Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pure Imagination

I haven't really done much in the last couple of days. After my welcome program finished on Wednesday I've spent a lot of time at home, with exception to doing a little bit of sight-seeing, attending a local London party on Saturday night and going out for breakfast on Sunday morning. For the most part, I spent today keeping out of the rain (or what my housemate likes to call "proper English weather"). So during all this indoor time, I managed to put together a little something with collected pictures and video clips of summer. And I finished it just in time... because I actually DO have school-related stuff to do tomorrow and Thursday.

So I'm thinking that this post doesn't really warrant a roman numeral because it's more of a reminiscing thing than it is newly informative. Whatever... it makes sense to me.

It was a lot of fun to make, and I found myself getting lost in it and sometimes forgetting where I am. I half expected to just pick up my cell phone and call any one of you to meet up for coffee. But no worries... if anything, it kept me from feeling lonely.

Anyway here it is... enjoy!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

IV: Let's Build a Home

I know this is a bit late, but some of you have been asking to see some pictures of my humble abode. I was waiting a little bit because my room was quite plain for a while, and so I wanted to do some things to make it a bit more "me" before I showed it to everyone. So I put up a bunch of pictures, which are strategically located on just about every wall. That way, I can wake up and/or come home to all your happy, shining faces.

So without further ado, Greetings from Stamford Hill and Linthorpe Road!

This is a picture of the intersection at Stamford Hill Road (and some other streets that I still don't know the name of). It's just up the street from me and is where I catch the buses to either go west to Manor House tube station, or south to Shoreditch.

My house is about a 4-minute walk from bus stops in either direction. Here's the front. The two windows on the top right belong to me:

And upon entering the big red door on the right side of the house, the kitchen is down a few steps and immediately to the right. Meet Katherine and Simon, two of my lovely housemates (sorry, I didn't realize it was kinda' blurry):

Out the back door (from the kitchen) is our garden. This picture was taken from the other end looking at the house... obviously:

Then you come back into the house, up a couple small flights of stairs and to my bedroom. I swear it's really not as messy as it might look, it's just very small in here. The mismatched tile and wallpaper don't really help it either. But it's home and I like it. :) This is looking left when I come in through the door:

Then, the perpendicular wall to the right of that is this:

Look to the right again and you've got my sink (my favorite feature of this room) and the tiny wardrobe...

There's actually more wall space to the right of this, but it's just got a small mirror and a radiator. Nothing too exciting.

So there you go, I might put up more pictures of other places in the house later on, but it's night time here now and consequently kinda' dark. It would probably be better to wait until there's some sunlight coming in.

In other news, I had some coffee with a friend today and we decided to do a little bit of sight-seeing. In case you're wondering, I don't recommend going to Trafalgar Square on the weekend because you have tourists AND locals crowding it. Now we know.

We came here to see the National Gallery, which is perfect for poor students because the UK has this thing about keeping the major museums free for the public. No photos inside, I'm afraid. But I got to see some famous works by Van Gogh, Botticelli, Monet, etc. I only wish I knew more about art history.

And here's a little something I wanted to add for good form. The UK supports Obama... even in the tube.

Sorry it's not much of an update, but I suppose the whole point was to show pictures of my place. So there you go.

Until we meet again...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

III: Take Me To The Riot

Mind the gap!

The London Underground, or "tube," has 268 stations and just about as many miles of track. Approximately 8 million people currently reside in Greater London (not including tourists and out-of-town commuters). And in any given year, the number of passenger journeys recorded for the tube can number more than one BILLION. Put all these things together, and what you have is a) proof that the tube is the most efficient system of public transportation known to man and b) at times, sheer annoyance from being stuck having to travel via the most CROWDED system of public transportation known to man. Note: the latter conclusion is probably more accurate.

Welcome to the Picadilly Line (Northbound via Cockfosters):

I got stuck at King's Cross station for more than an hour Tuesday night because of this mess. Luckily, this was all happening AFTER I had finished Day 2 of my International Welcome Program for my "Uni," and I was able to pass the time with some good company - my iPod equipped with Shawn's exceptional going-away playlist.

