Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Laundry Conundrum

I've noticed a strange phenomena among British students: before they go home for a break, they always do their laundry! This seems very unintuitive to the American student. To go home means good food, no work, and a suitcase full of dirty laundry. Among my friend in Berkeley, there were many who went home specifically to do their laundry. It was a littler harder for me, home being six hours away, but when I did go home, I remember packing suitcases full of dirty clothes. On one occasion, even the clothes I were wearing were the least dirty out of everything.

Yesterday, I went to the laundry room to do my laundry. I needed to do it since spring break was shortly approaching and as I will be travelling for several weeks, I needed to make sure I had the right clothes to travel with. However, this past Wednesday afternoon, the laundry room was packed. It was the laundry rush hour. Everyone was doing their laundry before going home and I heard several students mention they had to do it before they caught their train that afternoon. I was extremely perplexed.

Another thing I have yet to figure out is the laundry code of law here. In my dormitory in Berkeley, when someone's washer or dryer was done, you waited at least 10 minutes before unloading it and then you would put it in their basket, which was normally sitting on top of or next to the machine. Yesterday however, I arrived five minutes after my laundry was done and found it heaped in a pile on the bench in the middle of the room! They hadn't even bothered to put it in the empty dryer overhead. There are always bizarre stories with college laundry (one of my friends had all of his underwear stolen from the washers at Caltech), but generally there's an unwritten courtesy. And no one really wants to touch a strangers 'delicate' items.

I have yet to find out the reasoning behind this British phenomenon of laundry. But when I do, it will be another mystery of British academia unsolved.

Bike Lanes

For all the bicycle enthusiasts (and those who enjoy pavement, roads, etc.), SlateV posted this video recently.

On another note, I always enjoy when I recognize places in films or online videos.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

A Foul Foul Beast

I woke up yesterday morning thinking I must be sick I felt so cold. Despite getting dressed and turning up the heat, I still felt cold. When I walked outside, which did not seem too cold, I felt chilled. I was wearing a wool coat, a wool ski sweater, a tee shirt, jeans, knee socks, and leather shoes. Later I found out it was negative one degree celsius and everyone was just as cold as I was.

The weather has been a tumultous beast this week. On Friday, several friends from California were visiting and as we walked into town, we encountered rain, sleet, hail, and snow. Then there was the wind. The BBC had predicted it would be around 40mph, but considering the sheer force I would have believed it was stronger. Lena commented that even the hurricane winds she experienced in Florida weren't this strong.

We went down to the beach and saw the waves washing over the top of the stone pier. We could barely climb the path back up the hill to the cathedral ruins.

This past week I've encountered snow three of the four days. Yesterday it did not snow in St. Andrews, but I had to go on a field trip to the Grassic Gibbon Centre in Aberdeenshire and along the way, the bus had to drive through an actual snow storm. In the safety of the Gibbon Centre we watched the snow pour down, tea in hand, wondering where our crazy Scottish professor would take us next. Luckily, our next jaunt to the old Norman church ended before the next wave of snow came down. By the time we reached St. Andrews, we were back in the land of sun and gale force wind.
Strangely enough on Saturday I got sunburned while we walked around the fishing town of Anstruther. It was snowing lightly and I was only outside for several hours. However, this only proves that I am fully adapting to Scottish culture, or have enough Northern European blood in me to fully weather the climate like a native.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Sporting Rumble

With March brings the hollerings of March Madness, but here in Scotland, we seem to have forgotten the inner call of all things sportif. While reading such interesting articles on Slate, like Teams We Hate 2008, I found such tidbits of juicy university sports gossip. Apparently some Oregon State basketball players challenged their Washington opponents to a rumble in the parking lot. As everyone good West Coast college sports fan knows, this is probably the most impressive thing any Oregon State team has done practically ever. It's a very bad fate if Oregon State beats you at anything.

Here in Scotland March lacks the luster of their American sporting counterparts. Then again, my knowledge of British sports, while vastly improved, has yet to compare to any local's. Everyone asks what kind of expectations I had when I arrived in Britain and how they altered or were confirmed. I usually forget to mention sports when this comes up, but one expectation that was fully confirmed was the downright passionate love of football. Yes, I mean soccer.

The British are born with a downright love of football. You root for one team and that is your team. No exceptions. There is no separation from the sport and you. I'm not sure if this makes any sense, but football does run in the veins. It does not matter how disinterested a Brit may seem, they do in fact care.

