Smidgen Stories

On Tuesday I won the BBC ticket lottery and saw a live recording of a BBC Channel 4 radio show! In addition to seeing the mostly invisible aspect of radio broadcasting, I saw some fantastic views of the rooms featured in the BBC news including the main desk where the anchors sit and the background loaded with workers collecting information about UK and world current events. Couldn’t take pictures of those areas, but luckily this experience didn’t end without a few greatly appreciated Doctor Who decorations.

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Yesterday, I got another haircut as a hair model for an academy. I’m telling ya, this is a great gig if you want to save money in exchange for a few hours of your time. My first experience took three hours for a high-fashion hairstyle that was priced around $100 but, for a hair model, was free. This experience was $25, took 2 hours, and will land me a spot on the academy’s website! I am such a fan of well-timed haircuts. It’s such a permissible way to feel pampered and like a million bucks!

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Foodie adventure time: BAO! Upon hearing heaps of great reviews coupled with a resilient craving for pork buns, I braved the queue and received this fella:

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the classic pork bun

I’m sad to admit it but it didn’t live up to my expectations. However, it was still lovely to nosh on and a great reminder that “top 10” lists aren’t sacredly true for everyone’s taste. That applies to destinations, music, food, and whatever else you can rate.


Next comes some snapshots of the gorgeous Green Park followed by pictures inside the imaginarium that is Fortnum and Mason.


Here is a glimpse into the London area of Brixton. The market there is teeming with life and spirit, as are the people who are currently fighting to prevent their market’s heart from being ripped out by the man. Really sad stuff. There’s a petition to sign if you like it when towns have souls.

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Finally, I’d like to end with some pictures of QM’s somewhat oddly-located cemetery. It’s smack in the middle of campus and it’s there because they didn’t want to disturb ages-old graves, which is a great call on their part even if it does make the campus a touch strange. But anyway, this cemetery is a wonderful way to include death in daily life, so to speak, in contrast to how we usually hide it away until we must deal with it when something dies. From a philosophical biologist’s perspective, it’s also wonderful to see a symbolic coexistence of life and death in the form of graves and flowers. It reminds me of a poem we used to read on Rosh Hashana about how life is intimately entwined with death. I don’t remember it exactly, but it depicts how a tree lives on eternally after it dies. Some of it returns to soil, ready to nurture new seeds. Its fallen trunk acts as a shelter for rabbits, and so on. The cemetery can also be construed as a way to refocus on the greater themes of life after stressing over finals for weeks.

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Happy Spring and Finals season!

After seeing an IMAX about space and nearly crying during its trailer because space is so beautiful (that’s another story), let me just remind you all that you are made of stardust and your last inhale probably contained an atom that also passed through the lungs of Cleopatra and that we are the universe attempting to understand itself.

Happy Thursday! 🙂

 

 

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Discovering the US from the UK

They say a memorable aspect of living abroad is realizing how your own country compares to the rest of the world. And they’re right. Studying in London has given me an incredible vantage point from which to judge and analyze America. Confronting the assumptions I held in the US is especially interesting. For example, when comparing post-college plans with a new friend here (originally from Lebanon, moved to the UAE, now lives in London), I mentioned how I’d like to take a year off before grad school. His facial expression divulged a little incredulity, some amusement, a pinch of envy, and a whole lotta enthusiasm: He said something like “You Americans and your gap years!”

He went on to explain that here (meaning in UK and his culture), people go to uni for one area of study and then get a job afterwards. But Americans have liberal arts colleges that enable us to learn oenology in addition to our majors, we have colleges who worship their sports teams (at QM you have to pay to join a sports team- they’re not funded by the school), and we have a little something called Spring Break that fills many a Brit’s imagination with ideas of every American student stampeding to Florida to do the thing that probably 10% of us actually do.

I think that a lot of factors cause Americans to hang out in an adolescent state of mind much longer than the British. But to veer back to my point, travel educates you about new places and where you’re from. It’s all about reflection. And that’s why reading Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”, an impeccably chosen recommendation from Mary and Hug, is unmeasurably enriching my London experience.

I’m worried about this moving into high-school-English-teacher territory so I’m keeping most of the book’s meaning inside the book and not splayed out like a massacre of literature for all to see (was that passive aggressive?)

