced soccer match. The festival is because, as you might know or not, this week was UNHCR's World Refugee Day and it took place in that area because Barnet has as I have read one of the highest refugee populations in London (btw, 30 000 people sought asylum in the UK in 2005, 5000 of which were granted asylum - source: Home Office). There is more I could write on this but right now I won't.

So, I went to Piccadilly and wondered, what now on a Sunday evening? Oxford Street was closed already and it was raining cats and dogs and I wasn't dressed for going out, so I decided, "OK, let's find the Wolseley". The Wolseley is a café that has presumably been inspired by a great Viennese café. Sounds interesting, huh? It is really fancy and there is a penguin guy with bowler hat who runs to hold his black and white striped umbrella over guests that arrive by cab. Hm. Maybe Viennese but definitely with a British touch. Sounds very inviting and a peep inside shows a fully set table, including white & red wine glass and at least two courses. But the flair seems to be nearly authentic. I would have liked to go in and try their Café Mozart for 6,25 £ or one of their sandwiches in the same price range but maybe another time, when my bank account can enjoy it, too. A real person to enjoy it with, would be the cherry on top. *sigh* So I decided to have some lovely high cocoa at some pâtisserie at the other end of Piccadilly at a more digestible price.

Sorry guys to bore you with these little stories but that really has been the peak of my week so far...

09 June 2007

Singapore Historiography Workshop

There I was, attending a workshop on Singapore historiography at St. Antony's College, Oxford, in honour of Mary Turnbull whose book A History of Singapore has apparently been the first of its kind thirty years ago.

It quickly turned out that I was pretty much the only BA student among a bunch of PhDs or other researchers who kept asking me who I was working with and what I was looking into, the meaning of which took a while to register (namely, who the supervisor of my PhD dissertation was and what that was about).

Most people were from Oxbridge and some even had a PG from SOAS and came from as far as the NUS (National University of Singapore).
Still, I got some interesting insights into Singapore which is what I had come for considering that Singapore somehow got left out in my SEA GP class. As a response to that two people told me they could not imagine a history of Malaysia without a history of Singapore (true, it was the base of the British colonialists when they first arrived in the region).

At lunch, I got some really good (actually quite simple) advice concerning the Philippines from one of the presenters who came from the University of Amsterdam while he was chewing merrily on sth that we in Austria call Kümmelbraten, except that there was no cumin on it and he had poured soy sauce over it (my amusement at this was the icebreaker). I am mentioning the food because I was astonished to find how it resembles Austrian cuisine (I picked the filled pepper). They must have had Austria weeks at the college cantine. Anyway, it seems that in Amsterdam, I have just passed two years of big Philippines conferences which will probably come to an end because the professor behind it is retiring.

After the workshop, I still had some time to kill before my coach journey, so I took a walk through the city centre. Maybe it is just me but a city full of Oxford students (and little else) on a Saturday night is slightly disconcerting, especially as they mostly look the same: white (Oxford has been criticised for years for its diversity rates). Also, and understandably, a lot of them walk with the excess of self-confidence that being an Oxford student enhances (I have heard some insider horror stories from a transferred student at SOAS).

08 June 2007

Follow me... to Cambridge!

Mainly pictures this time, folks. Sorry but there is not much to say except that:

1) The National Express coach from Victoria Station to Cambridge takes a very good tour through London. We passed Chelsea Bridge, Thames House (MI 5), Horse Guards Road (from where the Royal Guards ride to Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard), Ministry of Defence, Parliament Square, St. Paul, Tate Modern and the City including the Gherkin.

2) Cambridge is a lovely and stunningly beautiful city! Oxford in comparison seems more artificial and superficial but maybe that is just me.

3) Kat went to the Museum of Geology and I went to the Museum of Anthropology & Archaeology.

Kat spotted some ducks while we went through a park and decided to feed them with Tesco's Blueberry Muffins with the effect that we were suddenly surrounded by twelve ducks or so. Please ignore the label on my slip! Shortly after that picture - I was not paying attention because I was observing the two ducks on the left - the one duck that is raising its head snatched away the muffin paper together with the remains of the muffins and ran away with it, the ten other ducks following its tail as if it was about survival. Crazy!

07 June 2007

Follow Me... to Winchester, Stonehenge & Bath!

Today, Kat and I set out for a tour to Southwestern England.

On our way out, we passed through this exclusive town in London, apartments start from 2 million £. Once I move to Earl's Court, I will explore more of SW London, a part that I have neglected this past year. Did you know that Hugh Grant went to a private school in Earl's Court and then went on to study English at New College, Oxford on a scholarship?

... is the old capital of England during Anglo-Saxon times and today probably twice as big as Mödling. Our Sean-Connery-without-a-beard-tour-guide who alternates swiflty between English and fluent Japanese all the time, shows his Wedl streak: "There is no point in taking pictures now when you come back later anyway!"