It was 6:08 p.m. when I reached the platform and at first, being the newbie Londoner that I am, I just assumed it was the evening rush hour causing all the commotion. But by about 6:32 p.m., I started to notice something different. Intermixed with the other students, the suited men with their folios, and the stay-at-home wives with their shopping bags trying to beat their husbands home, were clusters of people wearing white and red shirts with the word "Arsenal" on them.

What is "Arsenal" you ask? Well, besides being a tube stop just 2 stations before my usual stop at Manor House, it's also a professional English football (aka soccer) team. I found out from my housemates later that whenever the Arsenal Gunners have a home game, that's when all the crazies come out and plague the Picadilly Line (as if it REALLY needed any more people during weekday rush hour). Forget about Los Angeles road rage - these Arsenal fanatics will kick any road rager's ass any day.

Needless to say, I wasn't in much of a position to get angry at these people for keeping me from getting home, so instead, I kept the playlist on and waited... and waited... and waited... and contemplated squeezing between some smelly drunk men and lovesick teenagers in hopes of catching the next train... then decided against it... then waited some more. It wasn't until after 7:30 that I finally took advantage of a very small gap of carriage space and was able to get inside a train. And THEN... because of all the traffic (I guess they had to add a bunch more trains to compensate for the crowds), it took me another 35 minutes to get to my stop... a journey that should only have lasted about 11 minutes. Not that I'm complaining or anything. On the contrary, I spent most of the time with a smile on my face and enjoying the music. It's not like I was in any hurry to get anywhere and besides, I was thoroughly enjoying the people watching.

Okay, so to backtrack a little bit... I mentioned earlier that I was taking part in a welcome program. Basically, it was a three-day introduction program to welcome international students and to give them some information on how to do essential things (i.e., enrollment British-style, how to set up a UK bank account, how to get a National Insurance Number for work... similar to the U.S. Social Security number, and how to register for free health insurance).

It was actually pretty informative and I was very happy to meet more people who were in the same boat as me. It turns out that the University of Westminster has 23,561 students enrolled for the coming year. And out of that number, 17% are international students... together, we come from more than 150 different countries. That's a real cosmopolitan learning environment, if I ever saw one.

Granted, all the information they gave was of stuff you easily could learn about online by yourself. But I think the main reason anybody goes to these things is to be social and make friends. And, it's definitely easy to do so... especially when the university serves wine at the reception and invites everyone to the on-campus bar downstairs after it's over. God bless the UK!

I've met so many great people already... lots of Americans, a bunch of Italians, a few Canadians and people from Poland, Croatia, Macedonia (yes, it still exists, can you believe it?), Turkey, Brazil, Russia, Japan, etc. And for some reason, the room of internationals was FULL of attractive people. Whatever direction I looked contained at least one head-turner (male or female). Generally speaking, the people who are most likely to flee to Europe for school tend to be the adventurous and interesting kind. The only problem is that it's really difficult to remember names, so sometimes you have to just remember people by their nationalities.

L-R: Turkish guy, Italian girl, Polish girl, Chicago guy and Brazilian girl.

Just kidding, I actually do know their names... but only because these are some of the people I was hanging out with the most. There are still several "friends" missing from this picture, probably because they were somewhere else getting drunk.

Ah, here they are:
Guiseppe from Italy and Megan from Washington

Anyway, the program concluded on Wednesday with a "disco" on the Thames, in which we paid £5 each to board a boat and cruise down the river. The view was gorgeous, despite the distracting and loud bass-bumping of the Macarena/Madonna remix happening on the bottom floor of the boat.

Personally, I was quite content staying on the upper deck with my cranberry and vodka, and camel blue cigarettes. It was much easier to have conversations with people up there...

L-R: me (with my warm, red peacoat YAY!), Natalia from Poland, and Will from Chicago

Besides, the upper deck had the best view of the sights, so nicely lit from the river vantage point.

The Tower Bridge

All-in-all, I think it's been a pretty productive week so far. I finally feel like I have some sort of a purpose for being here and most aspects of getting around are beginning to feel normal. It's also less lonely now that my cell phone is populated with phone numbers... and sometimes it actually rings! In fact, I'm meeting up with some friends tomorrow afternoon, which means no more solo-sightseeing. Hooray!

