Monday, March 10, 2014

In The Bag

London decided to surprise us and not be freezing cold and wet for the past few days.  I have still been stuck inside working on classwork and such, but it is nice to be able to run to the corner store without having to pile on seven layers and swim.  I realized that the British winter has changed my standard for "nice weather" when I gleefully commented on an overcast sky as being lovely. It isn't ice and slush so I'll take it.

On an unrelated note: I destroy bags.  I do not know how this occurs, but the average shelf life for any sort of bag in my possession is comparatively short.  A prime example is that lovely black laptop/carry-all bag I brought with me to use as my school bag. See the black bag I am carrying around before my flight:

Yeah well, it is missing a strap now. Less than six months of regular use killed my $24 TJ Maxx bag.  Me being me, I used this as an excuse to buy a nice leather bag to take its place as my daily laptop-and-whatever school tote.  I'm calling it an investment piece, but really I bought it because it is just damn pretty.

Enter: Cambridge Satchel Company oxblood "batchel"

They were running a special at the end of January for the start of the Chinese Year of the Horse for free embossing of a monogram and horse symbol.  I have horses at home, so yes. Sold.

The bag is thick leather, so it doesn't stretch out and hold tons of stuff.  This is good for me, primarily because I am a bit of a hoarder with trash and receipts getting stuffed into the bottom of my bags.  I can't do that with the limited space in this bag.  It holds exactly what I need and none of the crap.

That thing in the paper bag is a brownie. Also known as: Lunch.

Here are two photos of wet London taken on the street in front of my class building (The Strand, if you're curious)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Video Update

Green Grass and Dying Leaves

In the morning, sweepers come through the borough and remove all the fallen leaves from the sidewalk.  I'm not sure if this is done for aesthetic purposes, or so the commuters don't have to slip on the rain-soaked leaves.  Either way, it has made me forget that autumn is coming to an end and winter is creeping up.  As more and more leaves begin to fall, the daily sweeping is no longer enough to keep them tidied up, and so I end up shuffling through piles of foliage as I walk back from the underground station in the afternoon.

 Morning leaves all nice and orderly

Clean streets, dreary skies

London leaves are funny things. In North Carolina leaves (that aren't pine needles, that is) turn amazing shades of red and yellow before they finally break loose.  The leaves around my residence sometimes fall when they are still green.  Consequently, all the piles of leaves on the ground are shades of green and light brown.  It is a bit like they don't want to admit it is cold.  When I took the train out to Norwich for Thanksgiving at a classmate's house, the landscape was still rich and green, even in a temperature that would be considered "the dead of winter" back home.

Flowers blooming on a tree with dying leaves 

Green and brown leaves 

My residence hall, with fake grass on the far right

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

St. Saviour

This afternoon I hopped the tube over to Monument to see if the TK Maxx there had any good winter coats and sweaters. It isn't that far away from my dormitory, but I bought a travelcard this week (unlimited subway travel in my zones) so laziness got the better of me.  I had a small love affair with the discount store TJ Maxx back home, so it only makes sense that I'd cuddle up to the UK counterpart, TK Maxx, here.  The British version carries legit designer clothing alongside generic brands, whereas the US store only had moderately expensive markdowns, but even the normal clothing doesn't run quite as cheap as in the States.

I did manage to find a fitted wool-blend DKNY short jacket in a nice dark grey color for £60 ($98) marked down from £330 ($540) and a zip-up grey sweater for £20 ($33) marked down from £120 ($195). I have tried to branch out from wearing grey and black, but the best I've done was add a dark red sweater to the mix. It isn't intentional, I swear! The styles and designs I like just so happen to only be on sale in these colors.

Since the night was fairly warm for this time of year, and in an effort to avoid post-work tube rush hour, I decided to walk back over London Bridge to my dorm.  London is amazing at night.  Seriously, props to whoever was like "hmmm...I know! Lets put lights EVERYWHERE!" because the city looks lovely. I snapped some quick shots of the Anglican Southwark Cathedral.  There are assorted myths about the founding of a Christian site here, but the earliest date is around 600CE and something has been confirmed to be on the site by approximately 1000CE. Also known as St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie, the location has gone through many changes in the thousand or so years it has been used for worship. Also, it looks pretty.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Curry, Clothes, and that abominable four letter C-word: Cold

Up until around last week London had been unseasonably warm.  So much so that it was actually colder back home in North Carolina.  Not saying that it was hot out by any means, but it was warmer than England usually is in November.  Then shit took a turn for the normal and the temperature dropped.  It hasn't really gotten below freezing here yet, but the wind and giant lack of central heating makes it seem a bit worse to my whiny Southern self.  Thankfully, my dorm has pretty good insulation and a happy little radiator in my own room.

