31 July 2007

The hell of a week

I had a really great week, as some of you probably already know:

# First, SOAS sent the breakdown of results to Austria (you usually first know if you passed or failed and after a few weeks you get this letter with all the details) which makes me really nervous because of my family (apart from the fact that it is just annoying because HSBC did the same thing before). Also, I had changed my address on an online form in June but they never confirmed it (same thing happened to Stacia, they sent her sth to the States instead of around the corner). When my flatmate Sarah's letter came, I called up the registry and they told me they have my new address in Earl's Court, yeah, yeah. On Friday, I called again (because I had a feeling what might have happened since Deborah already received her's in France) and then the truth came out (they keep two addresses and never deleted the other one). So they sent it, of course not on Friday but on Monday. And the Royal Mail strike made me really nervous yesterday.

# After nearly four weeks and loads of complaints, FINALLY I have a date with the laundry repair man. Problem is, since this is a rented flat, I have to contact a company approved by the landlord which in return sends a contractor (instead of calling the hotline directly) because the landlord is going to pay for any repairs. The laundry man called me today and asked me when he should come. Of course, in the three weeks from where I reported the problem, I started work and of course, the repair service does not come after 5pm. So, to make the 4th week complete, we agreed on Sunday 9am. Very unchristian but what the hell. At least it is done.
I still haven't figured out how to claim my rights as a customer in this country without "offending the staff" (sth you can get in trouble for). Is there a "Complaints for Dummies" for the UK? ("Excuse me, Sir. Pardon my frankness about your services but I am highly displeased by the unvirtuous lack of esprit you displayed perpetually in our correspondence in resolving the matter. I must insist on you reconsidering your judgement about the urgency of my request.")

# I opened my studyview account yesterday and was shocked. Not at the amount of spam but at the the fact that all my e-mails were gone!!! Oh dear! Fortunately, thank the heavens, SOAS IT fixed the problem (which might or might not have been caused by them, they of course never admit such things and when they actually do, they never apologise).

# I opened my studyview account today and was shocked. This time because I received the very first spam message in an account I have managed to keep clean since I had it. It is because the ISO account was redirected to my individual student one. I have to call them to tell them I want it separate!!!

# Due to bad communication between several people including me, Sarah who is in Latin America right now, did not know that Camille was staying in her room! SHOCK. It is very complicated and involves a lot of people you don't know (yet) so I won't elaborate. Oh dear, the least thing I wanted to happen is a conflict. But we talked about it and there is no single person to blame.

# I went to the doctor's because of pain in the back which I was afraid was kidney pain. We ran some tests (I was actually touched by a doctor, yeah!) but unfortunately, the result was unsatisfying and since it was weekend, I have to come back this week. I have been diagnosed with back pain but we just want to rule out any other possibilities. Oh and Stacia if you read this, I actually told the receptionist expressedly that I DID NOT want to be seen by Dr. Lifestyle. And the first thing he says, with phone in hand, *lol* "Have I just spoken to you before?". I said "No but she's got quite a reputation..." Finally, I stood up for myself. Never had to do that at a doctor's before. "Which doctor do you want to see?" - "I take anyone else, I don't care."

# My current Austrian bank account was frozen thanks to my credit card company who messed up. And also thanks to their fault, I was charged a penalty fee (is that what you call it in the UK?) by my bank on top of that which I do not want to pay. I had taken appropriate steps in time to prevent this from happening and was assured by the lady on the landline that my request was implemented immediately, literally. One week's past and still no change. Of course, no-one gets back to my e-mail (I want this black on white this time).

# So, regarding the registry, I finally got the letter and it turns out that I passed all the exams I did!!! That is the good news. The bad news is that they marked the only exam I did not take (because I was sick) as "failed" (instead of "no result") which is bullshit. I am really mad!!! Number 1, it is not core unit so from official school regulations, I may retake the exam. Number 2, I gave them a doctor's notice on the very same day (I made a copy for me, just in case). Number 3, I asked the woman about the consequences and she said it is no problem, I just retake the exam. Now, the letter I received contains two important sheets: 1) the breakdown of results (basically, the figures) where it says failed but also that I am eligible to retake the exam and 2) my list of options regarding course progression. In my case: a) Leave of absence and repeat assessments in 2007/2008 b) Repeat year of study (full-time and repeat assessments in 2007/08 c) Repeat study and assessments in 2007/2008 (part-time) d) Transfer to another degree at this school e) Withdrawal!!! Also, if the exam counts as "failed", then this means that when I DO retake it, the maximum mark to be awarded is capped at 50%!!! Of course, I wrote them an e-mail a few hours later today and to my disappointment, no-one got back to me!!! And of course, if I "fail to act" by 6 August, I will be expelled from SOAS!!! I am tearing down their door tomorrow, first thing in the morning!

