inside Tower of London
soldier manning the wall
Today was the day of the protests! The teachers’ unions, and other public sector unions went on strike today to protest pension cuts, and had a march and rally in London, and we were able to go and observe this citizenship in action.
But first, we covered a little about our planned (and now changed) session of security and terror, a little about the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005. We went to a memorial outside a tube station, where an innocent man who was suspected as being part of the terrorist plot was shot while running down the tube with a backpack. It was a horrible day, though the reception to it may not have been quite as shocking as our 9/11 attacks, as there is a little more history here of bombings (IRA, etc) – but comparing the two events and the response and reaction by government made for an interesting discussion.
We then followed the J30 rally toward Westminster. There was a large police presence, as well as several police helicopters flying overhead throughout the ordeal. There were a lot of signs, some people tried to do chants as they were walking down the street. Many of the signs were regarding pension cuts and teachers, but there were also signs from socialist parties demanding a general workers’ strike and a few signs calling for other things like David Cameron’s resignation, LGBT rights, and cutting war spending.
But overall, the rally was very peaceful – it will be interesting to see how the media portrays it. Though most media coverage in my opinion has seemed to be less sympathetic toward the protesters. There’s a statistic about only 32% of people support the strike (I forgot what the Wisconsin support numbers were this spring, but I feel like more people supported public union rights in Wisconsin. Though I may be mistaken.) Also, most newspaper coverage (from what I’ve been able to read on the tube) mostly covers the mom who is burdened by the strike because her child cannot go to school, confusion caused by closed schools and long lines at customs at airports, and not so much about the issue at the heart of the strike. Though I think I need to look at a wider variety of sources to see if this represents the wider media portrayal.
We left before the speeches started, and went over to the Tower of London. We ate lunch outside before going in. We had the yeoman tour, which was quite entertaining (think Jungle Cruise tour guides, but less bad jokes, and more entertaining, like jokes about the French…and Americans.), talking about some of the history and grandeur and prisoners and ravens and death and executions at the Tower. The area was quite big – a castle or palace I suppose – it was very big, much bigger than I thought. It was fun, though I was very tired! After the tour, we went to see the Crown Jewels – which was much like a Disneyland ride (in fact, there was a moving walkway to stand on to see the crowns). There were long lines, and not a whole lot of attraction – though while we were in winding Disneyland like lines, we snaked through some rooms with videos showing the Royal Jewelry, before being able to actually see some of it – crowns, maces, dishes, and more, after passing through some mighty looking steel doors into the “most secure place in London.” It was nice to see, though short – and it started raining when we came out! Afterwards, we split up into groups. Ahren and I went to the torture place, which was short, and only one room, but had a few torture devices. After that, we went onto the walls, going through the towers, over the ramparts, past exhibits about animals in the Tower, weaponry, and other things – Kelsey and Nicole joined us for a bit. After that, we went to White Tower for a whirlwind tour, going past royal armour, wooden horses, a dragon, cannons, guns, and more. And at the end, we went up into one final tower about murders at the Tower.
We came back and I took a rather long nap, headed out to the bar in Putney that Ahren and Tom went to last week out by the water, which was nice, and now time to work – 86 pages of reading!s
This morning I woke up earlier around 7 something, so that I could go to breakfast. Today’s academic session was on human rights. Darren lead our morning session, which was a lot more of the theoretical ideas of human rights. Human rights as a language, the political usage of human rights, the differences between human rights and citizen rights, legal and social rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and some theories about the Hobbesian and Lockean (liberal as hands off!) views of the state. It was pretty interesting, and I could tell Darren had a lot of enthusiasm for what he was lecturing about. We also got to watch a clip of “24” which was pretty fun, talking about the portrayal of human rights, and how the show mixed up human and citizenship rights, as well as finding situations when opposing sides can both claim they are standing up for human rights.
We had our lunch break, where I had a Thai curry, again cooked in front of me – the chef was quite nice and affable, and the curry was delicious! I think Katie would have liked it spicier, but it was alright – it was Thai so it had coconut and was a little on the sweet side.
After lunch, we did some group work on finding cases with conflicts using articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I paired up with Brendan, and we did some research in the library. After that, Nicola led us through a lesson on free speech, using the examples of comedians, controversial books, and the pope – and using iclickers, which was fun! America as a whole seems to have less limitations on free speech than the UK, which seems to have many in comparison. Though we raised questions, asking things like if free speech is always good, what are its limits, etc.
This thing is MASSIVE!
View of the Thames
Look, it's Parliament!
Dinner we arrived early (because we had a trip tonight) and they weren’t ready yet – eventually we got sausages and mash, with peas and carrots. After dinner, we met up with Kriss, who took us to the London Eye. To be honest, I was a little nervous – I’m not a huge fan of heights – and that wheel is tall – taller than any of the nearby buildings. 13 of us (12 plus Kriss) were able to get our own car/pod, and went around in the circle. It was a little strange jumping onto it (it didn’t stop – almost like walking sideways onto a moving walkway) It was pretty fun actually, and I enjoyed it, heights and all! It would have been nice to do it at night and see all the lights, but night doesn’t fall here until after 9pm, and since the sun was setting, we got some nice pictures but could still see everything. I could see Parliament, Waterloo, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and more! There was a lot of picture taking (not much jumping, thankfully), and there was a helicopter flying and diving around for a bit which caused some excitement. The 30 minute ride felt much shorter than 30 minutes, and I’d love to do it again sometime! Afterwards, we walked on the Southbank a little and stopped in a bookstore – and I saw the British versions of Harry Potter! And the Philosopher’s Stone!
