Monday, February 26, 2007

Internet Junkies

Our dependence on the Internet in this day and age is incredible! I need it even more than I need a telephone: I need to access my e-mail more than I need to talk to anyone. I need to look up information online that I would never be able to find in books. For heaven’s sake, I need the internet to put up this blog post. It’s incredible how dependent we’ve become.

Without internet, I would be sending my scholarship application back to the states in hard copy via Royal Mail. I would not be corresponding with anybody at home about how to fix up my essay or resume; I would either ask someone here to give them a read, or else mail copies to someone back home and try telephone conferencing in order make improvements. Without internet, my friends would be forced to write me letters, buy a calling card, or simply lose contact with me while I am overseas. Without internet, I would have to use the list of birthdays I store in my address book to remember when to send cards to my friends rather than relying on Facebook for reminders. Without internet, librarians would have to be friendlier, because many more students would ask them questions, considering the number of books and magazines that would be used for research.

Without internet….

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Substandard Living

Written February 23, 2007, 1 am GMT:

I have been trying to connect to the internet in my Holland House residence for the past five hours. At 21:35 EST, 2/24/2007, my response to a Write-On submission for the UR Writing Program is due. I must e-mail this response, and in order to do this, I need the internet to work. My integrity as a Writing Fellow depends upon this tentative connection. I have no way to tell anyone at the University of Rochester that I may not be able to complete this assignment in time, because all means of communication between me and anyone at that institution require the internet.

Have I mentioned that the English seem quite content to settle for less than they pay for? I find this to be overwhelmingly true with athletic facilities, but I have now found residential services to fir that trend, as well. Not only is there no internet provided in the dorm rooms (you have to go to the basement to get wireless access), but suddenly, even that internet access is temperamental—only occasionally available at best. Furthermore, I have only one electrical outlet in my room (into which, conveniently enough, the one lamp with which they provided me was plugged when I arrived), and the steam heater at one end of my closet-sized room is so ineffective that I had to request a small space heater from the porter (which, ironically enough, only fits underneath my desk and receives power only because I purchased a fifteen-quid power strip soon after discovering my room’s lack of outlets). Is this sub-standard living, or are Americans just spoiled?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Lost in Translation

We might all speak English here, but some meaning of words still gets lost in translation. I already explained this once, in the jumper/sweater conversation I had with Fluf (see the Little Things: clothing post). However, I come across more and more important ones. Take, for instance, the several nights ago when a bunch of us were hanging out in Fluf’s room, playing Psychiatrist (an exciting game involving a person dubbed “psychiatrist” questioning everyone in order to determine the “condition” of all the “patients” in the room). During this game, I kept having to describe what I was wearing. My response would be “gray pants and a gray T-shirt.” Every time I spoke, all the Brits in the room seemed to get a little smile on their faces. This remained a total mystery to me until finally, the other day, Fluf explained to me that I wear “trousers,” not pants. Now, my initial reaction to calling my jeans or sweatpants “trousers” was one of resistance, particularly because that terms seems so formal and old-fashioned. However, when he proceeded to inform me that “pants” means “underpants,” I quickly revised my mental vocabulary.

This is kind of similar to when I was first told to always call a “fannypack” a “bumbag.” Doesn’t “bumbag” sound like a silly term? It only sounds silly until you find out that “fanny,” in England, means vagina. That discovery gave a whole new meaning to my reading of Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. As for “bumbags,” I now just avoid using the term at all.

The same night we played Psychiatrist in Fluf’s room, he offered us all dessert. “Ice cream and jelly,” was what he offered to go get from the kitchen. This sounded a bit odd, but I figured that the jelly must just be a substitute for other toppings like chocolate or caramel sauce, so I accepted the offer. Plus, Sophie and Urvi were terribly excited over eating this concoction, so I assumed it must be a really yummy combination. Then, Fluf brings in a container of ice cream and . . . a bowl of Jello.

Note to self: never ask for jelly for your toast at any restaurant. Weird looks will follow.