26 July 2007

A New Challenge... and another one!

Haven't blogged in a while because I started a new job at one of the most significant human rights NGOs. It is a three days a week job for three months and I am doing the press monitoring for Southeast Asia. For security & safety purposes, I'd rather not mention its name here... which actually quite restricts what I CAN say about my job...

So let me just tell you that I would not have thought that I would be the lucky one! When I received the call telling me when I would be able to start, I was speechless! After I hung up, I was walking down the street grinning like a madwoman!

Anyway, it is very interesting work and I have the pleasure to be part of a really supportive team! I constantly try to improve myself and therefore contribute to the team's workflow. I gues finding something like a routine is normal when you start at a new job but never before was I more motivated to benefit from an employment than now!

The other good news I mentioned is that I received notice that I can start working for SOAS, paid, to help out with some project work during the summer, I assume ISO-related! That will keep me busy until the beginning of term!

15 July 2007

Follow me... to the Barrio Fiesta!

This year sees the 23rd Barrio Fiesta (a Philippine festival) in London. Barrio Fiestas take place throughout the world, depending on Filipino population from once a year to several times a year. Compared to the last and first one I went to (in Vienna, last summer), this one here in Hounslow, London was huuuuuge (last year 60 000 people came on one single day which is why it is now held for two days)! Sooo much good food, the smell of childhood, authentic Philippine food! I am sure there were at least 50 stalls selling their food. As you can see below, I enjoyed one of my favourite Filipino desserts, Sapin-Sapin, a rice & yam pudding-like cake served with brown grated coconut! Gosh, ang sarap-sarap (tagalog for, "it was really yummy")!!!

Now when you got out of the tube, there is a stream of Filipinos flocking to the park where it took place. The park itself - I thought, "Where the hell did all these Filipinos come from?!?" You know, I've lived in London for a year now and I might only have seen ten Filipinos in total, four of them while having blood drawn in a hospital. Amazing! Some of them came with their British husbands...

To give you an overview of the scene: There is this big place in the park where all around dozens of stalls sell hot food, groceries, desserts (it is quite amusing to see Indian bobbies patrolling the site with a cup of halo-halo - that is multicultural London!), ube-flavoured ice-cream (violet yam, in the Philippines, not only children love the flavour), advertise native travel agencies, real estate in the Philippines, UNISON membership (one of the trade unions in the UK), money transfer services, T-Shirts, native crafts, recruitment agency services for nurses etc. etc.!

There was a display of folk dance but unfortunately no Eskrima one (Eskrima is the Philippine martial art, it is synonymously known as Arnis and Kali, practised with everyday objects like sticks of different length but also knives or machetes, developed by the oppressed during Spanish rule to defend themselves). Ping and I know how difficult it is to find a club where you can actually learn and practice Eskrima, especially in Austria. There is one offered at ULU but it was too expensive!

Below the engines of low-flying airplanes approaching or departing nearby Heathrow Airport(just three more tube stops, surely just around 3-5 km away), one of the most popular Filipino artists, singer Regine Velasquez, "Asia's Songbird" (who came to the Wiener Stadthalle several years ago) , gave a free open-air concert!

14 July 2007

Follow me... to a galaxy far, far away!

My mother asked me a while ago, why I like it so much better in London. I told her, "Because it is so much more on the pulse of happenings". What better prove of this than the Star Wars Celebration Europe, an event for the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars Saga - in London!

Entrance to the event cost 23 £ for one day and 55 £ for all three days. I have never been to a convention before (except for a tiny expensive Manga one in Vienna I was dragged to) but I loved it!!!

It took place in an exhibition centre in the Docklands, therefore loads of space for the most amazing fan stores with the most amazing collectibles! Everywhere people dressed in costumes, stormtroopers swarming the crowd (they really DO look intimidating up close), Lego scapes of Star Wars sets and characters, a fan stage where fan clubs host events, a main stage where actors are invited to events, life-size props from the set, a workshop where you can act in the first scene of Episode IV on instruction of a director and it will be cut with music to watch right afterwards, an autograph hall where you can have the actors of Lando, C-3PO and Luke Skywalker among many others sign for money (Mark Hamill cost 85£ but his queue was ENDLESS!!!)...