"Real" Harry Potter!
Out by Putney Bridge
Afterwards, we stopped in Putney with Kriss for a while. We were over by the bridge – some of us went down closer to the water, since there’s an access ramp going down there, and some people went to the pub on the little river walkway area, and we all convened on a patio looking out over the river, which had a really nice atmosphere. I wish we had a place like this at Cornell – it was beautiful, and it was great conversing about lookalikes, college stories, and more.
Short entry for today (no pics) – tonight's a late night, and a lot of work to do tomorrow morning! Today was our first day of volunteering – I’m writing an academic blog on the topic, so I will keep this brief, and when I finish my academic blog, I may link it so I can share that experience in more detail in a more academic context.
Our group, consisting of Kelsey, Alexis, Tom, and myself, were to volunteer at Oasis Academy Shirley Park, in Croyden. We had a little bit of a late start – the bus we took didn’t stop at our stop, and we ended up walking to the train station quite a bit. Also our directions took us to the primary school instead of the secondary school.
However, the day was wonderful. Our host Ms. Oliver was exceptionally gracious to us. The school used to be one of the worst performing schools in the area, but Oasis came in a few years ago, and in their first 1 or 2 years, doubled their exam performance. It was interesting – almost like being in a school with an urban type environment, but at the same time it wasn’t – it’s hard to explain. The facilities are new, and many of the faculty are fairly new and young as well – you can see their enthusiasm for the kids, and how much they care about them. The first thing we did was sit in an English class with year 7 students, reading about a pseduoscorpion. One of the boys, helped guide us to the canteen and to our next room afterwards, a history class. Interestingly enough, it was a US history class. We talked a little bit to the class, about college life in the US(is it like how it is on tv?). Most of the academic part of the class was going over grading rubrics, but when we go back, I’m really interested to see how they approach the course material, and the see the similarities and differences with the US. Afterwards, we had sandwiches in the school cafeteria (not bad actually!), and the same year 7 boy came to talk to us some more – he was very well spoken, and really wanted to engage with us and talk about his life, and school, and much more – it was a very nice surprise! I know that I would have been quite nervous to just approach new 19 and 20 year old foreign students, let alone sustaining long conversations, when I was in 7th grade.
After our lunch, we were taken to the library, where we got to sit at a table and talk with year 11 students who had just graduated, but were returning to work. This was probably the most enjoyable part of the day. Our discussion covered so many topics – sports, school and education in the US and UK, ideas of citizenship, classes, political participation, college applications, volunteer and charity work, changes to the school and community, ethnic groups, politics, the Big Society, and much more. It was a very engaging and captivating conversation, and I’m looking forward to going back there!
On the bus back, I was talking to another student from the same school, who imagined America as a place full of big cities, and a lot of traffic and taxis. I suppose that’s a fairly good image of America if most of what you know about it is from the TV and movies (which I’m sure describes many children here). So I was telling her about America – how large it is, and especially the great swaths of countryside we have, and our farms and forests – I could see her jaw drop in amazement. It’s wonderful to be able to introduce another viewpoint into someone’s worldview. Before she got off, she said that we were the highlight of her day – and she was going to go tell her mum that she met Americans today! Also on the bus back, I spotted a Chinese take out restaurant – which also had fish and chips…pretty sure it’d be…interesting to try that there.
We did some of our reading on the trains home, to be greeted by Katie, Stephanie, and Adam, who had baked cookies and probably went crazy in the dorms, as their volunteering session had been cancelled – I personally thought they acted like they hadn’t seen humans in years when we came in! (I’m sure I would have missed them just as much if our roles were reversed) – on the other hand, the cookies were delicious!
Talah came by after work and showed us a pub in Putney, which made for an enjoyable afternoon, and we were all able to sit and chat and catch up on some things, as well as half play a board game involving putting things in order (by date, size, etc – whatever it said on the cards). No potatoes at dinner tonight! Well it was rice or chips, with beef stew, so I took the rice. And the bread was good tonight – fresh! We played a new board game – Tension - a board game, which was quite fun to play – and quite loud, with much shouting going on between the groups! But it’s something fun to do in the dorm, and we had fun playing it! It's sort of like family feud according to Ahren - there are cards with categories and 10 objects in the category, and you have to name things in those categories, hoping that you get as many out of the 10 as possible - it sounds strange (Ahren's reading of the box was qutie funny), but it was so
Need to sleep now so that I can write my academic blog(s) in the morning, and get ready for another long day!
Today I woke up a little late – but it was alright, since we had a 10am start! I had a muffin and nectarine for breakfast before going to class, which was led by Stephen again. Today’s session was on markets, and we had quite a lively discussion. I thought it was very interesting, talking about our view on the role of markets in society, and the role of the public sphere. We also discussed the role of markets in spheres like education and drugs, and how it may or may not contribute to ideas of citizenship. We had a long discussion, and I wish we were able to have a longer discussion, but we had to go to lunch.