The cathedral which you see below, is partly in 11th century, partly 16th century design, claims to be in possession of the Round Table (as do numerous other cities throughout the country) and is burial place of Jane Austen.

Kat and I decided to see Wolvesey Castle, 12th century ruins of the Norman bishop's palace. Queen Mary Tudor and King Philip II of Spain were guests before they got wed in the cathedral. On our way, we passed a house where Jane Austen lived six weeks prior to her death. Maybe I should let my Viennese flat to sickly writers and bohemians to secure eternal revenue. Hm...

Stonehenge & Salisbury Plain:
First impression: The stones are smaller than you imagine. Since everyone knows what they are famous for or can look it up online, I'll just give some quick facts:

The possible explanations include it being a solar temple, a lunar observatory, a source of healing power and an extraterrestrial monument. Others believe, some of the stones were brought over by Merlin from Ireland or by giants from Africa. Some even said that Uther Pendragon, King Arthur's father, is buried within the circle. There are also some burial sites nearby.

Magnetism: There is a high magnetic field surrounding the stones. I don't know if I imagined that or not but I indeed felt some tingling in my calves shortly before the tour guide said we were crossing some magnetic line. Also, his microphone went rustling for a second but he might have manipulated it for the sake of us tourists.

The area is also famous for the most UFO sightings in the UK or so, even though this is probably due to US-Air Force test flights. And on the summer solstice, some 30 000 (?) people gather around the stones. In case, you want to be part of it this 20 June, go and have a look at the Stonehenge website. You have to register in advance, I think.

The Salisbury Plain in which Stonehenge is located is well... plain. In fact, around the archaeological site there are just highly used motorways. Therefore, I had to pay four f$%$! Pounds for a Cheese and Onion slice (2,5x the average price) at the museum snack shop!

is something like the Austrian Baden because it is famous for its Roman spas and thermal springs. There is a whole cult surrounding the baths, involving the goddess Minerva. Read about the whole mythological framework in this short article (sorry guys but there is a limit to blogging like a machine).

The Sightseeing Saga continues

On Wednesday,

I helped Stacia to the station with her two huge suitcases to wish her farewell. I felt a bit melancholic now that the first of my two closest friends in the UK is leaving, not to be seen for God knows how long. I am sure she is looking forward to her new computer and coming home again. This is like the Oceanians and distances between islands: For them, the sea is not a barrier but a road. In this case, the internet is the road and the two continents the islands. Therefore, it shouldn't be that a big deal hopefully! However, I still needed a caramel moccha before I could go back to Dinwiddy.

Later that day, Kat and I went to Camden Market for a quick overview and after a delicious dish at one of the greasy spoons there, Kat decided to make this Saturday a Camden Day (I will be somewhere else at a workshop). Quick overview because I had to dash off to Earl's Court to sign the contract for my new flat at the real estate agent's, together with my new flatmates. In the meantime, Kat explored the wonders of Tate Modern. I told her that when Natascha went there, she said that the colours had been very inspiring. Interestingly, Kat confirmed that view. With these two strong recommendations, maybe I should really have a look myself!

In the evening, I talked to my mum who seems to be concerned about me but instead made me concerned about her:

Mum: Heidi, do you always look out for cars when you cross roads in London?
Heidi: Yes...?
Mum: Make sure you always look on the correct side. The cars over there drive on the other side.
Heidi: Uh... I know?
Mum: You always have to look at the right side first.
Heidi: OK... That is what I do anyway?
Mum: Because you know that cars over here in Austria come from the other side.
Heidi: So you never look first before you cross the street?
Mum: Where does the traffic come from in Austria again? Hang on. From the right or from the left? I don't know, actually...

06 June 2007

Wherever your feet take you

On Tuesday,

Kat and I left for a looong walk through the city on our precious two pairs of feet: First stop: Covent Garden. I have never really looked at the restaurants there (because I believed that they probably would be quite expensive considering the amount of tourist stomachs to be fed daily) but thanks to Kat, I now know what delicious things there are to be tasted! In return, I showed Kat my favourite café just around the corner in King Street: It's called Muffinski and I believe I have already mentioned that its inside reminds me of Mölkerhof in another blog post? Anyway, they have absolutely gorgeous muffins (butterscotch & banana, white chocolate & strawberry and banana & raspberry with real fruit in the centre)!

From there we "promenaded us" through the streets of independent shops of Seven Dials & Soho (we discovered the little streets of the red light district). Flashback here of Amsterdam... We wound our way to Oxford Street where we dropped by at Selfridges (sth like Harrods: Gucci, Prada, you name it, it's there) and into fashion shops just looking around and thinking of our beloved mums every now and then:

Heidi (looking at a brightly coloured pseudo-adult string tanga): My mum would say, you get thrush from that.
Kat (looking at the object herself): So would mine.