The other national sport that seems to dominate Sundays along with the latest football match is rugby. I knew it was popular but not this popular. I think the guys in the flat next door care about rugby more than they care about football. But then again, rugby is considered a classier game. (I wonder what Frank Deford would say about this.) Rugby is considered a more elite sport. It is not dominated by chaves (the British equivalent of white trash) and their even trashier wives (Footballers' wives - there's a sitcom on it). Instead, it belongs to the boys who went to the British public schools and eventually inherit some estate. But yet it reaches to a lower class as well, showing pure bouts of aggression and passion. Emotion is acceptible in this sport.

Of course the most elite sport is polo. No description needed. Although at St Andrews, the membership is extremely high, riding lessons essential and not included (they are 40 pounds a lesson; minimum 2 a week). Several of my friends have had run ins with the polo team and the lasting impressions are now infamous. (I only wish it had been like the Oregon State rumble: Californians vs. St Andrews Polo Players.)

My favorite sport (and least known) is shinty. As it was once described to me, it is the more violent, Gaelic cousin of hockey. Played in a field, shinty uses hockey sticks, although one is not required to only hit the buck/ball. This sport is known for its brutality and impressive players. If you think hockey players don't have teeth, go find a shinty player.

Traditionally shinty encouraged stamina and better swordplay during battle, or so I've been told. One English friend of mine tried shinty his first year and decided that although fun, even shinty players were too 'hardcore' for him. This is a guy who is over 6 feet and drinks like no other most nights of the week. In fact, I believe what got to him was the extreme parties.

I don't think any explanation of cricket is necessary and despite any rumors, is nothing like baseball. The British do like to compare their game, Rounders, to baseball. I however believe that baseball is a much more complicated and intellectual game than the childhood physical education game of Rounders.

For all who were wondering, I still think golf is boring. No amount of Scottish scenery is going to change that.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The Watergaw, or My Last Wild Look

Ae weet forenicht i' the yow-trummel
I saw yon antrin thing,
A watergaw wi' its chitterin' licht
Ayong the on-ding;
An' I thocht o' the last wild look ye gied
Afore ye deed!

There was nae reek i' the laverock's hoose
That nicht - an' nane i' mine;
But I hae thocht o' that foolish licht
Ever sin' syne;
An' I think that mebbe at last I ken
What your look meant then.
-Hugh MacDiarmid

This morning I arose at 6am, after a mere two and a half hours of sleep, and caught the bus to the train to the airport in Amsterdam. When I landed, I took another bus to the train station, caught a train, and then took a bus back to St. Andrews. That took approximately 5 hours. The flight was an hour and a half.

Despite my near deathly state of fatigue, it was nice to walk around the streets of Utrecht, a few other scattered early risers joining my morning, but equally ready to keep it a solitary experience. I saw the sun rise, red lines stretching among the clouds and scattering into faded pink blurs. It was surprisingly not cold and fairly sunny.

A more delightful moment of being so fatigued was the sheer surprise when I handed the conductor my ticket on ScotsRail and learned I'd accidentally bought a first class ticket. He promptly helped me move my stuff, had the tea trolley man pour me a cup of tea and give me some shortbread, and settled me into the 1st class compartment. There was one man there, in his middle ages, reading a variety of local papers, as all Scots of a certain age are prone to do. And once again, I found myself in the strangely comforting and solitare world of the landscape. (Even better, the 1st class ticket equalled the price of a 2nd class ticket and a cup of tea from the trolley.)

Last week I realized that I have seen the more sunrises this year alone than in any other part of my life. The fate of the poor traveller is one of odd hours and odder company. Just the week before I arose at 5:30am in order to catch my 10:30am flight in Edinburgh. I was going to take the bus that stopped in front of my building at 6:30am, but after a serious debate I decided it was more important to eat my still cooking fried egg and walk the mile to the bus station. Although exhausted and nearly shattered, the walk was incredible. For as much as I normally hate the long walk between fields, with nothing to greet you but crows and North Sea winds, those few isolated moments are perhaps some of the most momentously beautiful. I walked dragging my suitcase in the cold pre-dawn air, while rabbits hopped around nibbling grass and looking at this strange intruder. The birds whistled and chirped, all varieties I had never seen before, and grouse flocked among the fields trying to find a seed here or there.

Then the sun rose, slowly waking people and cars and the isolated townie walking a dog. Correction, not walked, but let run among the fields and grass, and with a well pursed whistle, the dog would immediately come running. Then as I stepped into town, I could feel the gray cobblestones dissolving their frost and the tendrils of sun creep along even the darkest Medieval alleys.