I wanted to have C-3PO's actor sign but I only made up my mind when it was already too late!!! I asked the ticket office how long they'd be there and the guy said, until 6pm probably. Since I had about 40 minutes, I rushed to withdraw some cash to buy sth cheap to sign on. I went for a picture. By the time I got back to the ticket box, the actor was gone (but I still had 25 minutes to go)!!! Turns out, he and Mark Hamill and probably some others were at the main theatre in a show but the security people wouldn't let anyone else in because the show had already started a while ago. Double Hmpf! And I didn't know about the whole schedule of events because I did not want to spend 6 £ on a programme!

And even more annoying is the fact that I saw Ewan McGregor face-to-face on two occasions but was not sure whether or not he was the real thing or his twin so I did not go for a picture!!! He was in full costume and groomed like in the movies, being part of the crowd with his own camera and all. But actors look different in real life than on screen! So I only figured it was him when it was already too late!!! I could kill myself for being such a nixchecker all the time!!!

Anyway, today's events ended with a free open-air screening of Episode IV, opened by Ian McDiarmid himself! Interesting and funny speech! I got some of it with my camera! I wish I could have enjoyed this with Kat, seeing that we're both great fans and I am sure she would have loved it!

04 July 2007

The rain goes on...

Since my plans of blogging about my tour through Notting Hill, the surrounding area with tea at the Orangery of Kensington Gardens & Palace (sth like the London version of Schönbrunn) were crossed by a thunder storm yesterday, I decided to dedicate this blog post to the weather that has been tormenting this country for two weeks now (not without mentioning a few things about my tour though).

About Notting Hill:
Yes, it is a fancy bohème sort of area, with Portobello and a lot of expensive boutiques nearby (in the street called Westbourne Grove, to be exact). Has a healthy nightlife (so I've read) and also, some celebrities live in the area, like Pete Doherty. I discovered a quite original idea for a café, it is called The Natural Café and the name basically says what it is: A fairtrade, organic café from ingredients to the wooden furniture and the organic paper cups. Smoothies are a dream (you can choose between cow milk, soy or rice milk) and staff is super nice! The leaflet says that for the company, it is important that the cows where their milk comes from are "happy cows", so they even play music to them ("Their favourite is Cold Play"). Right opposite of it is a Malaysian restaurant that looks very inviting. If anyone is interested, I'd like to go on a culinary journey! Btw, I am teaching myself Malay online now. It seems to be a simple enough language.

About Bayswater and Queensway:
East of Notting Hill is Bayswater and Queensway. If Kensington is the continental heart of the city, then the former two are the ones for what I will call "Mediterranean Arabs" (Lebanese, ...). Also, there are Greeks, Chinese and South Americans. Is reflected in the restaurants but also in the shops.

About Kensington Gardens:
From there I entered Kensington Gardens from the North, one if its gates opposite the station. The sky was completely covered in grey clouds on the sky and you could already hear the thunder. But I discarded all that and decided to go on with my programme for the day and through the park instead of taking the tube home. Usually, when it rains, it is not very heavy and only for short periods of time and grey clouds don't necessarily mean that it is going to rain that day. Haha! Yesterday, of course, was different! I was halfway through the park when IT started. Rain, as people in Austria understand it and worse. After walking 10 seconds in it, you are drenched. The thunder storm took its full course: Lighting, thunder and a sudden shower. I followed the example of other park visitors and ran under a tree for shelter. Still, my jeans (fresh out of the laundry!) soaked up the water up to my upper thighs, my down jacket failed to keep the water out as I later discovered and water started to pool (!) on the zipper of my bag. Perfect. Damp from head to toe. I decided to run to the next wooden hut where some cyclists were already waiting for the rain to stop and believed it was a good idea to hold on to their bikes while lighting could strike at them anytime.

About emergencies:
So, tea in the orangery and a visit to Kensington Palace literally fell into the water (do you say that in English, too?) and I decided to take the tube. The second I stepped onto the platform in Earl's Court, there was an announcement, "Due to a reported emergency, would all customers please leave the station immediately" (in a recorded but slow and calm voice which for me, suggested there was nothing "serious" going on but maybe that is just an illusion). So they closed down the station, swiftly but without panic (even if maybe a bit nervously), everyone got out. Police was there. You don't know what's going on... Turned out later, it was a fire alert.

Regarding the weather, it has been raining for two weeks now and there has been severe floodings throughout England which remind me of the "flooding of the century" we had in Austria in 2002, as it was coined by the media. You can find an article about the British flood here.

03 July 2007

Follow me... to Harrods!