Lunch was quite good today! Ahren, Tom, and I had the kung po chicken with rice and prawn crackers, which was cooked right in front of us! We talked to the chef a little bit, who talked about how he really enjoyed doing the live cooking, and while he didn’t get to over the school year, he got to do it now since there were less people working.
City of London, where the banks are
After lunch, we met Stephen at the Barnes Station and went into the city, to the bank district, where the Bank of England was, since we were talking about markets. He compared it to Wall Street as a financial district, and spoke of how the bank sent monetary policy. We walked around a bit, seeing the neoclassical architecture – you could practically be in Rome as Stephen said. We spent the afternoon in the City of London – the original square city. They have a “wall street” as well, London Wall, where the original wall of the city used to be hundreds of years ago; the city obviously has spread out beyond that border. However, there was a piece of the original wall remains, and you can see it in brick – it looks quite ancient! The original wall dates back to the Romans.
Diorama of the first bridge over the Thames
It was very hot today! We spent most of the afternoon in the Museum of London (there was AC too!) – looking at London from before there was London, with ancient animals and early humans, to the rule of the Romans, Normans, Anglos, and the various monarchs, through the middle ages and the Renaissance, the Victorian ages and up to today. There was a lot in the museum, I felt like we had to go through pretty fast to get through – it would have been wonderful to spend more time! The museum had a nice set up in regards to making you go through an order corresponding with a timeline (though you could go your own way too if you wanted) – sort of like an Ikea. I loved looking at all the little dioramas – of the Roman city, of the Globe, and more. The museum had a lot of fun interactives – touch panels using projectors, as well as films. It’s interesting to note that the city has gone through quite a few fires and plagues – but somehow has always been able to recover and regrow. At the end, we sat and had some tea, before Stephen had to go.
We ended going to Hyde Park as it was a nice day – it is enormous! Probably as large as the City of London! I went with Alexis, Adam, Katie, Kevin, and Sophia, while Brendan, Stephanie, Ahren and Tom played football (soccer!), and Kelsey and Nicole explored too. We went by a lake, and found a statue of Peter Pan (which Alexis really wanted to see), and ran into some Americans from Tennessee. They also had a lot of tall grass! I love tall grass – I took the opportunity to run through it, feeling like something out of a movie! If only I had a camera crane for a nice pan of me running through it…I took some interesting footage running my camera through the grass though. I love the feeling of long grass though – Sophia and Kevin skipped through it too! They did have plenty of mowed grass as well, for people to sit. One thing we’ve noticed is that PDA seems to happen a lot more often in London, and that people don’t seem to mind to much – there have been a lot of things we’ve seen that would probably elicit some stares if done in America, but people walk right past here – interesting to see how some of the cultural norms differ. On the way out, we passed the Princess Diana Playground – which looked like a playground fit for royalty! There was a large pirate ship and I’m sure there was more, but you couldn’t get in without a child! It certainly surpassed any playground I’d ever been to!
Getting back was a bit crowded (evening rush hour), and we missed the first train by about 30 seconds (I guess we could have made it if we all ran, but we elected to take the second one), but everything worked out in the end! On the train I was reading the Evening Standard (it’s a free paper in the evenings – there’s a free morning paper too – I’ve heard that they’re not super great, but they have a huge readership – they’re handed out at train stations (and maybe other places too) every morning and evening). Anyways, I read an editorial about stem cell food - http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23964563-test-tube-food-is-not-as-bad-as-it-sounds.do
– which also poked fun at Americans. Interesting to read it from that point of view – I wonder if this view (for better or worse) is representative of how Americans are viewed on the world stage.
Today was our big trip to Brighton! In the morning, Adam picked up our sandwiches, and we took a bus down to Barnes – except we had the wrong line, and it made a turn before the bridge, so we had to get off and walk a block, but it was alright. We got to Clapham Junction and collected our pre-bought tickets. We got on the train to Brighton – and it was CROWDED!! It would have been nice if there weren’t so many people – there were tables and chairs in groups of 4, but most of our group ended up standing most of the way. It was very crowded for about an hour’s journey (though I suppose Japan’s transportation is more crowded!)
At the stop before the last one, one man got up, and I was in the position (literally) to take his seat. I sat with a group of people – the man I sat next to was from the East End – his wife (I think they were married) had just come back from New York. I talked with him for a little bit – Roehampton, school, us being in the UK for the Fulbright Summer Programme, and he talked a little about food to try out over by Brick Lane, and fish and chips (in newspaper!). We finally got off the train in Brighton – a very nice seaside town, if not a bit touristy, but very built up as well (London by the sea as some say). We walked down the road (past a BBC office, with Doctor Who cardboard cutouts in the window!) and were able to see the water!
Brighton beach, and the pier slightly covered in fog from the morning
Hello from the English Channel!