These are the moments I love Scotland. I love its grand gestures and its outwardly harsh landscapes. Even the clouds are violent, moving against a timid sky. One evening I was walking home, once again among the fields, and found the world falling asleep. The rabbits once again nuzzled the grass and the light quickly withdrew itself, pushing the trees and the distant ocean into darkness. In an instant, the stars were visible, point upon point of distant sky revealing itself. I had thought the stars in the remotes of the United States were magnificent, but nothing compares to a fierce evening wind revealing a fragile night sky.

They say if you hate something, you had to have loved it. I am starting to believe Scotland is just as fierce in its love as in its hate. The earth has some magnetic force driving you towards it and the harder you try to pull away, the stronger the grasp. I escape every time, falling in love with a new place, only to be driven back with an even fiercer longing for this strange home.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Time = Narrative Cause

I've been thinking about the concept of time a lot lately. Perhaps it is because the paper I'm writing on Alfred Hitchcock's The Thirty-Nine Steps has led me to do some research on the discourse between what makes a novel and a film different. One writer believes it is time and how time is portrayed. I won't go into his very long and very dry paper, but it is an interesting suggestion.

On a different note, I've been watching some of Mad Men, a tv show that premiered on AMC awhile back. It is promoted as a recreation of the world of Mad Men, or advertising on Madison Avenue in 1960. Watching the show, which I enjoy a lot, I wonder at what point is this supposed to include some sort of accurate portrayal of the time or is it more a unbelievable fiction set in a past era? None the less, I think it captures some sort of zeitgeist, although who actually lived in that world still makes me question the plausibility of it. That brings me to another comment: for all the fictional tv shows, novels, and movies, if they are set in a contemporary setting, we do not assume that this is the one and only portrayal of life. But how often is our perceptive of history based on the one film we ever saw about the court of Louis XIV? Then again, I think with any specific time period, we can apply the general philosophical question of what is reality? And what is an individual's reality compared to another's? That just brings us back in a full circle.

And of course, I am only writing this to waste time and not work on my paper.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion Found Here

I just finished finalizing my playlist for tonight's set. I probably should have started with the fact that I am the guest DJ for the show I normally produce, Alternative to Alternative. Earlier this week, I also guest DJed for a friend's show and it went extremely well for my first radio show ever. Although I think I only had a total of 8 listeners: 2 friends from home and then my flatmates and some of the guys next door. They did say they enjoyed listening to me and it was quite impressive. I wonder how the playlist went over though.

Tonight will be even more of a stretch to get listeners since most people are either in bed or out at midnight on a Saturday night. I'm excited all the same, especially since I get to infiltrate the air waves with music I choose and none of the commercial crap you normally hear. No ten song playlists for a month thank you very much. Anyways, if you are interested in listening tonight you can catch the stream here.

Peas, Cream Cheese, Marmalade - Or the Contents of My Fridge

There is a serious lack of food in the fridge. Or in the cupboard, for that matter. This has led to some interesting combinations of what is left: avocado and pasta, creamcheese and marmalade sandwiches, green onions and yogurt. Well, those are the hypothetical combinations. I've been lucky enough to salvage very edible meals - although today I think I ate way too much yogurt for my own good.

It is a twofold problem. One is I can't be bothered to walk the mile into town and carry groceries another mile back. Especially if I was not going to town in the first place. (Someone commented the other day on how 'British' I sound when I say, 'I had to go into town today' - personally I think it sounds more 1800s living on the homestead, too bad I don't have a trusty stead here). Secondly, I am facing the major problem of any other college student: second semester brings about a more restricted budget.

All in all I've been able to survive and eat well. I also have become much more creative about leftovers, turning them into soups (lamb, parsnip and barley) or adding them couscous (I got the idea from my Italian roommate last year) or salads (I made coleslaw for the first time in my life with some cabbage I ended up with). Then of course, there is always the hunt for the free meal which I've had some success with. I learned this lesson early on in Berkeley and any event that had free food warranted an appearance. Although, I was never desperate enough to want to go to the Asian Baptist barbeques. The best dinner by far was when my friend Teresa convinced me to go to a dinner of the Women Postgraduates Association, catered by a local Mexican Restaurant. Neither of us were postgrads, but no one seemed to care.

The British Higher Education system does not seem to believe in giving away things for free, or at least they don't in St. Andrews. Perhaps it is because all Scottish students do not have to pay tuition (same goes for English students at English universities). Or perhaps it is because it is a university full of wealthy Brits and even wealthier Americans (that is another tirade I will save for another time). None of the activities and events put on by the student union at the beginning of the year were free. Very few societies offered free events either. In comparison, most of the events at Berkeley are free. Maybe it is made up with my high fees and tuition, but somehow for a University System notorious for its budget cuts I doubt that is the case.