Fluf was appalled that we call “jelly” by its commercial name. Meanwhile, I had never noticed. Yet, I do take great pains not to refer to “tissues” as “Kleenex.” Another name-brand label I caught was Band-Aid. They’re called “plasters” here. If you ask for a Band-Aid, as I did at basketball practice one Friday, no one will admit to having one. However, say “plaster,” and all of a sudden, every girl starts rooting around in her bag. It was like magic.

This is not to accuse Americans of being the only ones to use name brands to label common products. Brits actually have their very own verb, generated from a name brand. They do not vaccuum their rooms; they “Hoover” them.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Sweets Uncovered

During my weekend in London, I experienced another first: Cadbury chocolate. Let me tell you, as a person who does not even like chocolate very much, this is one of the most delicious substances I have ever tasted. From now on, I’m boycotting Hershey’s; it would just be a disappointment. The best way to describe the “Cadbury difference” is that it is so much creamier. I never realized now much American chocolate tastes like wax until I ate this stuff. You just take a little square on your tongue and let it melt into velvety goodness inside the heat of your mouth. Mmmm. Chewing it would be like sacrilege.

This brings me to a Big Question. While the four of us—Flannery and Kate (the London flatmates) and Grace (the visitor from Nahant)—indulged ourselves in Cadbury decadence, we began to discuss other “British sweets.” Surprisingly, all of us agreed upon one we absolutely had to try: Turkish delight. Why? Because after reading/seeing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, all of us had a burning desire to taste the sweet that was so good that Edmund would betray all of his siblings for it.

C.S. Lewis may have written the novel to promote Christianity, but the four of us decided that he also must have also been paid off by a candy company. Because after reading that book, you know there was only one question on every child’s mind: “What is Turkish delight?”

Tate Britain

I went to London this past weekend to visit some my friends from University of Rochester who are studying there (and one who flew in from France to visit for the week). The Saturday I arrived, we ate breakfast at the Victoria train station (despite the fact that I arrived by coach—my friend Flannery got a bit confused) and spent the afternoon exploring the Tate Britain. Ordinarily, I am not a fan of museums, nor do I consider myself much of an art aficionado. I like art well enough, but I usually only enjoy looking at it on display at art festivals, where A) there is the prospect (or fantasy) of my buying it and B) the artist is alive and usually sitting right there amidst all of his/her artwork. Alternatively, staring at paintings deemed “great” by some abstract entity, just because they were created by dead historical guys, in big white-walled rooms usually is not my idea of a good time. This time, though—whether it was due to my “maturing” nature or just the nature of the Tate Britain itself—I actually appreciated the experience of walking an art museum.

This is not to say that everything impressed me. I will never understand those paintings that look as though the artist just smeared some colors together and never got around to painting his subject, nor will I appreciate how a circle on a big white canvas is “modern art.” Nevertheless, I did see several paintings which did impress me. Particularly, I enjoyed looking at those whose subject was inspired by some piece of literature or Greek mythology. Actually, I preferred any painting that was accompanied by a story-like description. I guess I’m just a sucker for a good story after all. Send me to a library—forget the paintings.

Here are some paintings and artists that especially impressed me:

  • Harvest Home, Sunset: The Last Load—John Linnell
  • Cain and Abel and Communication of Hate—Keith Vaughan
  • Study of a Dead Child, the Artist’s Son—William Lindsay Windsus
  • Mariana and Ophelia—John Everett Millias
  • The Eve Trilogy—George Fredric Watts
  • Thursday—Walter Dendy Sadler
  • A Hopeless Dream—Frank Bramley

    I considered buying postcards of some of these images, but looking at them in the giftshop, I just was not affected by the image in the same way as when I viewed the original painting. I don’t know what that says about artwork and facsimile, but I do know that I didn’t buy the cards.

  • Friday, February 16, 2007

    The Alchemist

    I just finished The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It was a birthday present from my cousin, who taught English in France (two years ago?) and found the book very “traveler appropriate.” It is definitely appropriate for someone who decides to leave home in any capacity, in more ways than one.

