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Archive for September, 2009

Week 1 Update

So I realized a long entry for each day is not exactly the most advisable way to go…meaning I’m going to start grouping weeks together for the most part and creating one long entry per week, hopefully making these a bit more readable.  😛

9/22
Jetlag has been pretty severe, making me wake up at weird times.  After waking up at a more reasonable time, my goals were to get an international banking account open and all the medical stuff in order (since it was all nationalized).  What I got instead was a missing key element…a certificate of registration.  It was so crucial that I would be prevented from getting any of this done until the following week.  Brilliant…as usual.

IMG_2382Instead, I took my first of many random walking tours.  This one would be across London Bridge.  I got to see the beautiful Tower Bridge again, a lot of churches, along with an old-school battleship.  Across the bridge, I saw the Monument.  I wasn’t exactly sure if I went up the last time I was in London but decided it would be a good workout and went anyways.  After climbing 311-steps (not as bad as St. Paul’s), I got to see a nice panoramic view.  I walked back for lunch, looking around the local area of the South Bank and found…the Island Café.  I ate a spicy chicken sandwich…it was ok but definitely cheap.  I went to look for hangers again as well but couldn’t find them.  I guess the start of the school season has everyone buying them up.

The night didn’t turn up any better.  There were a series of blackouts going on across town, twice affecting Sidney Webb.  This meant that the Internet also shut off and when it restarted, my IP address was apparently taken by another computer (aka, I got deregistered from the dorm/school listing).  This was a big pain as I couldn’t make calls/go online in my room at all.  At the very least, I got to use the dorm computer lab and met a random LSE student there who helped me out logging in.  What a bleh day.

9/23
I woke up early to try and get a response about the Internet problem in the computer lab but unfortunately, no such luck.  What this forced me to do, however, was go and finally visit the London School of Economics after another repeat breakfast of orange juice and bananas.  (By the way, Oragniana in the early afternoon is wonderful. =])  Lugging my laptop, I visited the Borough Underground station and got my first Oyster card kind of like a travel card to make going through the lines quicker).  Hearing ‘Mind the Gap’ and hitting the line in rush hour was great as I finally got to mingle with the people.  Making my way to school, I also saw the first Korean BBQ restaurant ever in London as well along with some Korean people to boot.  Pretty crazy.

IMG_2435Getting to school, it was a bit smaller than I thought it would be although the height of the buildings was pretty extraordinary.  It has that Universal Studios vibe for some reason too…kind of enchanted and rustic.  I went up the stairs, found the laptop surgery location, and got the problem resolved.  Then, I figured why not take another random walking trip around Central London.  I made about a two to three hour walk along the Victoria Embankment, walking beside the River Thames which was pretty neat.  I walked past Tate Modern, St. John’s Cathedral, and the Millennium Bridge.  The best part, however, was scouting out for lunch where I entered a brand new section of town, the Hay’s Galleria on the South Bank side.  I saw the HMS Belfast (The battleship earlier) up close along with other cool parts alongside Tower Bridge.

The restaurant for lunch was Cantina Del Ponte, an odd name for a heavily-Italian inspired locale but had pretty good food and a nice view by the waterside.  Bruschetta with salmon and the pork loin with spinach sauce and red cabbage were delicious.  I walked back to Sidney Webb via a ghetto road and saw a primary school.  It was very New York-ish, urban, and in an odd part of town.

After napping for a bit, I visited the Royal Oak Pub, getting a BLT (which wasn’t bad) and a Guiness and Sussex Ale.  Either my tolerance has totally gone bonkers or the beer is super strong as I got a really quick buzz off the drinks.  Something I need to work on…

9/24
Today was really more of a day for sleep as I was still adjusting time-wise.  Main chunk of the day was visiting the other side of Central London in terms of Westminster and the Soho region.  Lunch was at Wagamama, a Japanese ramen restaurant.  The unique catch this time around was I went to the original store it started with (since its now a chain).  Unfortunately, all it did was remind me of ramen from back home and didn’t quite fill me up much.