And to think I was apprehensive about meeting people...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

II: Songbird

Perhaps the best investment I've made so far for this trip has been my moleskin city notebook. It contains a tube map of central London, some individual street maps, several blank pages for notes, and some tabbed sections for things like "places," "bars," "adventures," and "encounters." Then, it has this little pocket in the back for random mementos and things... where I like to keep my 56p. stamps for sending postcards to Francis. To top it off, all this valuable information is hard bound in a hand-sized book (well worth the $12 I spent at amazon) that fits conveniently in my new, black, over-the-shoulder purse from H&M.

In less than a week, I've already made loads of notes and used the tube map to find my way around. But the newest addition to my book, which I'm very proud of, is evidence of a fulfilled dream, as small as it may be to anybody else- a ticket of admission into Westminster Abbey.

For those of you who have been unfortunate enough to hear me complain for the last two years about how I wasn't able to go inside the last time I was here, let me assure you that you won't hear me whine about it anymore. Because I finally got to go in yesterday (Friday). And as an avid fan of The DaVinci Code, I was about as excited as a fat kid with a giant cake when I finally got to gaze at the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton. Go ahead, say it... "NERD ALERT!"

I know... why the hell would anyone pay admission to get inside of a church? Well, it's because it's so damn cool inside AND they don't actually charge you if you're coming for worship. But because this was such an important thing to me, I opted to take the honest tourist route in order to keep the experience sacred (in an un-religious sort of way, that is). Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside, even with the flash off, but OH MAN it was cool. Basically, it's jam packed with stone effigies, latin inscriptions and remains of dead people buried within the walls and marble casings, and underneath the stone floors... a TAPS enthusiasts' dream! I was practically drooling when I saw the tombs and memorials of people like Elizabeth I, King Henry VII, Geoffrey Chaucer, T.S. Elliott and Jane Austen... not to mention those of two of my favorite Charles': Darwin and Dickens.

Being a tourist is so much fun. I think it's a sense of something that we all lack when it comes to exploring our own cities. When you're a tourist you approach everything with a sense of childlike "magic"... but when you live somewhere, it's easy to forget, or not notice that magic.

So since I haven't really had much purpose in the last few days besides trying to settle in, I've tried to mix in my errands with a bit of sightseeing. I had to go the city of Westminster to find my school yesterday and I figured that while I was in the area, I'd check out some of the famous spots...

The London Eye, overlooking the River Thames

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

As for some the fruits of my errands: a couple sets of clothes hangers, a power converter for my portable hard-drive (Yay! IT WORKS!), a cheapy hair-dryer, the aformentioned black purse, and a new cell (a.k.a. mobile) phone with a British phone number. Oh yeah, I also bought an issue of Q magazine to read in the tube (James, you'll recognize this):

Notice a bit of a trend here??

Anyway... on with my story. As you can see by the time on Big Ben, it was about 2 p.m. by the time I was finished looking at stuff in Westminster, so I pulled out my handy-dandy London tourbook to go find somewhere interesting to have lunch. And at random, I opened up to page 135... and I was struck with absolute glee when my eyes met this particular entry of a Vietnamese place in Chelsea - quite out of the way but definitely worth the trek even if only for the name.

After about 40 minutes of trying to find this place via bus, tube (in which a crazy old British man next to me was muttering something about his friend Sgt. Swallow, the airman, and his rich granddaughter), bus again and walking, it turns out it really WAS worth the commute. Besides it's hilariously homonymous name, it's also got the coolest courtyard ambiance, a really friendly staff (oddly from Thailand), and some really delicious beef pho. My mouth waters with delight just writing about it.

I sat at the "noodle bar" and ordered my meal with a can of diet coke. The guy serving me looked like he was around my age, and he was quick to start a conversation with me that began with "so where are you from?" I answered him, and on it went... Somehow we got to talking about how he was actually Thai, and how I thought Thailand had the most amazing cuisine I had ever had, and why I was in London, and why Thai people are here making Vietnamese food. He said that their location didn't permit for the "pungent" smells of Thai cooking. Clearly, I said, the restaurant's neighbors just didn't understand or appreciate the amazing yum that is Thai. He laughed and agreed.