    The book is about a boy looking for his Personal Legend, or to fulfill his purpose in life and pursue what it is that will truly make him happy. He is at first expected to become a priest in his home, Andalusia, but has a thirst for travel, so becomes a shepherd. By a series of coincidents and through meeting a variety of characters, he undertakes a quest to Egypt to find his “treasure.” Along the way, he discovers that the experiences he has are what matter most in obtaining his Personal Legend, because they teach him not only about the world, but about himself. The boy learns how to exist as himself in the world.

    The book as a whole has a very patient, ethereal feel to it. I preferred the first half because it was grounded in very real events and how the boy felt about them and reacted to them. I guess I related most to this half, because this is when the boy leaves his home country and everything familiar to him to travel to Egypt. He is in a new, foreign place, knowing that there is a Universal Language he is able to interpret and yet being surrounded by strange new Arabic culture, language, and people. He has doubts, he wants to return to the safety and security of shepherding, something he knows and is good at. How can I help but relate?

    The second half of the book focuses more on spiritual matters and, I feel, gets a little preachy in its repetitiveness. Its main message, in cliché terms, is “listen to the heart.” This could be interpreted as “trust your instincts,” but I came away from the novel feeling that the important thing to do no matter where and what one decides to do is to learn to know themselves. Maybe people ignore their true selves—their desires, their passions, their curiosities, their fears—to keep their lives on an “even keel.” The more I read about the characters the boy meets and saw they way the boy became more self-aware throughout the story, the more I realized the way that people ignore themselves. I could probably find countless instances of doing it myself throughout a single day.

    I guess the “moral of the story” is “to thine own self be true,”—obviously, much easier said than done. This book allows readers to watch a character learn how to do that.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    American Inferiority Complex

    I have figured it out: Americans all have inferiority complexes. This explains why we are so competitive. These complexes are hidden in our system of capitalism, which trickles down to everything, particularly our athletics. Still, even when I wasn’t training for a sport, I was competing against someone—someone was in my mind who I had to be more in shape than, stronger than, faster than, who I had to look better than, have a sleeker body than—and this is why I always needed to get better when I exercised. I wanted to run farther every day, lift more weight ever session, swim faster every set.

    Here, though, now that there is no team to train with and no facilities to train at, and particularly now that I’m trying to recover from the flu, I don’t have anyone to compete against. And the important thing is, I’m less inclined to compete against myself. I just want to stay healthy. I want to exercise to feel good and to stay in shape. It’s just such a different outlook than I am used to having or being around. You can say it or even want to believe it, but if your internal motivation isn’t that simple, every action has more pressure behind it. That’s why so many people give up exercise regimes, I feel: it’s not that they’re too hard, it’s that the people are competing against some internal image, and it takes too much mental strength to keep failing. I am very afraid to come back to the States and be unable to keep failing again.

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Blockbuster or No?

    Movies I’ve seen since I’ve been here (probably more subtitled than not, we’ll see):

  • The Departed [with—at that time—nameless Holland House Americans, early in my stay]
  • Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind [with Fluf]
  • Night at the Museum [with Angela and Michelle
  • Closer [Sophie’s movie, with Fluf]
  • Amelie --in French ([with Fluf]
  • City of God --not English, anyway [with Fluf]
  • The Edukators --in German [with Fluf and his German friend]
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest [with Fluf and Adam]
  • Mr. Bean episodes (okay, this isn’t a movie, but these count—they’re British exposure) [with Sophie, Andreas, Adam, Anna, and Urvi]
  • Talk to Her --in Spanish [with Angela, Melanie, and Kimberley]

    My favorites of the list were probably The Departed, Eternal Sunshine, City of God (my second-and-a-half time seeing it, I might add) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Jack Nicholson plays major roles in two of those films—coincidence? I doubt it. So much for developing a taste for foreign films over here. Although I still have five months.