IMG_2485From there, I made a bit of a walk to Trafogodor Square, one of my favorite places.  On the way, though, I did see Leicster Square as well, which is, as most books point out, is so touristy along with Chinatown with interesting advertisements and some shady places.  At Trafogodor, there was a weird scene where a man (and then a woman) stood up on top of a high platform and did…well, absolutely weird/inane stuff.  The man kept pounding his hand at people while the lady took pictures of spectators while tending to her Christmas tree.  I didn’t get it.

After taking in the sights, I went to the National Gallery for the first time although it would be a quick visit this time around.  I saw some wonderful paintings like Samson and Delilah and Sunflowers by Van Gogh.  For some reason, a painting called Gladiolas by Reinhart was hauntingly beautiful.

Afterwards, I took a very very long route (was a bit lost) from Trafogdor to Sidney Webb, seeing a close-up view of the London Eye, a lot of street performers (one almost looking like he was molesting children and the other break dancing), sandcastle creators, old school swindlers, clarinet/keyboard duo, a close-up of Tate Modern, and the Borough Market which I’d stop by later the next day to actually eat at.

One final observation is in marketing.  It’s weird to see how much posters change when they’re being advertised in the UK such as with Surrogates and 500 Days of Summer (and to see how much later or earlier they release than in the US).  I’ll hopefully write up a larger article on that later.

9/25
IMG_2538The thing about today was getting an ID card (which LSE dubs as pre-orientation or the hour-and-a-half wait for something that shouldn’t be called pre-orientation, :P).  Concurrently, on the way to school and throughout the day, I noticed a lot of primary school children at museums and walking about a lot.  It was interesting just to see how much history and interaction the students were getting by being in London.  Just exactly what they were learning of course is unknown but for what it’s worth, it’s just really cool to be literally side-by-side with students of all ages.

But yea, going to LSE, I met my US acquaintance, a gal from UMass whose been in England for a year already and a Norwegian historian.  Pretty neat.  The house where all this was happening at (the Clements House) also had a ‘Saved by the Bell’ vibe with its schoolhouse look and long wooden staircase up.  Of course, the common question still arose (why go to London instead of staying in sunny/happy California?) but it was interesting hearing different background experiences and interactions.

After getting the ID and some orientation material (along with a cool bag), I decided to walk to the British Museum since it wasn’t too far.  It mostly looked the same as before with the Egyptian gallery still looking pretty gnarly.  I went up to see the Japan and African sections as well which were pretty neat.  The most memorable had to be the Indian section with some nice statues and figures lined up.  A Shiva figure was very memorable thanks to just the intricacy and total symbolism.  The courtyard itself is always amazing to see too.

One idiotic thing I did was try to walk back home without a map to no avail.  I just walked in a circle instead.  Also, the Red Line which I usually take to go back home was pretty slow because of a person stuck under the rail.  So I walked down to Victoria Embankment to get on another line and went to lunch at Tas, a Turkish restaurant.  The bread/yogurt/hummus were excellent while the main course of chicken/couscous turned out ok.

The quirk of the day…probably still getting used to London traffic (opposite ways…jaywalking as a form of life, not as something wrong, and weird lights.)

9/26
For Saturday, I made it a goal to get my Certificate of Registration (since it finally appeared on the school website) so the following week, I could get all my material ready.

IMG_2596First, though, I went back to the Borough Market for lunch and to explore.  My god, it was really jam packed with people and a lot more marketers everywhere trying to sell some great, fresh goods.  I plan on definitely coming back to buy some wine, cheese, and bread and sitting by the river to just chill.  What I did do was buy some fresh lemonade and a delicious (but small) chorizo sandwich which was very good although I had to wait in line for about half an hour.