Anyways, the book follows Steinbeck, who is on the cusp of entering a new era that seduces some into excusing themselves into old men. He rejects this call of the man-child (see what I did there?) and instead turns his eyes to the American roads on a journey through the states. He does it to reacquaint himself with his homeland after living abroad for a few years, but moreso to discover the a country whose distinctive people, ways of life, mannerisms, and landscapes create the vivid, undescribable mosaic of American culture. He embarks just as the 1960s are beginning. I’m only about halfway through, but whispers of that era don’t seem to enter into the book much.

As the title suggests, Steinbeck brings along his canine pal Charley. The way that he describes his companion is heartwrenchingly dear, especially when he dually anthropomorphizes and condescends him. Charley acts as a liaison for introducing Steinbeck to characters he meets at roadside stops. And much more.

The reason why I’m talking about this book is because it’s given me so many new angles to compare experiences across time and space. It’s a reverse culture shock teaser. I can relate and reflect on Steinbeck (1) rediscovering America, and (2) when he’s undergoing momentous change in his life, and (3) at a revolutionary time in history.

I love knowing that he’s driving by default on what are modern “back roads” but in his time were the typical routes. There’s a section where he writes of the horrors of the highway. I feel for him. There’s another poignant moment where he realizes that “when we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing”. It’s so sad because he was right: that time is now. This prediction was true in more than just the literal interpretation: we’re often so focused on getting from A to B that we bypass beauty. You can fill in your own heard-them-all-before examples here but before I finish, one last interpretation. Picture-taking.

We see artsy graffiti: click. Busker playing a spunky song in a tube station: record it. Where’s the joy in leaving something beautiful where it came from and having your memory of it be enough? Why must we nervously take and photograph things we know we won’t bother to look at let alone appreciate much after the fact at the cost of breaking the beauty of an unscripted moment? I’m all for documenting memories but can’t your own knowledge that you saw a pretty thing be enough? To this end, I’m stating why I’m leaving some of the most amazing pieces of London in London.

I guess this is leading into facebook/ insecurity/ fomo etc. territory. I guess I’ll digress.

But ok to finish, if you appreciate lyrical writing, vivid imagery, and having your heart busted out from really sad but beautiful depictions of change and a romanticized America, try out “Travels with Charley”. This book has made a real impact on me and my entire study abroad experience. Bam.

Steinbeck and Charley ❤


In other news, I recently went to London’s BOARD GAME CAFE! Went on a Wednesday afternoon/evening, and by 7 pm, the place was packed! Enjoyed a Hackney cider and some jenga all while feeling the hipsterness coming at me from all angles. We finished with some very Anglocentric Trivial Pursuit that left both the American and the Portuguese at a disadvantage. All in all, very fun. Worth a visit if you still can’t shake your love of board games (honestly why would you ever dream of such blasphemy?!)

from Draughts’ website

And finally, on the academic studying circuit, for all your synapsid, Cambrian Explosion, and zygapophyses-related queries, you know who to call!

God, how I miss couches

London has some great cafes, museums, places to walk around, but for the student, there are few places that offer supreme unwinding resources. My optimal version equates to

  • A couch with fuzzy pillows
    • blankets are bonuses
  • Soft lighting. Great ambiance is hard to find
  • Serene music or gentle silence
  • Pets are a plus

It may be April, but I feel my cosiness meter hasn’t yet met its quota for the past winter. Heck, we barely had any rain in London this spring! So with the lack of snow and bitter cold (utterly grateful, though) and even rain, I think I have some cosiness catching up to do. If you can’t find me this summer, check under blanket forts and quilts. And if that fails, seek out the knitting section of AC Moore. And whatever happens, you can certainly come over for teatime because heaven knows that habit won’t be ending anytime soon! Even bought my own teapot, cup, and saucer here!


If you couldn’t tell from my last post, April’s been sort of a lonely month for me. I have no classes, just tons of time to work on a paper and study for exams. Whereas I only have two, which are spaced out pretty well, my flatmates average something like six each (there’s no first semester exam period here) so they spend ALL DAY in the library. Seriously. Their friends are there to socialise, there’s a cafe for food (or they come back to the flat for an hour to eat or nap.) On the other hand, some of my American friends are using this time to jet-set because they only have papers due or exams late in the testing period. So, I’m more lonely than I’d like to be right now. But fear not- I found some lovely (but temporary) companionship in the fellas at the Spitalfields Farm! It was set up almost like a zoo in that people could walk amongst the animals. But it was a zoo with substantial meaning- not just a simple source of public education/amusement (I don’t believe in zoos.)