    They’re definitely different; they view the world from different angles than the typical blockbuster, I will give them that. That was part of the reason I absolutely adored City of God. It took what could have been a conventional “street gang” tale and told it in a most unconventional way that made you, as the audience, truly engage in the film. I love that. Amelie was a gorgeous film—with really neat cinematography and truly stunning color schemes woven throughout the entire picture—but I am simply not a big fan of characters studies for the sake of character studies. The Edukators just beat its audience over the head with its ideals way too much. The plot turned out to be just as trite as it set out to be, which was a major disappointment, and the movie’s only saving grace was the simple, almost documentary-style way the director had of filming young German rebels living on the fringe in both urban and rural Europe—which, living in Europe at the moment, somewhat spoiled the effect for me. (Silly Americans—don’t buy into the movie just because it’s set somewhere pretty and foreign!) Finally, as for Talk to Her, I liked the movie most when it raised its important questions. Unfortunately, it then attempted to offer answers for some of those questions right at the end of the film and tried to raise other questions that didn’t matter nearly as much. I think that’s what ruined it for me—the ending is always what the audience remembers most, or at least it’s what leaves a lingering effect.

    Writing down every movie I watched and with whom makes me realize what a social event watching movies is for me. I’ve always known television- and movie-watching is a social activity for me—I never do it alone anymore—but look at all the people with whom I’ve engaged by simply watching movies: there are eleven on this list alone! Granted, I usually don’t watch so many movies when I’m at school in Rochester, but nevertheless . . . . I guess this is just one more thing I appreciate in life: taking the time to watch a movie with friends, rather than watching a movie OR being with friends.

  • Saturday, February 10, 2007

    Eating In

    My new favorite vegetables:
  • Cabbage
  • Zucchini (called courgettes here)
  • Eggplant (called aubergines here)

    Particularly in stir-fry and in ratatouille, these vegetables are delicious! I also tend to eat tons and tons of chickpeas, because chicken (called, well, chicken, I suppose) here is bloody expensive. That is one food I will appreciate loads more when I return to the states. I’ve been told I’m a vegetarian for not eating red meat, but I am not and never will be a vegetarian; I miss the taste and texture of the air and the sea in my mouth. Or, rather, its creatures. Brighton gets plenty of wind and rain.

  • 9/11

    This evening, I met a girl (or should I say woman? She’s 31, but I cannot seem to perceive her as being much older than me) from Scotland. She’s visiting Fluf this weekend for a BiFest (bisexual festival) which he is helping to host in Brighton. As she told me about her experiences in the States, she told me she was actually trying to get back to Scotland on the day of 9/11. She was visiting a friend near Lake Huron and had to get a bus back to NYC for her flight out, but obviously, because of the pandemonium that erupted that day, no buses were going into the city. She made it as far as New Jersey I think, and then had to wait for quite a while to get into the city and catch a plane.

    Her family was frantic, knowing she was near or perhaps even in New York at that time, but she says she was totally unconcerned. It wasn’t that she didn’t care or wasn’t affected by the horror of what was happening to our country; it was just so surreal, it didn’t seem like it could be happening. The way she told the story, it seems as though she didn’t really feel affected by what was happening because 1) it wasn’t her country, 2) it was America, so surely we could handle it, and 3) if she were to fully psychologically realize the horror of the attack, she may not have been able to function capably enough to get home.

    It makes me wonder how I would react if something catastrophic were to happen while I were here. What if the Queen were to die during my remaining five months over here? Would the whole country go into mourning and I just wouldn’t care? Or what if something terrible happened in America? How would I feel? New York City was far enough away from me on 9/11 that I hardly felt affected, despite knowing that it was my own country being attacked, that people were dying. People die on the news every day; seeing bodies falling from a burning building wasn’t anything particularly stunning. Terrorists, war, uncertainty as to what would happen next--those were what affected me more. Now, I’m in an entirely different country, I don’t know how I would feel if something were to happen in my homeland. Perhaps I would feel more patriotic. After all, I didn’t become a proud Pittsburgher until I went away to school in Rochester, New York. How strange, that moving away from your home can make you more loyal to it.

    Thursday, February 8, 2007

    Flu Perspective

    It’s very odd to think about being sick from various perspectives. You’d think being sick is being sick: a miserable state of being in which you are prevented from doing all of things you want to do because your corporeal being seems insistent upon punishing you for what may or may not be your fault.