We eventually stopped at a place for fish and chips (not in paper, but it was still pretty good). At last, fish and chips! I think it was cod. Though I realize I probably should have put more salt and vinegar on mine. After that, we headed up to Brighton Pier. It didn’t look that big, but it was huge, and very long! The sun came out, and it was really cool - I could literally see the wind blowing the fog away!There were shops, restaurants, arcades, gambling, and rides all on the pier. We all bought matching bracelets, and walked around. I tried my luck at gambling/arcade games (in the end the arcade games are just gambling) – the thing where you put in the coin and it tries to push other coins off the edge. Though I was using my 2 pence coins – much cheaper than America, where they usually use quarters! I won a big one, about 12-14 pence, but lost it all in the end. So I was out 20 pence by the time I left – could’ve been worse I suppose. I had an ice cream cone, and we walked off the pier.
View of Brighton from the pier - really built up area
Nice seaside area
We walked further out (east) for a while, before heading back west along a street one street back from the beachfront. We stopped in a Starbucks for a while before moving on. We went by the Royal Pavilion area, which looks like it might have had architectural influence from the middle east. We went through a park, where there was a live band (I’d say jazz band, but there were no saxes. But similar) playing, which was quite nice. We walked by a lot of shops – didn’t have much time as we were trying to catch the train.
The train back was much nicer – we were early enough to each get a seat all the way back to Clapham Junction, and most of us used the opportunity to sleep. Today was a great day – even though we all got a bit sunburned! But it was fun to plan something on our own and go out there to the beach – but thanks to Stephen for the recommendation, and the Roehampton people giving us tips on our journey.
We got back, and tonight was everyone’s laundry night, after the exciting exploration of the room last night. It’s good to have clothes! Also tonight’s dinner was a repeat of last week – hamburger, corn, potato, etc. But paper plates and plastic utensils – no more real dishes! Speaking of food, our refrigerator is quite cold – frozen almost – frozen nectarines, strawberries, and underwear…for some people at least. Worked on my first academic blog entry – some editing, and hopefully it’s ready to go soon!
Today was our Windsor Castle trip! In the morning, I got up a little bit later, and didn’t eat breakfast, but went over to the cafeteria to meet a couple of people who got there earlier to eat so that I could grab a cup of coffee. We met Kriss up at the Medfield stop by the co-op. We took the bus to the Putney station, then over to Clapham Junction, where we transferred to a train to Windsor.
On the train, there was a really cool toilet! I guess half of the bathroom was curved with a circular wall, and there was a sliding door along the curve! With a button to open and close it! It seemed so much more modern than the bathroom technology on American trains! Important to note was the lock lever inside – which according to Kriss, and some of the people we saw today – sometimes people forget to lock it. There were also some people who seemed to have been drinking a bit, and had some fun with the door and the forgetting of using a lock – seemed like something college boys might do, but interesting acts for 30 something year olds.
But we got to Windsor – it was quite crowded, with many tourists. But after we passed through security, we saw the castle – it was beautiful! The history was amazing, as was the mere size and scale of the castle! The gothic architecture was beautiful too. Mostly, we were restricted to seeing the outside. Though you could see the turrets and slits where arrows could be shot through. But we also got to go inside St. George’s Chapel – which was breathtaking. The gothic architecture was very detailed – I have no idea how they were able to build it so high, and put the gold plating on the ceiling. It was very humbling to be in the presence of tombs, of people like the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth, and much more of British Royalty. We also were able to see the banners of different knights – the experience was very humbling.
The group in front of Windsor Castle
Afterwards, we ate lunch on a sidewalk within the castle, and got to see a guard. There was also a point when some guards came and changed one of the outposts. And a scary moment when a tourist tried to wrap her arm around the guard for a picture (you’re not supposed to touch them!!!), and he violently stomped to get her away (I guess they’re not supposed to talk either). But it was amazing!
We walked around Windsor as well – seeing some shop areas – there’s a mall that also looks like a train station – it seems to be a common theme! We also went down to the riverfront for a while, before making it back (running once again!) to the train to Clapham Junction. Kriss left, but we walked around for a while. Most of the kids stopped to eat a little bit and get some drinks at a tex-mex restaurant (with hats included!), but Adam, Nicole, and I elected to walk and go out around the town.
We found a street market nearby, where there was fresh fruit being sold – they were selling them by the bowlful! We got 15 nectarines for 2 pounds (pretty good deal I think!), and wanted to get cherries too, but didn’t have a way of carrying them. We went a little off the tourist path, and walked through a playground, seeing some of the ethnic diversity, as well as the cool abstract playground – the see saw was made of springs and spun around! We wanted to play, but there were little children and their mothers, so we decided not to. We passed a library, and a glass building which looked amazing. After that, we made our way to the Town Centre of Clapham Junction, and to an Asda (like a supermarket + some clothes, toys, electronics – like a smaller Target or Wal Mart) and bought a few things there before making our way back to Roehampton.
Dinner was quite good tonight! There was a pizza that seemed deep dish (the bread was thick – maybe Italian bread – maybe it’s closer to the real thing?), as well as cheesecake! Tonight, I stayed in doing some reading and uploading pictures to Facebook – and we had quite an adventure looking for the laundry room. The door from the basement was locked, but Adam and Stephanie found a door around the corner on the outside, down some steps, in the dark, past a shopping cart. It was quite scary!! I went out again with Kevin and Adam, as Kevin was going to open the door. Adam was ready to take a fire extinguisher with him (presumably as a weapon…just in case. We were all scared except for Kevin – this is the Jack the Ripper country after all), but elected to use a water bottle. In the end, Kevin just opened the door and turned on the light. But it was quite a fun experience (except for Stephanie shouting out the window and scaring me!)
