Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

Rants

Culture Shock: Australian Edition

I recently returned from three months living and studying abroad in the current economic shambles that is the country of Greece.

Having travelled extensivly and lived abroad before I presumed this return would be like no other, sure I would be sad for a day or two but would get back into the flow of things quickly like an professional traveller.

WRONG.

For some reason this return has been the hardest and I was not sure why.

This was only three months away, last time I was abroad living in Ireland for seven.

I knew I had limited time in Greece due to visa restrictions, so it wasn’t a surprise I was asked nicely to leave once those three months were up.

I was looking forward to seeing my family and friends and the beautiful country which I realised I loved more than I let on.

Yet something had gone wrong this time and I fell into a pit of sadness and had a mini depressive episode the first few weeks back.

I realised that whilst my family were pleased to see me, many friends had moved on or where busy or lived in differing corners of the globe now.

Being the constant traveller makes you extremely popular on social networking sites such as Facebook where everyone claims to live vicariously through your travels, but it makes for a pretty lousy physical relationship, with many wary of putting in a lot of effort when im potentially going to run away again to some other distant land anytime soon.

Those that I have seen have helped make the transition smoother, especially my best friend. It doesn’t matter how long we go without seeing each other nothing changes and we still have the best time.

I had applied to two internships before I came home so that the re entering of Perth would be easier, both of which I found out I did not succeed in getting.

I finally found a part time job which is lovely and has deffinatly helped in regards to finances, but something is missing still.

Two of my best friends currently still live in Greece, and it is often with a pang of jealousy that I Skype with them with their tanned skin, sunny weather and hilarious stories of the daily trials of Greek life.

Whilst in the current situation I dont have a pressing desire to be living in Greece again, I have come to the conclusion that right now Australia does not hold the answer. And that I need to continue my searches for jobs and experiences elsewhere.

I also had a terrible headache for the first week and a half which I realised was my body going through caffeine with drawls from the amount of coffee and frappes I was consuming daily in Greece.

It was also hard to get up before 12pm in the day, and eating dinner at 6pm was also eerily strange, as that was normally coffee time not dinner time!

In saying all of this things are better now, I have been home a month and have really enjoyed spending quality time with my family and catching up with friends. I am still struggling to find any work or work experience or internships in journalism/public relations but am becoming more upbeat and positive again.

I think the change of weather (well in three months when spring arrives and winter ends) shall be good and I’m starting new activities and volunteering in an effort to re inspire myself and feel as though I have a purpose being back here in Perth (study doesn’t count, its like having a job you dont get paid for 🙂 )

To all of the other returning study abroaders I hope your transition home is much much smoother than mine was this time and that the reverse culture shock of returning home does not last too long.

The re entering culture shock as bad as it has been this time around, I certainly would not change the experiences and friendships that I made in Greece and would readily go through it again in a heart beat.

Morganx

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Bohemian rhapsody

Luke from UEA in the UK here with a post about mine and Tilly’s trip to Prague!

The bus trip from Norwich to Prague was our longest yet: TWENTY-FIVE HOURS.

Trepidatious anticipation at the journey’s beginning. We were gonna get a disheveled ‘after’ shot as well, but couldn’t be bothered by that point.

But it actually wasn’t as bad as it sounds. It was fine except for when the coach had to stop for whatever reason and the air-conditioning would stop too. We had excellent weather during the trip, in the thirties and sunny every day.

However long the journey was, it was worth it to be in Prague. It’s an incredibly beautiful city, simply a nice place to be. We did a lot of that thing tourists are s’posed to do where you just walk around not doing much but absorbing the atmosphere.

 

  

 


 

 It was the perfect place to visit to augment my nascent, Grand Designs–inspired interest in architecture; the styles to be seen are multifarious: medieval, neo-classical, cubist, art nouveau, Modernist, postmodern, everything!


Prague Opera House.


The one on the right looks like it’s made of bubble-wrap, or … you know … glass bricks …

 
 A glimpse of art nouveau.
Cubism: they look like snub noses.

Thought this looked like a grand design abroad in progress.