Finally, we let our swollen feet cool off in the cool grass of Hyde Park where we relaxed in the shadow of a tree, the leaves above us rustling with the breeze (a sound you don't hear very often in London). Wow, the last time I walked this far must have been Boxing Day...

We reunited with Stacia in the evening who relaxed at home before her big day, her departure to the US. Stacia showed Kat the speech accent archive, a website where people record and upload themselves speaking a given text together with information about their age, language background etc. Basically, it is for linguists who go crazy about phonetic pecularities...

Stacia: Nothing interesting there, just some boring German speakers with devoicing of final obstruants.
Kat: Ooooh! That is a strong palatalisation! That sounds like a really interesting Slavic accent!
Heidi: ?

In case anyone wants to donate a speech sample for Stacia's private collection... get in touch! Kat and I have already contributed!

Below, you see a shot of my room, that currently functions as an internet café, a storage facility and youth hostel. Stacia's main PC died two weeks ago and its substitute, her PC-to-go, only has WiFi which at Dinwiddy is of course outside any range of public networks. Also, Stacia and Kat have a lot of junk that exceeds their luggage allowance or that they don't need anymore. Yay! I inherit so many useful things for my new flat, thanks again you two! Finally, a mattress is lying around somewhere for Kat's convenience.

02 June 2007

Heidiwitz reaches 100th blogpost!

This blogpost is a special one for various reasons:

#1 I have found a flat for post-Dinwiddy therapy!

#2 My first reading-free weekend in ages!

#3 It is the 100th blog post!

[photo removed]

Ad #1 - Nix wie weg! Finally released from prison and happy end

As faithful readers among you remember, there was this gorgeous flat in Earl's Court that seemed like the fulfilment of my dreams: Openable window, bathtub, space, quiet and park nearby. As you also might know, my future flatmates had decided to give it to another student which cancelled last minute due to a problem with her parents. So finally, I do get the flat in the end! Spent two hours yesterday at the real estate agent who told us about his Australian aunt or sth coming to the UK for breast surgery, what he eats for breakfast IN DETAIL and that it took him eight months (!) to transfer to another bank (among other things)! Nah, he is a really nice guy around 50 (I am usually quite suspicious about people who try to sell me a flat which is another story in itself), the kind of person that cheers up the crowd at family gatherings. Anyway, so from middle of June, I am going to move to SW5!

[photo removed]

Ad # 2 - Learning to Relax

It seems strange to me that I can spend the whole day doing virtually nothing or just something for myself without feeling guilty because I should be doing my readings or an essay or whatever. This is what studying at a UK university does to you: Relaxation is a sin and unwinding from a year of full-time job 24/7 occupation a task to be reckoned with. So how do I spend my precious first week of freedom? Ironically, the grey rain clouds that have been looming over London like a promise of doom ever since the beginning of the exam term were gone as soon as the last day of exams had passed. I spent my first day walking the streets of London, the little side streets of Oxford Street (really interesting shops and a Swiss restaurant - Rösti! - that hide away from the stream of shoppers), having a look at the Photographer's Gallery where they currently feature FOUND magazine, among other things. The magazine lives from people sending in pictures, memorabilia etc. that they have found with a note describing the circumstances of their discovery. Have a look at it! It is like a real life story thing but more immediate and concise. Like a short story: A spotlight of someone's life. Finally, I went to Covent Garden and found out where all the shops for mountaineers are before I returned home to watch Children of Men, Lie With Me and 24 Season 6 after I had replied to all e-mails and facebook messages of the last four weeks.

[photo removed]

Ad #3 - My first year abroad - Taking stock

Some things change and some things never change. How miserable am I? I am still...

... studying until last minute (even watching the sun rise while having bean burgers for breakfast and being surrounded by lecture notes)

... trying to prove myself.

But I believe I have also changed and realised a lot of things (about myself) in this awesome past year:

_ What drives me is not knowledge alone but also acknowledgement.
_ I could do better at making myself more visible.
_ Standing up for your right and being clear and straightforward about it can be such an adrelanie rush! It feels so good to stand your ground, for a change. In London, you drown if you don't walk on the water.
_ It is true what people say about going abroad: (1) You find out who your real friends are and (2) Moving somewhere else does not solve ALL your problems. Still, it solved some, ie I am at a distance from a family that does not believe in me or what I am doing. I don't have to explain or justify myself all the time and just be a person.
_ Not all US-Americans are evil (not even the ones from Texas) and vegans are not aliens.
_ Talking about a problem can relieve stress immensely and helps putting things into perspective.
_ The UK uni system works better for me. Socially, it is like a community, and academically, you learn so much more than in Austria because you dedicate so much more time and effort.
_ It is OK to say it if you are not feeling fine. Anger & fear are not the only legitimate feelings.
_ Conflicts can be constructive, too.
_ I was reborn at 18 (when I moved out from my parents') and anew when I came to London.