Today, first day of "famous July Sale" at Harrods. They hired Sarah Michelle Gellar to open this year's sale but since it was her, and neither Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman nor Colin Firth & co. AND at 9am, I slept right through the opening and came later that day.
Harrods is really as impressive as everyone says! Only the crème de la crème of luxury brands. I thought 80£ was expensive for a flip flop (Kensington High Street) but 200 f* £ is absolutely OTT, just for a slab of leather, a string between your toes with a few designer stones on them, by someone named Giuseppe Zanotti or so. In Vienna, Zanotti is an ice-cream parlour in the city. Also OTT is the Egyptian escalator that Al Fayed had built when he took over the business. It cost 20m £!
In the Lower Ground Floor right at the foot of the escalator, there is a Diana & Dodi memorial. It is a picture of both of them with candles around it. In the middle is the glass they last drank from before they left the Ritz that night, in the condition it was found and together with the ring that was supposed to be her engagement ring from Dodi, crafted it into a glass pyramid.
I read later in the map the cortous employees gave away to the customers that there is also a bronze statue of both of them setting free an albatros, with a book of condolence on the Ground Floor. But the building is sooo big, that I unfortunately didn't see that. But I might return anyway, to look around some more. Besides, Harrods is really not that far away from me.

02 July 2007

Glimpse of Science Museum & Kensington Stroll

So what do you do on a Sunday afternoon? Exactly, you call Kat for help in deciding which is the best option: Staying in, reading in a park when the weather forecast predicted rain or doing sth else. Door number three was some kind of attraction. In the end, my time management coach and I decided to send me to one of "the museums", as the Victoria & Albert, Natural History and Science Museum are called due to their being next to each other along Exhibition Road maybe 20-30min walk from my place.

The Science Museum is right next to Imperial College, btw, the prestigious technical university in London. The museum's collections comprise space, energy, time, telecommunication, history of medicine, maths etc. Currently, there is an exhibit about spying which was opened by the head of MI5 herself which is even more of an honour, as she seldom appears in public. Unfortunately, the exhibit costs 10£ entry, so I'll save that for September when Kat can hopefully join me! *sigh*

Anyway, it is a big interactive museum with a lot of what I will call leisure areas, ideal for families with children. The space collection was highly interesting! Space has always been sth that fascinated me. They showed a movie from 1985 (?) the Apollo 11 mission (I had never realised that space shuttles don't have an engine, meaning they have only one shot at a right landing!), I believe and some equipment and lifesize gear, sometimes even original! Intriguing was also the part about how astronauts live out there. Did you know that their feces and urine would be bagged and sent back to earth for analysis? Or do you know how a space toilet looks like? It has handles so the astronaut won't fly away before the job is finished (I am sure time has brought some developments in comfort, though)! Also, they don't shower, they use towels and if they stay on a space station for three years, well, then they can't shower for three years (Dinwiddy was already a challenge, I really admire these people for what they put themselves through). However, I have a blurred image of a space shower in my mind that I have seen somewhere online.
Anyway, I actually did not want to go anywhere near the maths collection but ah well, why not. Found this awesome machine, guess what it is!
It is a differential analyser!
And it is huge! Stunning! Nowadays, you just throw the figures into a PC or a calculator that fits into the palm of your hand. The machine above actually belongs to the University of Manchester, they conducted research with this!

On my home, I strolled through the lovely area of South Kensington where I have never been before. The picture makes it really evident why this is such a sought-after residential area! I found the following stunning figures in Time Out's "London for Londoners":
Royal Borough of Islington (where I used to live, includes King's Cross and Angel):
178 028 people with an average income of 2486£/month on 14.9 km²
Students: 11.08 %
Retirees: 7.84 %
Burglary: 14 (per 1000 persons; UK average 6.4)
Robbery: 7 (1.4)
Violence against the person: 42 (16.5)
Theft from vehicle: 20 (10)
Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (where I live now, includes Earl's Court, Notting Hill and Regent's Park):
163 520 people with an average income of 3650£/month on 12.4 km²
Students: 10.21 %
Retirees: 8.29 %
Burglary: 10
Robbery: 5
Violence against the person: 19
Theft from vehicle: 14

Now, regarding the fact that the closer you get to London and the closer you get to Central London the more crimes are commited, the high relative rate is not surprising. However, Islington is known for its proportionally high crime rate. I have mentioned several incidents before and only last week did a 15-year-old stab a 14-year old to death again. I guess I have been lucky this past year.

01 July 2007

Terror in London

Hi guys, to those of you who haven't heard of me yet after the two found car bombs in Piccadilly and the Glasgow Airport incident: I am fine which is probably likely in a city as big as London where you can be in a million of other places when some terrorists decide to attack, except - I happened to be near Piccadilly that night.