However, I think I would attend more university sponsored events if I didn't have to pay 5 pounds and upwards for every function. One of the reasons anyone at Berkeley turns up to school sponsored events is the offhand change that it will be an incredible bargain. And when it comes to free beer and tacos, it's a hard offer to turn down. My dad made some comment before I arrived here that because of the rough post-war economy in Britain, luxuries were not as readily available and people tended to be more cautious with their money. The economy has obviously recovered and more so, but I often wonder if that explains the relative conservatism among Brits when it comes to money. Americans have had a tradition of wealth and expendable wealth for much longer and one of the things they warned us about before we left was that British students often are shocked by the amount of things their American peers have. In St. Andrews this is not really a problem as compared to some of the universities that have a wider spectrum of students. St. Andrews is one of the most expensive towns in the UK and it has a reputation for educating elite members of society, like Prince William.

If students do not have to worry about money, maybe that is why no one has ever thought of 'free events'. I have seen some of the guys next door make absurd comments about how their flatmates would prefer to buy generic brands from the supermarket and how they actually would drink cheap wine! This is coming from a guy who insists on using the proper type of wine glass for each type of wine. His father brought them up on one of his past visits. Then there was the shipment of wine from an elite French vineyard for a birthday. I definitely like nice things, but then again as a student, I know there were probably be a time when I can enjoy having a collection of proper wine glasses and a full bar.

This now leads me to a horrible confession - the few sponsored events I have attended ranged from the bizarre to the horrendous - and I only went for the relatively free food.

1. Anthropology Society's Orientation Week Welcome, Free: We walked into the meeting to find the usual assortment from any university's anthro department - mainly dominated by what one of my friends called people who were 'crunchy - you know like granola'. However everyone was extremely friendly. There was a theme, Hangover Cures from Around the World (I had no idea kim chee was a hangover cure), and when I went to get something to drink, the guy told me they were out of punch, but he could make me a cocktail. It was 1pm on a Wednesday. We got cornered by some characters, including one guy who refused to answer where he was from and then quickly said something about London. Overall grade: C+, Food: C-

2. 1 Pound Thursday Lunch Brought to You By the Campus Christian Group: My friend convinced me to go with her - it was only a pound and as much as you could eat and she was pretty sure they would not try to convert me. The food was not bad as it was as much as you could eat DIY sandwiches. We sat down and there were the usual Christians milling around introducing themselves, but they did not asked me if I was saved or anything else. I was genuinely impressed with their lack of proselytizing. Until they announced their special guest, a travelling minister who sailed around Britain on his yacht trying to spread the goodnews. He was also dressed in a 19th century vicar's outfit. Spent half an hour talking. I noticed the local high school students who had come in for lunch had the better sense to take their lunch to go. Overall grade: D+, Food: B

3. Arabic Society Dinner, 3 pounds entry: An actual dinner with actual food! If I convert the cost, it makes me feel a little less victorious, but overall it was worth it. They even tried to create the atmosphere of an Arabic room, with carpets and cushions. The people were genuinely nice, did not try to convert me to Islam, and the food was great. Too bad it wasn't free. Overall grade: B+, Food: A

Unfortunately, I have become more of a hermit now, at least in attempting to find events with food. I missed the town fair where local vendors promoted their foods and gave away samples. Apparently there is a farmers' market on Saturdays but I have yet to attend it. I might actually have to try to understand Scottish, unlike half the time when I just smile and nod. The only time I could not truly understand a word someone said was when I went to the local butcher and after buying some pork chops, he said something, smiled and laughed. I laughed too, despite having no idea what he said. Although he was missing his front teeth and had a local accent. Or at least I assume so.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Oh Monotony!

I keep getting emails from Berkeley about the senior class gift. The latest was entitled 'Now's Your Chance to Make the Honor Role'. Half me wants to marvel over the creativeness in luring the over-achiever Berkeleyan and the other half of me is revolting in disgust because they never fail to try to lure in money from anyone. I would like to point out that I am not actually a senior - I only have senior standing due to my high school AP scores. I will admit I was a little caught off guard when I read the heading and then realized who the sender was.

On another note, the St Andrews class schedule is beginning to get to me. Although I am taking the maximum credits, I still only have four hours of class a week and the same amount of work I would have for two Berkeley classes. I know it seems an irrational thing to complain about, not having enough work, but it means that everything becomes boring a lot faster. Here, people seem to waste a lot more time and party incessantly. I thought I would enjoy that, but after 3 weeks, I was broke and boozed out. When you go out Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and the occasional Wednesday, it feels like you don't really deserve the fun. Instead, class time has become the novelty.

I'm actually looking forward to writing a paper. Then again, I get to write about Alfred Hitchcock, something I've been itching to do for ages.