    Obviously, I’m not happy to be sick. No one enjoys simultaneously shivering while sweating through your bedsheets, coughing so hard you think your deltoids will pop out of your back, and picking crust out of your eyes so you can see to find the tissue box on the floor, amongst other flu-related activities. Plus, being sick away from home is terrible, much less in a foreign country. Not only is your mother not around to make you chicken soup, but there is no television in your bedroom, you can’t wash the germs out of your bedsheets unless you want to spend four pounds (i.e. $8) and drag your hurting body up and down multiple flights of stairs, you don’t know what sort of medicine to buy (the same way you didn’t know what sort of food to buy when you first arrived), and you can’t even call anyone to complain about your condition because of the time difference—they’re all still sound asleep.

    This all being said, I realized that I am far happier to have gotten sick here in the UK than if I stayed at UR this semester. Why? Because had I stayed at UR, I would have continued to train with the swim team for UAAs, and if I had gotten sick at this exact same time, all that work would have been for nothing. Well, the work would not have been for nothing—the work is reward in itself—but all that training and anticipation would have led to extreme disappointment.

    Instead, I am faced with much more immediate but significantly lesser disappointments: tonight, I was supposed to attend a dinner being cooked by Michelle and Angela on the third floor. I may still attend, but I’m not sure how hungry I’ll be. I was also going to go to King Alfred to swim a session with the Shivers’ Swim Club tonight, and Anna, a first-floor housemate from Poland, asked to come along because she used to be a competitive swimmer, as well. Unfortunately, that will not be happening, nor will I be going out with Sophie and her boyfriend—who is coming in from a neighboring town—Adam, Anna, and Urvi, as I had intended to when Sophie invited me last night. Rather, I will be lying in my room, taking medication, drinking tea, perhaps musing on the English essay which I must write this weekend, probably sleeping.

    I probably got the flu from going to Reading with the volleyball team; the entire team is now sick, as we have determined from e-mailing one another about practice this week. However, had I not gone along to the tournament, I would not have gotten to know the girls well enough to meet up with some of them at Varsity that night to watch the Super Bowl, and I probably wouldn’t have been invited by the coach to play in the game against Kent next week. I am so excited to feel like I’m about to be “part of a team.” Belonging is such an important feeling, and I think that is why I always crave being part of some team, no matter where in the world I am.

    Wednesday, February 7, 2007


    Every time we miss the ball or screw up a play, the Sussex volleyball coach Dave says, “Unlucky.” Here has been my series of “unlucky” recent events:
  • First and foremost, the tragic loss of my camera. I took it to a repair shop today, but they told me I may as well buy a new one, for what it would cost me to get it repaired. So much for having any money left over at the end of this trip.
  • Second, I am now most unluckily sick. I woke up with a progressively worse sore throat the other day, which promptly turned into some sort of fever last night, and now I am stuck with whatever illness comes next. What’s more, I thought I was done looking like a moron in shops, but now I am hunting for yet more foreign goods, namely throat lozenges. Would you believe that Halls don’t come in bags over here? Apparently, British people buy rolls of throat lozenges they way I am accustomed to buying rolls of mints or Lifesavers in grocery store checkout lines. Now, I’m trying a brand called Lockets because it appears to have more medicine and less sugar than Halls. Go figure.
  • Third, the Study Abroad Office here has buggered me again (hooray! finally an instance to use that word “bugger”—it’s so British). They refused to allow me to sell my Lewes Walk ticket back, even though I could feel myself getting sick and didn’t think I would make it to the event. The starting cite was the Lewes train station—a place no one I asked had ever heard of—but since I was stuck with the ticket, I was going to go on this walk. I Googled and bus-routed until I could determine exactly which line would get me to Lewes and which streets I should walk down in order to get from the bus stop to the railway station. That evening, I was nearly late to getting my first bus down to Churchill square, where I needed to catch my line to Lewes. However, when I got there the bus number was nowhere to be seen on the departure signs. I searched and I searched, and finally, after re-examining the schedule I had brought with me, I realized that the line I needed, 85, only ran during the daytime—that is, until 6pm. It was 6:30. Blast inconvenient public transportation, and blast human stupidity!
  • Monday, February 5, 2007