We’re looking forward to our own planned trip down to the seaside tomorrow, Brighton, and be able to go into the English Channel!
I feel as if I have said this almost every day, but it today was a long day! But full of much fun as well! Didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night – 4 hours? Maybe 5? It’s alright though – gave myself some coffee this morning at breakfast, and we picked up bag lunches again. Chocolate croissants today! Though I had to use 2 coffee packs, because one in the large cup does not have enough flavor!
We met Dave, Yasmin, and Michal at the bus stop, and took the train into London, then took the tube and an overground train running underground over to Whitechapel. Today’s session was called “Strangers, settlers, citizens – London and its migrants.” From the reading last night, I thought it was quite interesting – the idea of super diversity – describing diversity in a multitude of dimensions beyond race/ethnicity, such as class, location, citizen status, gender, access to services, etc. Some of these dimensions I had never thought of before. Also, the idea that integration is not a zero sum game, that people immigrating to new countries can be integrated, while still having a strong connection to their homeland (transnataionalism), and I really think that today’s talks have helped me see immigration from some new viewpoints. We were in Whitechapel, which is primarily a Bengali community, and stated off the day at a London Citizens office, running the “Strangers into Citizens” campaign. They are a grassroots group, and the campaign advocates British citizenship for long term undocumented migrants. We talked about the idea of multiculturalism, as well as the changing ideas (or lack of) the British identity, and compared these ideas to those of the United States.
We ate our doggy bag lunches at the office, before heading off. We stopped at a post office to get some pounds and stamps – they were Thomas the Tank Engine stamps! I was given a page of Daisy stamps. Which led me to my little Thomas the Tank Engine rant, and how it has been dumbed down and Americanized through the TV show, even though it is something that should be quintessentially British. I think the others thought my main problem was with the new female characters (it’s not that they’re female, it’s that I’m a purist with the original series characters – I’m alright up through the George Carlin narrated stories; the ones that come Alec Baldwin and later is where it really began to jump the shark) – the argument is that it does not really describe railroads – which in the original series is what it is – a celebration of railroads, because it is portrayed as a real railroad – with regulations, controllers, drivers, firemen, signals, tracks that do not run through forests (Henry’s Forest episode) – the seriousness can be seen in the History of Sodor that the Awdrys wrote – and while there were crashes, it’s not realistic that trains crash every episode, or that problems are about doing good deeds and being friends (maybe on top, but not the real story) – problems in the series are based on real railroads (mostly) – double headers, a steam engine with malfunctioning brakes saving diesels – the original series seemed to be like hearing old railroad stories from old timers, and adding some personality to the trains to enhance the stories for children, but not use the personalities for their own sake necessarily, like the American show does. And it just mixes up American locomotives and British – and what the heck is with that wavy bridge thing from the misty island video – all I saw was a clip and I couldn’t believe it. The thing about Thomas (for me) is that it wasn’t just another kids world – especially the books, almost everything (sans the faces) could actually happen on a real railway, and that made all the difference. The television show, especially in the newer seasons is completely unrealistic, and that’s what gets me irked. I suppose I could have done a whole blog entry, and it seems that it has taken me quite a while to make my main argument, so I’ll leave it at that.
Trains would never go on a bridge like this in real life...I suppose I'm a Thomas the Tank Engine purist....
Anyways, so after the Post Office, Professor John Eade met up with us and gave us a tour around Whitechapel and Brick Lane – both with large Bengali populations (street signs are in Bengali too). The area is traditionally home to migrants – a long time ago, the Irish Catholics, later the Jews, and more recently Bengalis. He talked about the history as we walked, how many buildings were from the Victorian era, and how the area is shaped by these immigrations today. We passed outdoor markets, and the East London Mosque, where we heard the call to prayers as we walked by. The Brick Lane area was amazing as well, with brick Victorian houses, and cobblestone streets – get rid of the cars and street paint, it could have been 150 years ago! That classic London feel from the era.
shops cater to the large Muslim population in the area
Walking near the area around Brick Lane
While we were there, we stopped in at a pub, and had some beverages and talked for a while. A lot of pubs in the area have closed (as Islam does not allow for alcohol), though there are still some in the area. There were many shops in Brick Lane catering to the Islamic community as well. We had dinner at a curry house in Brick Lane, and had a curry buffet, which was quite good!
The pub we went to
After dinner, we went to the Southbank, to the Festival of Britain area. There was a Festival of Britain in 1951, and so this is coming up on the anniversary – some of the original buildings, like the Royal Festival Hall are still there, next to the riverside. At first, we went into the little museum area to learn a little more about the 1951 Festival, after World War II, and their celebration of their culture, and then split into groups to work on our films. Tom and I talked to a few people who had some interesting things to say on citizenship, what British means, and the EU.
A model of Southbank for the Festival in 1951
Tonight, we went to a lecture by historian Simon Schama. He talked a lot about British Festivals, but the part that related to us was closer to the end, about how to define the British culture, if it can be defined, and if it can be celebrated, which are interesting questions to ask. I don’t think the idea of “British” is as clear as what people think “American” means – but it’s an interesting dynamic.