Next, I made a quick trip to the school library (a beautiful building which was very modernized on the inside) to finally get my printing card set up and actually, physically print out my Certificate of Registration.  Very cool.  Afterwards, I decided to take the Underground to a new museum I haven’t been to, the Victoria and Albert Museum, leaning more towards art and design.  It didn’t captivate me at first with its focus on fashion but started to intrigue me with its beautiful architecture and some cool set pieces, especially its middle courtyard with a crazy chair statue contraption.  Outside, there was a crazy sweets shop with tall chocolate mounds and all types of sweets everywhere.  It looked simply gorgeous and something I would love to eat…if it were all any cheaper.  (Ice scream scoops for 2.50-3.00 pounds is not cool.)

The day ended with McDonald’s ironically as I needed something cheap and fast to get back home as night was quickly approaching.

9/27
Sunday was relatively uneventful.  The general schedule for the day was to get ready for the first official day of all the arrivals.  Pretty gnarly.  After a lot of rest and talking with friends online, I went back to Island Café to get a quick lunch (this time with much more friendly personnel) and got a lemon chicken sandwich.  It was pretty good.  Next, I went grocery shopping, getting actual breakfast (cereal/milk) along with laundry detergent.  I also took some time to get ready for classes by checking out requirements and seeing what I needed.

The night ended with the common area bar down at the Atlas Common Room where I met a couple of people going to LSE.  Very cool.  Discussions ranged from British customs to various national politics to economic impact.  I felt a bit more relieved.  Haha.

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Room Video Tour

http://www.flickr.com/photos/38798930@N08/3958148561/

Still trying to figure out how to embed stuff.  Sorry!

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Departure + Day 1

June 20th was my departure date.  It was bittersweet in many ways as I was really excited to start a new part of my life yet still a part of me didn’t want to leave for various reasons.  However, there was no turning back because a.) too much money already went into paying for the trip itself and b.) because I knew I would come out a better person because of it.  So after much stressing and debating with myself and a couple others, I did a terrible, last-minute packing job and left for the airport.

With my friend, I ate my final US meal (at least until three months pass)…In-n-Out.  I really was spoiled the past week in Southern California, eating one favorite category of food each day (or at least drinking heavily) from Javier’s, Sagan Korean BBQ and Olive Garden.  Silly, yes, but having been to the UK before, as great as some of the food may be, the heart of my palette lies in California.  In-n-Out was very delicious by the way…a cheeseburger combo with animal style on the burger.  Oh how I miss thee already.

I traveled on Air New Zealand, something new but more importantly, it was the cheapest one-way ticket to London Heathrow.  After a bit of a goodbye round-up with my parents and friend (along with a last-minute stop at CVS to print out a few pictures), I lugged the bags up past security, waited for two hours while texting some final people my temporary goodbyes, and boarded the plane.

HNI_0019To note, Air New Zealand itself is a wonderful airline service.  Great service, very safety-oriented, wonderful media selections, and a big airplane to boot.  However, the flight to the UK itself was pretty hellish.  There was an odd amount of turbulence whichever direction we went in.  My stomach already churning, trying to eat the lasagna was too troublesome to finish and wine spilling all over the place to chug.  A baby in the front whined and cried the entire time as well, making sleep almost impossible (yes…the earplugs oddly enough was lodged with the check-in luggage) and my odd neighbor passenger had a weird fetish of putting her head and arms on me in some way or fashion after several polite pushes.  In the end, I ended up reminiscing and staring out the window in a dramatic fashion, best exemplified in those romantic films.  Finally arriving at Heathrow, I dashed out and hit the good ol’ customs line.  Customs in the UK is pretty strict with a harder line of questioning and interrogating than other EU nations (at least in comparison, at Belgium, customs took about 5 minutes to get past.  At London, it took about 45 minutes to an hour).  Luckily, things seemed to proceed fairly smoothly soon afterward although I ran into one other hitch I should have seen coming.