    Carl's Cookies

    The other evening, while I was making dinner—a delicious ratatouille, I might add, which shall serve as a dish to expand my ever-growing vegetarian repertoire—Carl, a fellow American from Bowden College, came into the kitchen laden with shopping bags. From the looks of things, he intended to do some baking. As he began to assemble his ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on the counter, I complimented him on his ambition. Gradually, I realized that he was blindly ambitious. Firstly, he informed me—with some incredulity, lessened by our time having lived here—that the largest bags of chocolate chips Tesco had were these. He held up bags of chocolate chips smaller than bags of M&Ms you can find at rest stops on some American turnpikes. Hence, he had bought four.

    Before he could even begin, Carl came up with an immediate shortage: no mixing bowl. Granted, we are a communal kitchen, but how many college students bake from scratch? Looking around, I suggested that he use the next largest container: a wok. Thus, he was reduced to grinding away at his sugar and butter by hand—for we certainly lacked electric beaters, if we had no mixing bowl—in a wok. As the butter had no markings, Carl asked me to estimate if I thought it looked like two American sticks worth of butter. It looked a little short, but the hunk looked about the width of two sticks, so I told him so. What a shoddy manner of baking! One piece of information I was able to impart in a confident manner, however, was how to measure brown sugar: Carl was complaining about how white sugar settled so nicely into the measuring cup (we did have one of those in the kitchen by chance), while brown sugar never measured reliably. I came over to him and told him that was because he had to use a spoon and pack it down into the cup.

    Finally, after seemingly endless mixing, the cookies were inserted into an oven preheated to an interminable temperature (a 5 on a 1-6 dial oven) and baked for an indeterminable time (until they looked done, apparently). As there was an entire batch, however, the communal kitchen became filled with communal cookies, which did come out rather tasty, if a bit crisp.

    Once again, I was reminded why I do not bake away from home: the unknown requires improvisation, and baking is a science—improvisation is not my forte in this realm. Carl succeeded, though, and is now the kitchen favorite.

    A catastrophic event

    I never intended to see the Super Bowl: the Steelers weren’t in it, and I didn’t have to root against the Cowboys or Patriots, so Colts or Bears—I didn’t really care who won. However, practically every American and even a few Brits and Germans in my house were going to Varsity, a pub near the Pier, in order to watch the game. Apparently the Uni. of Sussex has an American football team, and both it and its cheerleading squad were hosting the event. Therefore, after a day of playing volleyball matches in Reading—my first outing with the Uni. Sussex women’s volleyball team!—I returned, took a shower, sat in on two rounds of Kings (a drinking card game, for those of you who do not know) on the third floor kitchen with practically half of Holland House’s residents, and proceeded to Varsity.

    Being at this pub reminded me of when I was in junior high and high school: when I arrived, it turned out that I knew several separate groups of people, yet didn’t really feel like a “part” of any of them. Obviously, I arrived with my fellow Holland House-mates. However, Vikki, a girl on the volleyball team, had told me she had an extra ticket to get in (because she was a member of the cheerleading squad) and would meet me at the door if I called her when I arrived. Yet, the convenience of cell phones has still not been proven to me, because despite my calling AND texting her, she did not respond, and I ended up inside the door with no ticket. Therefore, I put on my sweetest demeanor and asked the football players manning the entrance, Did they know Vikki? The cheerleader? I was supposed to meet her. Could I go find her? One who was missing a tooth ended up taking a liking to my friend Amy and let us both in without hassle. Eventually, after leaving my Holland House-mates in a cluster near the door, I found three of my volleyball friends: Ola, Anika, and Vicky. Ola passed me the ticket Vicky had intended to give me, but I was already inside, so I merely pocketed it in case I needed it later. On the way to finding seats, I passed yet another group of people I knew from Holland house who apparently were already at the pub and usually went out separately from the group I had arrived with. I stopped and said hello and chatted a bit, but in the end, I spent most of my time with the volleyball girls. We found seats cross-legged on the floor in front of one big screen, and watched the game from that spot for virtually the entire first half.