We came back on the train with Yasmin – saying bye to Michal at Waterloo, we almost missed the train – and had to run as the conductor was blowing his whistle (they really do that here! I learned that in the Thomas books/early tv episodes!) to get on as the doors were closing. It really felt like the Amazing Race. As we were on the train, there was a girl (or young woman) in the carriage on her mobile speaking very loudly, with many choice words, to what I suspect was her boyfriend and his answering machine (probably soon to be ex boyfriend) – but it was quite an entertaining ride. Yasmin told us about how people can really get crazy on the trains in wintertime, and the entertainment value of people on the train!
I should comment that besides the weather being crazy, so is the sunlight! The past few days around the solstice, the sun doesn’t fully set until after 9pm, and at 10, you can still see the sky as dark blue – and I know for a fact that it is already well risen and visible by 6am – it probably rises closer to 4am. However, Yasmin said that in the winter, sun can set by 3 or 4pm, as parents are picking up the schoolchildren. Their hours of sunlight are crazy! Though I suspect this is because they are at a high latitude than most of the United States, so their hours of day and night are more extreme. Yasmin gave us our reading packets, we spent some time at the University bar until they closed at 11, and came back to get some rest!
Love this view of Roehampton University (or Univeristy of Roehampton soon) - it's not completely dark yet - that's about the actual color of the sky after 10pm!
I’ll apologise in advance for the lack of pictures – short on time for today’s post. (You’ll be able to see them on Facebook in the next couple days though). Today was Katie’s birthday, so last night we sung to her at midnight! And gave her her gift after breakfast this morning. Today’s breakfast was a croissant – I got there late and ended up getting one that was a bit cold! Oh well though. But we did meet the University President and Vice Chancellor this morning for coffee, and Emma brought us all Roehampton University (or I suppose it’s going to be University of Roehampton now) notebooks for us to use in class!
We had our second academic session (our first in the classroom), with Dave and David Woodman. Today’s topic was politics and the media. We learned about the idea of the political science as the study of power, and the birth and growth of early media, into today’s media, as well as some of the problems and biases of media. We also had to analyze newspapers. Stephanie and I looked at the Daily Mirror – and its tabloid like (and some left leaning) articles – apparently the most important news today was of a child killing his ex-girlfriend on a dare. It was interesting overall to note the differences between American and UK newspapers – most of the UK newspapers were in full color on every page, as opposed to our colored front pages and ads, and our classic black and white. Also, the size was different – instead of American broadsheets, the UK papers were magazine size (not like Time size, but that newspaper size that is smaller than American papers – I think sometimes there are special insert sections in the LA
Times that are that size. And speaking of inserts, most UK papers didn’t have inserts like the US, but rather mixed up the news sections within the paper. Interesting observations).
Lunch today was rather good! It was roast day, I believe Emma told us that this morning – there was roast pork, roasted potatoes, glazed carrots, and broccoli – to me, a very satisfying meal! After lunch, we met Dave at the bus stop to go to Putney to St. Mary’s Church, the site of the Putney Debates in 1647, after the Civil War, where members of the army and the group called Levellers debated on making a new constitution for England, raising many of the same political questions pertinent to today – the role of the monarch and other seats of power, who should be able to vote (property holders), and more – one of the birthplaces of modern democratic ideals.
After St. Mary’s church, Dave talked to us about our film making, and some of the ethics and strategies for interviewing people, and set us off. We split into our film groups – me, Tom, Alexis, and Kelsey. We practiced a bit and came up with some questions before heading out into the streets! We split into groups of two, so Tom and I went to start interviewing people on the street – many declined (we even had one person give us the “I’m late for a meeting” slip!), but some of the people who talked to us on camera had amazing things to say!
We came back and had dinner – more roasted food! Roasted chicken, roasted potatoes, broccoli. And the mystery juice. So this week at dinner, there’s been a green pitcher on the tables next to the water pitcher, which had some kind of juice. We had been wondering what was in it – we had been drinking it, but no one knew what it was. It tasted kind of fruity, and sugary. For a while we thought it might be tang. But it wasn’t. It was the mystery juice. Until today, Ahren asked. And it is…orange squash juice. Orange squash juice. I got hysterical – I couldn’t stop laughing! I suppose I found the whole situation overly bizarre – as Nicole commented, “I never thought I’d see culture shock come from juice!” So for the next while, I would crack up and laugh uncontrollably every time someone said “orange squash juice” – to a point where I’m sure the others thought I had gone mad! (cough Stephanie cough – who at the bus stop, I tried to make fun of her Baltimore accent – then she proceeded to find out I’m ticklish. Oh well, can’t win them all)
Tonight, Dave took us back to St. Mary’s Church to witness a local debate hosted by the Putney Society, about David Cameron’s new “Big Society” plan – which basically in simplistic terms promotes volunteerism in local communities, and giving local communities more control, while balancing the budget, and reducing government spending. There was a moderator, Justine Greening MP, who we met yesterday, as well as a member representing labour, and a third (I suppose it’s possible he represented the liberal democrats’ position). There was “debate” when they went back and forth – I suppose I expected the whole conversation to be more specific about policies, but it seemed to be more about the big ideas of the Big Society, and volunteerism. Volunteering is not the same here in the UK as it is in the US, it’s not as large, it’s not as common for people, especially young people, to be volunteering the same way they do in the US. I suppose it’s quite institutionalized in the US, since many of us have to do it in high school (or earlier), and thus it is almost expected to be on college applications, there is incentive (beyond personal growth), at least at first, institutionalized in our system. But anyways, during the Q&A, one woman wanted to know what we thought, as she thought we were interested young people of Putney. Stephanie stood up and said “Hello. We’re Americans” and proceeded to explain about our program, and Katie and Ahren further talked a little about the role of volunteerism in the US. I think the audience liked it, bringing a little break and new point of view into the conversation – I should say they mostly consisted of elder folk, which seems in line with a lot of local community groups in the US as well. After the debate was over, some of the audience members came over to talk with us Americans (it was funny, some people in their Q’s referenced us as the Americans, or “the American students” – which is quite correct, but I just thought it was interesting like that), to talk about their views and our views on volunteering, as well as sharing some of their stories about travel to the US, and invited us back to another meeting! Maybe we’ll be able to go! We had a nice long debriefing talk with David afterwards as well.