My luggage was too heavy to carry all the way to the dorms.  One duffel bag, one large suitcase, one laptop bag, and a packpack.  I don’t consider myself that out-of-shape but geesh, every ten seconds, I had to take a break and put down my bags.  It was fairly ridiculous.  Because of this, I was forced to take the Heathrow Express (an expensive but really fast subway line that takes passengers to Paddington Station in Central London) and a taxi straight to the dorms.  The Heathrow Express may be expensive but wow…if anyone has enough money, it is more than worth it.

The taxi drive itself was interesting as well.  I got a New Zealander (oddly enough) who like most of the British are fairly chatty and humorous.  Our conversation, as he smartly ratcheted up the bill because of our chatter, took several interesting turns from discussing US-British relations, the changing face of London in terms of globalization, and his New Zealand-British back-and-forth.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect he discussed was the lack of identity with a global city that many Londoners now lack.  He compared it to living in his hometown where everyone knows each other and has that shared sense of companionship where many in London do not because of the melting pot-like culture.  It was interesting to hear his comparisons (along with the smart move of going back to New Zealand during the UK’s winters because he hates the cold) because it did show this global awareness that the rest of the world seems to understand, moreso than Americans do.

Thanking him, I finally got to my destination, the Sidney Webb House.  I learned several lessons immediately.  #1) The neighborhood I was located in was a bit more ghetto than downtown London.  #2) The room lacked pushpins and hangers…which would be the bane of my existence for a couple days.  #3) The dorm was under a transition phase between summer school residents and regular school residents (aka…I wouldn’t really make any friends this week).  The room itself is pretty cozy after getting used to it but a bit smaller than expected as well.  The key pass we received, though, to open up the dorm front doors and the front door to the entire place is pretty gnarly though.

IMG_2340

I did get to meet two people fairly early though.  One was after having my first meal of arriving in the UK…a really not-so-delicious sandwich at Subway (note…putting corn in the sandwich along with no salt/pepper/oil/vinegar/sauces really changes the taste)…an accounting guy from Greece who was arriving for the first time in the UK.  I actually helped him out in finding the house along with his parents.  Very sweet.  The other was on my way to the supermarket to find the prior-mentioned pins/hangers, a young Germany lady who was getting her second masters in international relations.  We had a good conversation regarding a ton of topics from her background to the reoccurring topic of lack of global studies in the US.  Quite fascinating to hear from others.  She also brought up a reoccurring topic amongst everyone I met as well…why in the world I left sunny California for not-so-sunny/gloomy London.  Also I know it was not intended to be malicious in any way (more sarcastic and humorous), the question was of sort of an emotional downer in many ways because of all the doubts and debates I had before leaving for London.  But anyways, we got to the market (Tesco’s), kind of like a mini-Wal Mart.  I left with some giant sewing pins but no hanger (along with some bananas).  In addition, I stopped by a closer mini-mart (Costcutter’s) to get dinner…orange juice and bananas.  Yum and healthy.  Haha.  It was a money-saving effort for the first night that wouldn’t be repeated too much again for the rest of the week.

Ah, one last quirk of the day that I learned…to exit doors at Sidney Webb (and at other dorms), you can’t just push the door.  You have to push a small button beside it to ‘unlock’ it first, a security measure to help protect the dorms.  Silly me, I couldn’t figure it out until the second time.  The first time, I kept pushing the door in disdain…looking for a keyhole to unlock the door until someone outdoors opened it for me.  The second time, someone next to me showed me the errors of my ways.  Brilliant I said.

IMG_2328

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Disclaimer

This journal, unfortunately, will not be written with much professionalism or structure.  Especially with school just around the corner, I figured that this would be more of a scrambling of things I did and some interesting thoughts/analysis I had along the way.  So a pre-warning apology if some aspects don’t make any sense at all or if everything looks a little messy or if I’m lagging behind a week or two.  But other than that, be merry, cheers, and enjoy!

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