Most of my newfound besties are easy to see but some- let’s say the rather sheepish ones- fancied themselves some hide-and-go-seek.

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Watson or Holmes, a New Zealander

Watson or Holmes, a New Zealander!

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Hope ze wasn't embaaaarressed :/

Hope ze wasn’t embaaaaaaarressed :/

Was this sheep celebrating 4/20 a little early? Or just a baller? That face is difficult to translate

Was this sheep celebrating 4/20 a little early? Or just a baller? That face is difficult to translate

So, besides all that, not much else has been going on with the exception of writing a humongous paper for Geographies of Nature. It’s almost done: Fifteen double-spaced pages! The topic has been really cool to explore, though, and I’m more than happy to discuss it with anyone who’s interested. Basically, I begin by talking about a tool called a species meeting, where at least two organisms “meet”. This might occur when an ant nibbles off part of a leaf, someone goes bird-watching, or you eat a hamburger. Next, the paper goes into what species meetings can and can’t tell us about the nature of the human-animal boundary. An example of an advantage of a SM is that by thinking about the bacteria that live all over our bodies and are necessary for our survival, we can question whether humans should consider those other organisms as part of our identities. A disadvantage of a SM could be that they’re often difficult to arrange: there is an untold number of unidentified animals left to be discovered, or that many people mislabel species (how many times have you called an alligator a crocodile, or vice versa?) The paper wraps up with a discussion of what supposedly distinguishes humans from all other animals and then seeks to reconcile that boundary, concluding that human exceptionalism is a pretty dumb concept. Looks like I won’t be attending a Humanism festival anytime soon. But here are some festivities to come: an Edible Cake Garden, a Summer Craftacular, and a World Book Night giveaway!

The Power of Loneliness + PAUL SIMON

I’ve been in at least 2 situations where bouncers don’t bother to check my age while my companions get stopped- each of them older than me! Sorta cool.

Also, although I love being so distanced from America through boycotting a conventional smartphone texting service and its apps (snapchat, etc.) and facebook, I admit that that distance has left me feeling lonely more often than I like. Even 3 months in, it’s still sort of strange to rely on email, skype, this blog, and pretty much the post in order to contact friends and fam. However, I still think it’s worth it to stick it out until I return to the states. I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to majorly de-tech myself (OMG that was an AWESOME PUN. ((detach ~ de-tech)) ) in the future without many formidable consequences. But then I think, but this is just like how it used to be… weird.

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pulling the plug

Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. As an introvert, I thrive on alone time and rarely feel lonely during those periods. However, although I do have an abundance of independent Sophie time at college, much more than during high school, that amount pales in comparison to the amount at Queen Mary. It’s probably because of a multitude of factors: less in-class instruction time, fewer extracurriculars, fewer friends (it’s worked out well- there’s more to it than just a number, though), etc. And don’t get me wrong- it’s not like I didn’t have enough activities or ideas to fill it. But the fact is that, at least for me, studying abroad exposed me to possibly the most unstructured free time I’ve ever faced (maybe barring childhood summers.)

Predictably, it’s been both favorable and disappointing at times. I’ve relearned how to motivate myself to start essays 3 weeks before they’re due (an eon in college time) but have also confronted new (and accordingly, scary) levels of self-reliance. Going into this experience, I think I understood this partially, but by being in a wildly new place and situation, it’s going to be pretty important to like yourself. You’ll be your only companion, navigator, (mental) conversation partner, and much more during many, many minutes. The specificity of that “many, many” is of course dependent on the type of person you are, but nonetheless, it will probably still be atypically high.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a stable group of pals since I was little. At school, camps, and other programs I’d prioritize forming bonds with the other kids. But here, although I’ve met some great people, I’ve sought the social interaction I crave in a pretty different way. Or maybe it just feels that way. Here, I supplement my social quota by chatting with strangers also waiting for a haircut or for the concert to start, per se. Relatedly, I feel human connection when

Thousands of strangers squeezed into one arena are suspended in the same energy-charged ether emanating from not just the world-class performers on stage but each other… Hands reach to encircle their lover’s waists, eyes close to minimize distraction from the music, and an undeniable feeling of togetherness unites the pulsing crowd. Even though I’ve come to this concert by myself, there’s no chance of feeling alone.