    The end of the first half marked the beginning of my unlucky event. It comprised a trip to the bathroom. First I had to find the spot and was nearly run over by the poor waitress who had been sprinting about the bar all night delivering food orders. I believe there was only one food-delivery bar mistress in the entire place, and for the amount of chicken nuggets and chips people were ordering, it was no wonder she was always in a tizzy. Nevertheless, that almost sent me catapulting down the stairs to the ladies and gentlemen’s “toilets.” (I find it so hard to ask to go to the “toilet” here—it feels like I’m saying a dirty word. But if I ask where the “bathroom” is, I always get a blank stare!) Then, once I made it into the bathroom, I was nearly smashed by the door, as I stood behind it in the queue (the British term for “line”). When it was finally my turn, I found myself stepping over the toilet bowl in order to get past the stall door and inside the tiny closet of a stall. I had my camera with me and no idea what to do with it, so I set it on what seemed to be the only flat surface in view: the lid of the waste bin beside the toilet. Then what did I do? I turned around to sit down and promptly bumped into the waste bin. Splash! went my camera.

    So now I am in Great Britain, trying to travel and capture my experiences here, and have successfully rendered myself camera-less. Cheapest digital camera worth buying here? £200. That’s four hundred American dollars. Have I complained enough about being broke when I get back to the States? Let me begin again….

    Saturday, February 3, 2007


    Since I have not yet done so, let me describe my friend Fluf. I met Fluf the very first day I moved in. I was struggling to haul my suitcases into my closet-sized room, and he passed by on his way back from the shower. Towel around waist, dripping wet hair and mustache, he introduced himself. Half an hour later, he showed up and gave his signature light, almost inaudible tap at my door, bearing a duvet and pillow. Apparently a Canadian girl from the pervious term had left them with him, and he wondered if I might want them.

    Fluf is vegan and has been for nine years; vegetarian for fifteen. He left home when he was sixteen years old, and this is his first year to be enrolled at any university, although he is twenty-nine years old. He decided to come to college because he wanted to find people who thought like he did: basically, people who are unhappy with the present state of the world and who want to find answers for how they might change it. He struggles with dyslexia and what he terms alcoholism, although he has quit drinking alcohol for over a year now, all of his own will. He smokes marijuana, but in the most unconventional way I have yet encountered: he usually smokes it in his room, and he sits by the window to blow the smoke outside, because he says he doesn’t like smoking. That is next on his list to quit.

    For those of you who know how many movies I have watched with Ben, I am starting out on track to make Fluf my new movie buddy. So far we have watched: 1984, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Closer, Amélie, City of God, a documentary on hip-hop/scratching, and several episodes of Battlestar Gallactica. I am also learning to cook from watching him and sometimes cooking meals with him. I now know that to stir-fry tofu, you must first put the flavoring on the tofu and then add cornstarch, so it will crisp up in the pan. I am also much better acquainted with various vegetables: I know what parsnips are, I actually like cabbage, and my strong dislike of mushrooms has abated.

    He probably doesn’t realize, but some things that Fluf says are incredibly important to me. Just the other night, I was relaying an encounter I had had on a bus ride home involving three very immature twelve-year-old girls and some college-age boys (all of whom were at about the same maturity level). When I had concluded my story, Fluf remarked, “You are going to be so good at telling stories to your kids.” I was so shocked that he had been paying attention to me and not the insignificant things I was saying, that I asked him what he meant. “You get so into the characters, you’re so animated, you’ll just be very good at it.” That meant a lot to me.

    What may have meant more was when he noticed one night that his computer wasn’t playing music in the background. I asked him why that was significant, and he said he always liked to have it playing because he didn’t like silence—it made him uncomfortable. But that didn’t seem to bother him so much with me. I almost sighed with relief. Finally, I could finally give this over-generous guy something in return.