So this was me for most of last week and this week. Curled up underneath my fuzzy blanket from Primark (more on Primark later, a store of this magnitude deserves its own post), I switched directions on the bed so that my head was beside the radiator. This was due to the fact that our radiators have a pre-programmed timer to turn them off after about 45 minutes.  After talking to my dorm mates, Giulia and Saloni, we figure out that there is no way to take the timer off the radiator so that it just stays on. Stupid London fire hazard protections and stuff, guess they get kinda paranoid after about half your city burns down. I don't know if it is an American thing or just an East Coast thing, but I have actually never encountered a radiator before moving here. Are these common in all of England or just at my university? Not only do my dorms have the radiators rather than central heating (and no air conditioning at all!), but the primary buildings I have classes in on campus also have large scale radiators.

In an effort to get some work done and get motivated, I promised myself my most favourite London dish if I made it out of bed, showered and dried my hair and put on makeup, and made it out to my department building on Kingsway to get some work done.  So today, after braving the Saturday tourists at Borough Market, I grabbed myself some green Thai seafood and chicken curry from Furness Fish and Game and am now updating my blog while eating my treasures on campus.

It doesn't look like much compared to the artfully arranged dishes at most fancy Thai restaurants, but the taste is pretty much on target, especially given the price. This container, packed full to the point I have to wipe down the sides with napkins, fills up a very hungry me or works as two servings for a normal hungry me.  The cost is £6, which comes to about $9.70 American, but I've learned a lot about the cost of things after living in London for some time.  Primarily, London is expensive. Far more expensive when compared to back home in NC, especially considering that the exchange rate is not in America's favor. This being said, the best advice I ever got was to get used to "normal" here and not do the exchange calculations in my head too much to determine if it is a "good" price. This isn't saying to not be vaguely aware of it, or to not be careful of being overcharged, but to realize that what you are paying for goods isn't insane by local standards.  Outside of London, the cost of living is much better, especially in regards to booze and rent, but the exchange rate still sucks.  That rant aside, this curry is very filling because they do put a nice portion of rice in there for some carbs and to absorb the curry sauce, but the dish is made up of very large chunks of dark meat chicken and heaping amounts of seafood.  Since Furness is actually primarily a high quality seller of fish, poultry, and game, all of their seafood that they use in their food is fresh and large.  I have always loved shrimp, but their Thai curry introduced me to mussels and non-fried calamari (and their calamari rings are big!).

The other half of my curry is currently in the TRS (Theology & Religious Studies) fridge. Yep, you heard me: refrigerator. Our department was one of the lucky few that got moved from a dingy hallway on the Strand Campus down the road to the new and renovated Virginia Woolf building on Kingsway this semester.  Since the building is open to postgraduates with keycard access 24/7, I like coming here to study. I have no idea what this building was before our university took over it, but they were still putting the finishing touches on remodeling it when we had orientation, and they are still having issues replacing the elevators (thankfully our department is only on the third floor, rather than the 7th, so I just walk up the stairs) Here are a few pictures I took during orientation when we first got to see the building.

A picture of our happy little kitchen, complete with microwave and fridge. 

One of my classmates, Em, also excited about the building.

The postgraduate study area. Mostly (unofficially) claimed by Postgraduate Taught and PhD students, but there is usually space for us too.

My preferred study area: the lounge. I like curling up in that sofa beside the corner and the window since there is an outlet at that wall and a nice view of Kingsway. It is usually empty, but apparently the Coptic class meets in there sometimes, as I accidentally walked in on them once. Ooops. There is another connected area with more study carrels beside this room, and the kitchen on the other side.

 And here I am, because my dad complained that I don't have enough pictures of me! Okay, it is really hard to take pictures of yourself, especially without looking like a weirdo in public. Or in my case, looking like more of a weirdo than I already do. The cooler temperatures caught me by surprise and I was completely unprepared.  I knew it would get cold, I just didn't know exactly what cold was like!  It is easy to be like "okay, I'll layer and be fine. I have my wool coat" and then you realize you don't want to trudge around in a wool coat when it isn't quite that cold yet, or that your layers just don't quite cut it. There was also the simple fact that I didn't own enough heavier layers, like sweaters, because I didn't need them in the States and cold weather clothing wasn't really out in force yet when I left at the beginning of October.