So yeah, Paul Simon and Sting… you might think of them as peanut butter and pickles, musically. But after being physically tired out by the hit-after-hit, nearly three hour long extravaganza, I have no choice to report that this fusion was incredibly successful. Of course, Sting had a chance to do his rock’n’roll thing and Paul Simon unleashed some particularly mellow tunes on his own time, but when they did collaborate, it was harmonious (PSIMON PUN). I lost track, but I think they played something like three separate encores, each bowling over the audience more than the last- “Cecilia”, “Every Breath You Take”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”… A total of 36 whopping songs.

Favorite parts:

-When Paul Simon first came on stage, which unexpectedly left me with a face slick with tears. I think it was because I was so happy to see such an influential musician who provided me with stories and harmonies that kept me feeling grounded and comforted during intense times of growing up.

-“You Can Call Me Al” sent the entire audience into a dancing, clapping frenzy. Paul definitely proved his power as a performer.

-“Every Breath You Take”. It was magical. Sting has the voice of a young rockstar, still- the timelessness of his performance was spellbinding.

Mini-piphany

I finally understand why travel is so crucial for self-discovery! In a way that’s concise and easily put into words!

We are defined by our actions. Having just spoken with my bff and giving advice that I know I’m just as likely to forget as I am to heed (a personal weakness), I know very well that actions speak much louder than words.

Travel is all about acting and reacting. How do you cope with no wifi and a delayed train? Do you sit and grumble for a minute, ten minutes, or until the train finally arrives? Then, what do those choices tell you about yourself? That you like to thoroughly evaluate your situation and let yourself experience those negative emotions, or that you’d rather try to brush them off?

By meeting other people from intensely different backgrounds, what happens when they tell you about how they’re a humanist and believe we should all get bioinic arms immediately? Do you find yourself armed with tens of arguments about why humans are doomed and we’re really no better than animals, and that bionic arms undermine our human condition and are extremely dangerous? Once more, what do these reactions tell you about who you are?

In sum, I realize travel is really all about setting yourself up with lots of situations- strange, challenging, exciting, painful situations- and by finding ways through them, you discover personal characteristics. It’s impossible to simply peer inside yourself and spelunk for a personality trait; you must find something that will provide you with an opportunity to act, then reflect on your performance.

Travel is great for finding the weirdest of the weird as well as the stunning sights that push you to your boundaries and elicit out-of-the-ordinary responses. It truly provides opportunities to figure out how to persevere amidst never-before-experienced situations.

Go studying abroad!

Summers in the Cities

Starting to think about some very enticing thoughts about home these days. Officially reached the 3 month mark. Excited to see my family, my friends, my town in the summer… telling friends about awkward run-ins and runnings-away-from with high school peers and teachers and knowing they’ll feel almost as uncomfortable as I did in the moment… circling around downtown in search of a parking spot… no homework… and ah, SUMMER!

Random sidenote: Can anyone give me a clue about why I got 255 hits on this blog during one hour last Sunday? I think it must be a glitch or some bot because it’s ridiculous.


Also decided on my last hurrah trip! Let’s play a game to figure it out!

Days 1-3: When you multiply something by two, what are you doing to that number? Remove the O and the G  on the end.

Final answer?

DUBLIN! 

The next destination’s linguistic clue: If you send something in the mail, it’s a _____. Subtract the first letter, change it to B. Next 2 syllables: You have a Boston accent and say that you are the possessor of something; you are its ______.

Answer is…

BARCELONA! 


And finally, some pictures! First are some from the incredible Camden Lock Market and a cool hippie crunchy granola place Michelle and I went to, feeling proper Wesleyan-y once more. This place was on my bucket list from last post (Inspiral Cafe) and I’ll leave the rest to the pictures. Pictures from the market and Regent’s Canal follow, then a snapshot from the top of Primrose Hill. It was taken on one of the first truly summery days of the year, where the sunlight streams from every direction, couples picnic and cuddle, the babies and dogs come out to play, and the park is so vivid that it seems that this is where the greener grass has been all along. (Except when it takes you a 45 minutes to traverse the park and get to tube!!!)

mmm.

mmm.

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The title of this post refers to the dominant shape of my mouth throughout my trip to Devon for Easter. It also describes how my mind felt after using the same superlatives over and over again, having exhausted my vocabulary that couldn’t measure up to my surroundings.