When I was finished with my meal, I lingered a little bit to keep chatting, and after a few more minutes I asked to pay my bill. It should've been £8 (which is pretty cheap here), but then he said with a dashing smile, "for you, £7." Perhaps he was flirting with me a little bit, or maybe he empathized with being in a big city all alone with little money, or maybe he's a marketing genius. Because I immediately replied with the highest-pitch "awwww thank you, what's your name? I'm definitely gonna' come back here soon... probably sometime next week!" As he was handing me my change from the £10 note I gave him, he said his name was "Buon, like Bond double O seven, except no D." I shook his hand, told him my name, we exchanged smiles and I was on my way... with the full intention of coming back next week to try the dim sum.

I walked through Chelsea a bit to explore the scenery, and finally around 5ish, I decided to head for home. Along my now-familiar route to get back to Stamford Hill, I had a moment of existential happiness when I came walking upon the Manor House tube station escalator at just the right speed and angle.

If that isn't a visual metaphor, I don't what is. Then I realized that this kind of thing is EXACTLY what I came here to study-- visual cues and the way they affect us culturally. A surge of excitement for even better days that have yet to come came pulsing through my heart.

What an awesome city.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I: Wild World

Hello London. This is officially my first post from this great island in the Atlantic (which inspired me to buy a new domain and rename my blog to "My Kaleidoscope Eyes" - if you don't get the reference, I'm sorry.)

The last week or so has been a fantastic, but otherwise emotional blur of events. Thank you to everyone who made my final days in Simi some of the most memorable days of my life. I cried a lot... and it was really difficult to say goodbye to you, as you know, but if anything, it proves that I'm blessed to have such wonderful people in my life.

I guess this is where I'm supposed to start writing about my first experiences in England. I've been here once before - 2 years ago to be exact. And let me tell you, it's just as awesome as I remember it. The weather is just how I like it - chilly, still slightly sunny and perfect for hats, scarves and sweaters (though I expect it will just continue to get colder and eventually I'll have the excuse I need to wear my new red peacoat).

I live in a privately-rented student house in Stamford Hill... on the corner of Linthorpe and Glaserton Roads. There are currently 9 of us living in the house - 3 guys and 6 girls... and somehow, there are still 2 rooms available. My room is on the top floor, overlooking the street in front of the house. It has two big windows, a high ceiling and two wall heaters - which has made sleeping feel like being a bun in the oven (in a good way.)

I've attempted to make it feel like home as much as I can - so I've put up some pictures and arranged my now-small collection of books and DVDs on this little white shelf. I also have a wardrobe instead of a closet, a sink and small medicine cabinet, a desk, 2 chairs, a small TV, nightstand and single bed. All very cozy and comfortable, I would say. And because my portable hard-drive is not working, even with an adapter (God, I hope I just need a converter and not a new hard-drive... because that's where ALL of my music and pictures are), my housemate Chris was kind enough to lend me some CDs... a nice choice of stuff including albums by We Are Scientists, Minus the Bear, Arcade Fire and Camera Obscura.

By the way, this is what I see when I look out the window:

So far, I've only met 6 out of 8 housemates. They are all very accommodating and gave me a super warm welcome. Within hours of arriving yesterday, they immediately invited me to have pizza (good thing too, because I was starving). So we took a 5 minute walk to Domino's and picked up some yum... which I think is actually (dare I say) BETTER than the Domino's back home. The pizza is thin and floppy and delicious... maybe it's because they don't use frozen dough. Who knows?? Still, I remember pizza and McDonald's tasting better than anything else here... so I guess it's consistent with prior observations.

There are two grocery stores, along with an entire string of shops within walking distance. This morning, I did a little bit of grocery shopping at Morrisons Supermarket. I spent exactly £15.85 for various food and stuff (including a half-size can of Spam, some rice, apples and a bottle of Oasis - my local juice substitute of choice for Vitamin Water.) Are you jealous, Nate?