Actually, I was on my way home from Lila's in North London Zone 3 to Earl's Court. It was 1pm when I left her place and set out on an odyssee of long night bus rides, only didn't I know then that I would arrive at my place three hours later (the journey should take 1h 20min).
I caught a night bus that would took me to Trafalgar Square from where I had to take the N97, the only bus from there that goes directly to Earl's Court. It is supposed to come every 10min. 25min later, the bus was still not there. An ambulance rushed by. Some minutes later, a police car rushed by. Nothing unusual in Central London at night. I asked the driver of another bus that was parked at my stop if he had heard anything about the N97 on the radio (= german Funk). If for some reason, there is no service tonight. He said no. While I was talking to him, we were interrupted by an announcement on his radio, saying that there was a road closure ahead at Haymarket/Piccadilly due to a security alert. Now, a security alert can be a lot of things. I was not worried. I was fed up though with waiting so I decided to walk a bit along the route to see if the bus maybe took another route and pops up at another stop. I walked through Pall Mall (big parallel street to Piccadilly), saw some police cordon, a few officers and blue light through a side street but thought it was just some crime scene or an early preparation for the Tour de France or the 10km women's run supposed to take place this week and turned into Piccadilly near the Ritz. There is a bus stop right after it where a lot of buses pass by (Green Park). I wait 10 minutes and contemplate whether I should just take another bus that would not take me directly home or hail for a cab. You know, in Central London, there are hardly any benches or opportunities to sit down. I've been on my feet for more than two hours and I couldn't call or text anyone to pass the time while waiting.
Suddenly, clusters of people flocked towards my bus stop. The two guys I had been waiting with at Trafalgar and who had offered me a Ferrero Rocher (that I did not accept) were with them and told me there would be no traffic or buses from "that side". Apparently, some TFL people had informed them.

(for a bigger version of this map go to this link)

I decided to go for the cab. Problem: It was past three or so and for some reason, loads of drunk people (one girl climbed into a waste bin while her friends took a picture of her after she had fallen in like a folding knife) no available cab in sight. I walk around the corner of the Ritz where there is some fancy casino. A guy in a nice suit asks me if I am looking for a cab. I said yes. He takes me to his car. I said, "But this doesn't look like a cab!". He says, it is a minicab. I reply as uninsulting as possible, "I know but I want a black cab" (in London there are two kinds of cabs: black cabs = the classical ones you know from movies, and mini cabs = look like a normal car. Now, mini cabs are cheaper but also, they are riskier when you did not call via a trusted company as anyone could pretend to be a cabdriver). He meant he worked for the casino and I could check his license. I insisted on waiting for a black one. I also turned down the guy parking next to him and thought, where would I find a cab if not at fucking Piccadilly? So I walked down to Piccadilly Circus, even more people crammed at the bus stop right next to the circus. Most of the side streets were closed down (it is a major traffic hub), allowing only a few cars and buses to trickle through. I saw a guy in a white plastic "full body condom", a forensic expert. I still didn't know what the hell was going on and thought, probably some guy got stabbed or killed or whatever right at the Amor statue in the middle of the circus. There was no panic at all, just people leaving the night clubs or being annoyed at having to wait so long for a bus. No-one really had a clue. I decided to hop onto the next bus that remotely passes my place and took the N9 or sth which drives through Kensington Highstreet from where I return home on foot (15 minutes). By then, the sun was rising and the birds were chirping. I finally went to bed after a cup of tea and checking the news. But apart from the security alert and diversion/delays information on the TFL website there was nothing yet on the news.

Next afternoon, I get up and first thing I do, is to check the news. Whatever it was, if only a murder or whatever, if it takes place at Piccadilly, there should be a report somewhere. Google. Hit: Guardian's headline: Two car bombs found. I had half-expected something like this but for some reason, I was not shaken just a bit scared-but-life-goes-on. Maybe because I was not directly in that Tiger Tiger club right in front of which the first car was parked when the police arrived. Maybe because to me, it was not a threat but a nuisance since it held up all the traffic and kept me from going home. I would be more worried if it was sth like a biochemical agent that had been released or if it had actually exploded, the more so in broad daylight (Piccadilly is one of the busiest places in Central London).
I had planned months ago to go to the 7/7 commemoration at either King's Cross or Russell Square station, knowing that this is a potentially dangerous idea. Last year though, they said that there was no additional risk on that day, also when using the tube. I still don't know whether I would take the tube or the bus. I mean, if I'd believe the bus was safer, who says that the terrorists wouldn't think along the same lines? We'll see.