I bought a coat while my mother was here (Okay, she bought me a coat), and recently I hopped down to Oxford Street to get some more warm weather clothing.  London has some pro's and con's when it comes to shopping.  On the positive side: there are a lot of different places to shop.  There are expensive designer stores down to cheap fast-fashion places, and there are a lot of them.  There are thrift stores, vintage stores, charity shops, markets, and everything in between. On the down side: It can be insanely busy.  Okay, it is usually insanely busy.  Your best bet is actually to avoid Oxford Street like the plague (Is 350 years too soon for an off-colour joke?), because all the tourists flock there.  It is a an epicenter of shopping insanity, there are multiple iterations of stores on the same street because the crowd supplies enough business for them.  The clustering of stores is why I sucked it up and went to Oxford Street to do some winter clothes shopping, so I could hop from one shop to the next without having to walk too far.  The sweater, or jumper as it is called in England, I'm wearing above I bought at H&M for about £15. The picture makes it look purple, but it is actually burgundy.

So now I am going to be productive and work on my readings. I have a presentation on Tuesday on Iain R. Edgar's "The 'true dream' in contemporary Islamic/Jihadist dreamwork: a case study on the dreams of Taliban leader Mullah Omar"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Scene: The new departmental building, late at night.

<enter Me>
Security Guard: Wait! Are you a student here?
Me: No. I'm an eccentric heiress who wears secondhand clothing, doesn't shower regularly, carries around a shit ton of books, and hangs out in dingy academic buildings during the wee hours of the night.

Yes, I'm a bloody student.
Piss off.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Yogi Bear(ly)

I hate yoga. I figure I should get that one out on the table at the very beginning.  I really really want to love yoga, but that shit just ain't in the cards for me.  Sometimes I get all politically correct and tell people that I dislike yoga because of its basis in colonialist Western appropriation, or I cache in on the elitist "religious studies" bit and tell people that I just can't take it seriously after learning about what real yoga entails.

But the reality is that I hate it because I suck at yoga.

I used to be a member of a big gym and, at one point in time, got into going to their yoga classes. I would stake out my spot on the floor and unfurl my yoga mat while the classroom filled up with women of all ages.  When the lights were dimmed and Enya's version of Indian music began to play, I would fall into the zone of posing and stretching.

Then, inevitably, my eyes would stray to the women on either side of me.  To my left would be the classic sorority girl, clad in only spandex shorts and a sports bra, twisted upside down in a slightly suggestive backbend or leisurely touching her immaculately manicured toes in a full split.  She was always perfectly glamorous, without looking "try hard", with just enough abs to give her that flat stomach body envied by all bikini-wearers. To my right would be a woman pushing 80.  This average looking grandma, wearing sweatpants perhaps woven from sustainable bamboo, would be casually meditating, in full zen mode, with her feet behind her head like a human pretzel.

These two Yogi Archetypes would effortlessly waft from pose to pose, all while I panted and strained to maintain downward dog for more than thirty seconds (my shoulders no likey).  Switch to the warrior poses and I'm tipping over and landing on my butt.  Can we just cut to the chase and go straight to corpse pose? An hour of corpse pose. That would be my type of yoga class.

I know I shouldn't compare myself to others in the class, especially those who may have been doing yoga (or "their practice" as it is apparently called) for much longer than I have, but I'm only human.  Even when I attempt to do yoga alone, I get frustrated by my lack of flexibility and balance.  No matter what I do, I just can't make yoga enjoyable for myself.

That all being said, I fully acknowledge that yoga can have health benefits.  Ignoring the spiritual claims, as I'm still skeptical of those, the stretching and steady breathing of yoga has been shown to be good for numerous different ailments.  My gastroenterologist even recommended I try yoga to help relieve my IBS symptoms.  So I have been attempting to do yoga every morning in lieu of normal stretching for my health issues, and to help me wake up and get moving.  I put together a little ten minute routine gleaned from the classes I used to go to, and I try to do it as soon as I roll out of bed in the AM.  I'll put the emphasis here on attempting. Some mornings I just don't have the extra time to do yoga, or I would much rather hit the snooze button one more time, so I'm trying not to be too hard on myself if I miss a morning or two.

Namaste and shit.