Around 2 p.m. I met with my landlord - this funny, old Chinese man who laughs a lot and vigorously repeats things - like "I hev to raise ren by one poun becos I hev to pay one tousan poun for tax" and "you americken gerl are firs from los angiless" (misspelling are intentional, and imagine hearing the same phrase 3 or 4 times in a row, separated by very loud maniacal laughing). Still, he's a very sweet man - and maybe because he looks like someone's Asian grandpa, I feel somewhat partial to him.

Another thing I have to mention - Stamford Hill happens to have the highest population of Hacidic Jews in all of England. It's apparent as soon as you cross the city limit. They're freakin' everywhere... walking hurriedly down the street, riding bicycles with reflectors in the middle of the night... unsmiling, always seemingly in a hurry, the curls beneath their tophats and on either side of their heads waving in the light wind. And their young sons are exactly the same way, except without the tophats. Romantic, I know.

Still, I suppose this makes things very safe for my neighborhood. I don't have to worry about walking down the street and getting attacked by one of them... I hope. I'm sure this will be an interesting subject of observation for those of you planning to come visit me.

So besides all this, I dedicated my first full day in London to exploring my surroundings. I had to cross some things off my list of essentials, so I hit up Camden Town because I already knew where it was AND I had a hankering for a caramel macchiato. Luckily for me, Camden is the home of England's Starbucks Castle.

All-in-all, I spent just a couple hours, Oyster card in-hand, wandering around... and then I somehow found myself on the tube again headed for Picadilly Circus. Again, somewhere I've been before - but at least I came back home with a small travel hair dryer, a new umbrella and another giant bottle of Oasis that should last me a couple days.

I also discovered that walking is quite relaxing when there's an accompanying soundtrack. Both Camden Town and Picadilly Circus were so packed - maybe because I didn't leave my house until after 3 p.m., and it was around rush hour. Whatever - I felt the need to drown out the noise, or lack thereof in the tube, with my iPod. I think it seriously changed my outlook on moving from point A to point B, and instead made it really feel like I was watching scenes of my life in a movie.

In the end, even though all you people that I love can't be here with me, I highly recommend putting those little earbuds in your ears, turning on your favorite playlist, getting out of your car, and getting lost somewhere... on foot. I swear it'll make things much more colorful.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mulholland Drive

Never say no.

Because one day you may find that nobody's around to ask.

Late nights count: 4

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

You remind me of home.

Let's have more late nights.
Can we?

Stay forever...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The phonograph that plays your favorite albums back.

I'll miss the days like this, when I'm miles away in winter winds, and your gentle voice echoes in my brain. I'll think about the time we sat hand-in-hand in the Cadillac while we watched the sun rising out of night.

You help me sink to sleep when you sing to me inside my dreams, a guitar in-hand and the tapping of your feet. I'll take the glasses off your head while you lay back in bed, and our nerves will shake from falling in so deep.

I'll be the one who waits outside for you while you drive into the street where we say our last goodnight. And when I'm gone from here, I'll remember dancing in the air and laughing as we crawled under the sheets.

Everything will change.

The summer is fleeting, and the closer I get to saying goodbye, the more important it becomes to make every passing moment count. Maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention before. Maybe expressions of love have become matters of urgency. Either way, this last weekend has got me speaking in diary lyrics and archiving mental pictures like priceless works of art.

There are some people in my life that I may just love too much. It's not a bad thing. It's overwhelming sometimes, but I'm deadly addicted to it. I want to remember everything... the prolonged hugs and the need for excess, and the way conversations keep seeming to turn heavy, as if to make up in advance for those I'll miss in the next year.

Everything will change

I want to hear you say you'll take me where you go, even if I'm gone. We'll make a new escape, I'll hold you from behind, we'll leap into a cloud.
These days will keep me near, in photographs of life where we held each other tight.

I want to take you far from the cynics in this town, and kiss you on the mouth. We'll cut our bodies free from the tethers of this scene, start a brand new colony...
Where everything will change. We'll give ourselves new names... identities erased.
The sun will hear the grounds under our bare feet in this brand new colony.