Devon is breathtaking. And vocabulary-stealing! Honestly, even though my days in the countryside were filled with good feeling and relaxation, I did worry a tad that I wasn’t talking enough, mostly because I couldn’t match any words to my emotions! I’m going to stop trying to explain it any further besides insisting that DEVON IS BEAUTIFUL and this trip was surprisingly introspective for me (lots of musing about various life/love/work philosophies and whether or not I’ll permit myself to snapchat again, come June), so I won’t be writing as much as I normally would.

To start, here’s a little glimpse of how my heart felt as I raced on the train across the country past thousands of old and young Artiodactyls. They dotted the emerald fields, little white and black specks. The little ones were the most fun to watch (obvi): they often clung to their parents’ sides or practiced being a sheep by burying their noses in the grass. However, the most dear thing they did was leap every which way. They way that they bounced reminded me of those feelings when you start to fall for someone that are just bursting with hope and zest for life and giddiness. Maybe they were falling in love with life? Or maybe I just wrote a really embarrassing sentence relating sheep and love? (no, that’s a definite.) Sticking with it. The world needs more unapologetically sappy sheepoets! (OMG LOOK AT THIS!!! “Quantum Sheep” is a type of poetry! Click here for some fine examples!!)

And now that I’ve taken a short tangent, here’s what I’ve been building up to this whole time: LEAPING SHEEP!

   

Facts about the trip: I stayed with a dear friend (and her husband) of my Auntie J, who live in a thatched-roof abode in mid-Devon. Retrospectively, I realize that they told me a ton of information about their lives, their choices, and by being with them, I learned a heap about having fun while balancing the weighty aspects of a full life. They were so gracious, warm, and welcoming (as was my quilt-covered bed!) Quaint, quirky, hilarious decorations filled the snug rooms and greenery poured out from the ground outside, with bluebells, daffodils, and violets reaching towards the sun.

Maybe it was just a product of my current reading material, but the setting seemed to have multiple connections to Frodo’s Shire. Yes, it was Easter, but imagine abundant gift-giving, cozy homes, dirt/gravel lanes, and generally convivial neighbors. The physical environment was very hobbit-esque too: full of green moss and arching hills.

Also worth noting that the morning I left from Paddington station, I briefly conversed with a ticket agent in pig latin. I didn’t just start speaking it or anything- he slipped out some humor and gave me the opportunity, so of course I nabbed it. Just as my dad does, I think the trigger that led to our unique little interchange was that I first greeted him and asked how he was doing. He immediately perked up and apparently greased the alternative-language-gears. So there you have it- a little friendliness goes an onglay ayway! 🙂

And now for the pictures! (Sidenote: I can’t believe the number of times I’ve referenced cats on this blog about studying abroad! I’m not even a cat person! What’s happening to me?!?)

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My hosts graciously drove me up to Dartmoor, a huge national park that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Hound of the Baskervilles during his stay in what’s now the visitor’s center! Upon standing on a hill and peering out over the stark, muted landscape, I understood how a savage monster could live here. Sheep and semiwild ponies wander around. There are also remnants of ancient communities that are now mostly concurrent circles of stone.

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And now comes a confession that undermines my entire study abroad log.

I wish I had eyelashes I could so dramatically lower like hers. Just for this moment.

When I came to London with my family, I first tried clotted cream at the Crypt Cafe below St Martin in the Fields church. As I’ve previously described, it was life-changing and wonderful and yada yada. So when I booked a trip to Devon, home of the original clotted cream, I was even more excited to taste “the real thing”.

So after seeing Dartmoor, we drove through the hills in search of a proper cream tea to satisfy the lone item on my Devon bucket list. We found a cafe, I placed my order, and this lovely thing appeared:

c l o t t e d  c r e a m .

REAL   c l o t t e d   c r e a m .

Look at that dairy delight! Lactoseful luxury! Temptational topping!

It was MUCH different that what I’d had in the crypt: it was extremely thick and very subtle in taste. Therefore, it pains me to say that I named this blog after what my hosts suggested was probably a whipped type of cream that wasn’t actually clotted. But that’s okay. I still enjoyed my Devon cream tea and obvi my first cream tea, even if it was sort of fake.

Stefon and I are a lil embarrassed.

yumyumyumyum!

yumyumyumyum!

Here are some final pictures. And to end this post, some final points about my stay in Devon:

  • Birdsong abounded
  • Sunshine wasn’t always available but the blooming flowers everywhere kept it sunny
  • It was so real. As in: authentic, genuine, true.

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