And tonight was Katie’s birthday, so most of us went to a club in Putney (recommended to us by several people in the office), and did some dancing and whatnot for a few hours to celebrate, which was a lot of fun (and also quite tiring for the feet!) I’m getting to know the bus system around here quite well now – knowing which are the best routes to take, and alternate routes, etc etc.
Kevin writes: I was watching "The Social Network" at Kurt's house the other day, but we didn't finish! I must know how it ends >=O
Response: Did you finish it yet? You should go watch it!! Or rent/borrow it!! Or find some other (legal!) way of watching! I’m not spoiling it here on the blog! But I just wasn’t really satisfied with the ending…it didn’t feel like an ending to me. Which somewhat makes sense, because even now, there have been developments since the movie came out, so it’s not like the story has “ended” yet persay. Interesting to watch overall though.
Wow, what a busy day today! We started up early – we had to eat breakfast around 7 – they had the chocolate croissants again today! As well as the frozen (and rather tart) berries and yogurt. But the chocolate croissants got everybody excited. We picked up bag lunches for the day, and proceeded to make our way to the main gate to meet with Dave at the main gate for our trip into London.
The 72 bus came, but it was too full, leaving Nicole, Brendan, and myself stranded at the bus stop! The next bus passed by full, and we ended up taking a different line down a few stops before switching to the 72 line again – thank you to the rest of the group who waited for us at the bus stop at Barnes!
We got onto the train, and Dave had us get off at Vauxhall, before Waterloo. We got off there and waited for a bus to take us toward Parliament – it was a double decker bus, and quite crowded, but at least we all got on this time! I should note that trains here have a real gap between the door and the platform. They play the message a lot on US trains, but usually it’s pretty close – like stepping over the gap in an elevator. However, here, sometimes the step up to the train door (and bottom of the carriage) is a foot or more (over 30 cm I guess), which is an interesting difference. But it’s pretty easy to get used to. We also got to see the MI-5 building (from a distance!)
Parliament is huge! Amazing gothic architecture – but built in the 19th century, as part of a revival of medieval British architecture. We met up with Stephen outside Parliament, and proceeded inside, after going through an airport like security.
We entered Westminster Hall, the main part and oldest surviving part of the building, built in the 11th century – almost 1000 years old! We were shown the “new” roof – only built in the 14th century! It has an amazing roof – when it was built, the Americas haven’t even been discovered! It’s amazing, because the floor has plaques showing the exact place where many Kings and Queens have stood.
The local MP for the area around Roehampton (member of Parliament), Justine Greening, kindly took the time to give us a tour of Parliament. We went through the Central Lobby, where MPs meet their constituents, and gives rise to the word “lobbying.” Also interesting was to see the symbolism of a united kingdom for the UK, for each of the 4 entry ways had a portrait corresponding with England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. We got to go through the chamber for the House of Lords (which is designated in red), seeing the throne, and learning about them, and then the chamber for the House of Commons (designated in green). We also got to see the voting lobby. When the House of Commons vote, members physically have to go into one of two rooms – the yes or no lobbies, and then file past a clerk who manually checks off their mark as either yes or no. No electronic buttons! What also struck me in both chambers were the dangling microphones for the cameras for television (of course they had to have them, but it never occurred to me that they would dangle from the ceiling). But it was amazing to actually walk on the floor of the House of Commons – I’ve seen it on tv or on the computer many times, and I actually was able to stand there! There were many historical aspects that we learned about the workings of Parliament – such as how the Queen is not allowed into the House of Commons, and how when summoned to the House of Lords the House of Commons shuts the door before going there, to symbolize the power of the common people.
After our tour, Stephen took over for the day – we had a moment to get some coffee and buy some gifts, before heading out on our political tour.
Many of the government buildings are built in a neoclassical style (like Washington DC), since they were built during the height of the British empire – when there was a sense that London was like the new Rome, and they had created a new Roman Empire. Stephen talked about the lack of a constitution like our constitution, as well as how the political system in the UK has really evolved over time – such as the power of the monarch, and how much of that power has gone to the prime minister, but still having remaining questions like the function and purpose of the House of Lords, amongst others.