    More Weird Athletic Observations

    Despite my ordinarily overactive powers of observation, I failed to notice some very important attributes of British athletics last week. This Friday, as I ran around the gymnasium with the U. Sussex women’s basketball team, I couldn’t stop looking at the floor. Something was very wrong with it. Every time I wanted to make sure I was outside the key—to avoid a three-second call or to line for a shot in case I received the ball—I kept looking down and finding the black line just slightly past my feet. I swear, it was like an optical illusion! Finally, as I stood at the baseline in order to pass the ball inbounds, I realized what the problem was: the key was not rectangular. Instead, the lines forming its sides were slanted outward from the foul line at forty-five (okay, maybe slightly smaller) degree angles until they met with baseline. I was flabbergasted.

    My first inclination was that this was a setup for some other sport and that another marking on the court—perhaps one less obvious to they—must have been the key. These courts had so many lines for so many sports—basketball, volleyball, netball, and who knows what else—that it was quite possible I was mistaking the key markings for some sort of bizarre netball goal boundary or other such thing. However, upon asking one girl what those lines were for, she gave me an Are you stupid? look and said, “Those are they key.” I said I knew that, but were they for sure for basketball, and why were they slanted? After a big more back-and-forth, she finally explained that the key is different in America—the lines forming it are straight (i.e. parallel). She also pointed out that our three-point line is different: in America, the three point line meets the half-semicircle crowning the top of the key. However, on the British court, there is a gap between the three-point line and the top of the key. I couldn’t believe I had played an hour-and-a-half of basketball with these girls last week and never noticed.

    At 8pm, it was on to volleyball. There, I discovered another deviation from American sports: the net was definitely lower. Last week, I had noticed that my hitting seemed marginally more successful than in that past. However, I attributed that to having taken a break from volleyball and a bit of luck. However, this week my percentage of successful hits remained consistent, and I even managed to block another girl’s hit all by myself. Now, I couldn’t help but be suspicious.

    At home, if I stand next to the net and raise my arm extended straight above my head, the tips of my fingers barely reach the top of the net. In fact, if an observer were to stand behind me, he/she may claim that I cannot actually reach the very top of the net. Last night, however, I raised my arm and found my fingers extending almost a knuckle over the net.

    So much for miraculously gaining volleyball skills on my flight overseas.

    Thursday, February 1, 2007

    Cell phones, Mayonnaise, and Clubbing

    Somehow, I have spent ten quid on a total of two phone calls to the U.S. (Vicky and Ben, feel privileged. Feel very privileged.) Here’s how else I determined the money could have disappeared: 1) Calling the mobile phone companies to sort out my phone number switching between SIM cards (which STILL has not happened); 2) being charged when I check my voicemail (rip-off number one); 3) being charge to find out how much money is left on my plan (rip-off number two). However, calling to find out how much money I had left was useless, because my phone call today was cut off mid-sentence, anyhow. So much for my pence-to-minutes math.

    Other random observations:

    When I accompanied my friends Michelle and Angela to an Alpha class at the local Church of Christ the King—this is a class for “people seeking God” and I like Michelle and Angela’s company, so I figured attending couldn’t hurt—we were fed a meal before the speaker got up to tell us how Christianity was not “outdated, impersonal, or irrelevant.” The meal consisted of orange juice, lasagne, and salad. These foods seemed pretty unremarkable, and I remained undisturbed until I moved up in line for my portion of salad. The server scooped some greens onto my plate and motioned to a bowl at the edge of the table. “Mayonnaise?” I took a good long look to make sure I had heard her right and was seeing correctly. Yet, there it was: a big bowlful of white gloppy mayo, clearly intended to be spread upon our fresh vegetables. Slowly, I made my way back to my table, trying not to throw up in my mouth. Mayo is just one of those foods, and on salad…?

    Another interesting custom here involves dance clubs. Apparently, it is completely normal and acceptable—assuming you are female, that is—to dress up as imaginary characters in order to go clubbing. I walked into Event II, a dance club in Brighton, with another American living with me in Holland House, Amy, and was instantly assaulted by visions of girls prancing about in nurse, bunny, fairy, and cowboy costumes, amongst other interesting apparel. It was quite a show. I plan to go dancing again tonight, so we shall see what sorts of spectacles present themselves this time. Maybe I will take my camera; I wonder if any of these Brits are exhibitionists?