We passed number 10 Downing Street, and Stephen talked about the dynamics between the Prime Minister, and the powerful Chancellor of the Exchequer (like the head of the treasury department in the US, but with more power), and some of the dynamics with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
St. James's Park
We passed through the Cavalry Museum, where we actually saw horses this time, into the beauitul St. James’s Park. There were lots of birds and even a giant pelican! We sat down under some trees to eat lunch, and it began to rain. Besides that, it would have been a wonderful picnic! Even got to see a marching band go by (as Stephen said, London putting on a show for the tourists!) However, we had a good discussion about California politics, it began raining quite hard as we headed toward Buckingham Palace. After the heavy rain, we briskly walked through Trafalgar Square, and into the national gallery for an hour to warm up and dry off a little! I enjoyed it (except maybe the 1 pound for a map – but I suppose it’s alright since the museum is free). I loved looking the the Van Gogh paintings – especially the Sunflowers! As well as A Wheatfield, with Cypresses, which they have the plant wall outside which looks similar. But there is so much 3D texture on the actual paintings that you can never see in photos. It was amazing!
We made our way through Covent Garden, seeing the shopping area, again inspired by Italy, and where My Fair Lady took place! Stephen showed us a bank, but it was beautiful, built in the Victorian times, and was very ornate! We then went through a door, onto a cobblestone alley, finding out that it was the law area – (before we had gone by the Royal Courts of Justice) where all the lawyers work. It was very interesting, for lawyers work in these society places, which seem to be like a college institutions – I thought the buildings quite looked like an American college(s)! We made our way back down to the Thames, and walked along the Thames which was a nice walk – seemed like something out of a movie!
We wanted to stay in the city a little longer, so Stephen left us back at Covent Garden, where we went around, listened to an opera singer, and shopped in some of the little stores. The group split, some of us coming back, and a few stayed behind. We went through Waterloo station (it’s all familiar now!), came back to Barnes, and came back.
Dinner tonight was another hamburger, chips, string beans and brussel sprouts, and some others. We also came back to some large packets of reading to complete! But today was a great day – learned a lot of history, political science, and had a lot of fun!
Today was pretty fun as well. We woke up early and went to breakfast – they didn’t have the chocolate rolls today! But on the other hand, the hot chocolate was pretty good. We had our academic induction, in our classroom, and meeting some of our academic professors and tutors. We went over the schedule and class assessments. After that, we had a library induction, where we learned about the library services and got our library/ID cards. The books at Roehampton are self checked in and out – it’s a pretty cool system! Also, the library was a lot larger than I had imagined it to be! One thing I’ve seen from the buildings that we’ve been in here so far, is that they have a lot of little narrow and winding hallways and staircases. It’s quite nice, and an interesting use of the space, though sometimes confusing to walk in! But I think it’s much more fun to walk through than buildings with a single hallway straight down the middle.
For lunch, I had the vegetarian option today, I forgot the name of the dish, but I believe Sophia said that it was Greek. It was alright – not quite what I expected, but it was pretty good. After lunch, we had a lesson on the online computer systems, moodle and mahara, so that we can use the blogs. I think from a technical end, moodle is very user friendly, and it has a much cleaner interface and better functionality than the blackboard service my school has in the US (from what I’ve seen – I know blackboard has a new version out, but I haven’t seen it yet). We also were showed how to import videos from our Flip cameras, as well as use Windows Movie Maker. I know a lot of people tend to bag on Movie Maker (including me sometimes), but I enjoy it a lot – it’s sure a whole lot better than the new Live Movie Maker on Windows machines. It has much more functionality. And I edited this video on there too - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZbciyckDyk
We came back and some of us started our reading for session 1 – Politics and Participation, reading about thoughts on the referendum, and statistics about UK political engagement. I read out in the hall by the couch with some other people which was nice, because we could discuss things as we went along. Sometimes I wish I roomed with people taking the same classes as me at school so that we could do the same thing – it’s a lot more fun to do reading that way! We also popped in to see Talah and Valarie to get some recommendations about places to go out to – both around here in Putney and Richmond, as well as out in London.
Dinner! And the mystery juice! (to be explained in another entry! - it's not bad, in fact it's pretty good - but a mystery nevertheless)
For dinner, there was a lot of food! There was a fried chicken with some sort of stuffing, or herbal spices inserted in, chips (though the lady said fries when we approached – I guess we’re easily identifiable as Americans. And there seem to be potatoes at every meal – staple food perhaps?), peas and carrots, pasta, and an apple crisp with custard (according to Brendan). We split up afterwards – part of the group went to Richmond (and had an exciting time navigating the bus system or so I hear), and I went with Brendan, Alexis, Tom, and Ahren to watch the play “Stags and Hens” – set in the ladies and mens room at a 70s dance club in England, which was quite an interesting play. It was interesting in some of the ideas about differences, class, and it was also funny. It was also interesting to see how certain choice words are pronounced differently! There were some jokes though, that I didn't understand, because I didn't know what the words they were saying meant! I enjoyed the second half more – I found it funnier, but that was probably also because I started getting used to the accents and was able to understand more of what the actors and actresses were saying! But it was good fun.
Tomorrow is going to be an early start – visiting the Houses of Parliament! I’ve done my reading on that, and now most people are going around trying to figure out what to wear tomorrow!