And there are just nice touches everywhere. As with so many European cities, Prague is a testament to its people’s value of the nonessential. The bare functionalism of so many elements of society, of so many minds in Australia has been brought into contrast for me by my trip to Europe. I’ve been made to feel really defensive about my appreciation of art and my choice to do an arts degree by the attitude at home, so now whenever I’ve been coming across relevant quotes I’ve been writing them down, like these:

‘The fact is, while we’re on the subject of cheese, and it’s a bit like wine, and it’s a bit like love: there are things in the world that are not necessary for survival. And it is one of the paradoxes of being alive that it is only the extras that make you want to keep on living. We don’t really embrace the world because there is water and warmth. They are the necessities without which we cannot live. But actually, what we can’t live without are the extras; wine and cheese.’ – Stephen Fry

‘We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.’ – Dead Poets Society

People in Australia are always talking about the uselessness of art and arts degrees, but you find less of that attitude over here, and their attitude shows up in the extra, nonessential details of their cities, like the legs of public benches, the lampposts, the gates, the fountains everywhere, which I can never help myself walking up to and taking a photo of – I’m obsessed with water (features)! I’m beginning to wonder if the human race has evolved to find water beautiful and therefore want to live near it, because all the people who thought it was ugly wandered off into the desert and died.

 
Oh and also, they have COLD-WATER PUBLIC BUBBLERS.
 They’re YEARS ahead of us!

We found our way to the St Christopher’s hostel without a travel mishap or disaster to be seen. The hostel was really swanky, perhaps the best we’ve stayed in. We wondered if maybe the St Christopher’s chain spends the same amount on every one of its hostels, and they just got more for their money in the Czech Republic, which I should say was refreshingly cheap. The hostel was really environmentally friendly as well, which I thought was fantastic. It runs on 100% renewable energy sources, recycles shower water for use in toilets, extracting heat from that water beforehand and putting it to use, and it has automatic lights to conserve energy. If they can do it, why can’t everyone?

We didn’t know when we arranged to come to Prague, but fortuitously our stay coincided with the last four days of the Prague Fringe Festival, so there was plenty for us to do. The lady who told us about it recommended some events to us, two of which we attended on our first night. Funnily enough, both performers were Australian, as well. The first one was a musical comedian named Merry-May Gill, the conceit of her show being that, along with the timid local librarian (who bore a remarkable resemblance to UOW Creative Writing lecturer Chrissy Howe), she was on a quest to learn what she could from the cultural hubs of Europe so that she could turn the rural NSW town of Moree into the cultural capital of the world. The show was pretty funny, but most of the humour was based on poking fun at Australia and Moree which, while different and new to the Europeans in the audience, was nothing we hadn’t heard before. She had an astonishing voice, though. Incredible.

The next event we attended was an intimate show with Australian songstress Phebe Starr, another incredible voice. She had a charmingly sincere dialogue with the audience, and Til and I and two Canadians we’d met (the dudes in the foreground of the above photo) had a chat to her after the show. The Canadians’ names were Matt and Luke, which was funny  (Til’s family often calls her ‘Mat’) because they said the other people they’d met on their travels and gone around with were also named Matt and Luke.

Next morning we went on yet another New Europe free walking tour with the Canadians, eh. Highlights included seeing the Kafka monument and the stories about the Czechs’ subjugation by the Soviets.

Looks like something out of a story my friend Sean would write.
Our guide telling us the (New Europe Free Walking Tour–compulsory) final story of citizen uprising when the people of Prague gathered in the central square dangling their keys to demand democracy.

 

In addition to the Chrissy lookalike from the night before was this guy who reminded me of (another lecturer) Joshua Lobb, pictured here with his friends desperately trying to answer the tourguide’s question.

 

Pick me, teacher, I’m ever so smart.

(picture from blog.chinesepod.com)

 

And after the tour we had a beeeeautiful, cheap-as-chips gourmet, al fresco lunch at this place around the corner.

Like I said, we spent a lot of time just wandering around. One afternoon we wandered our way to the super-cool Lennon wall.

Someone hilariously profaned the Lennon wall with Rebecca Black lyrics.

 

We also came across another one of those lock-bridges we saw in Paris.

 

Stalky stalky stalky.

 

And an art gallery with these anti-consumerist statements crawling around outside.

 

David Černý’s Babies.

Reflected in an artwork.

 

That night we went to another two Fringe events. The first was called ‘Glue’, a spoken word event by British poet Annie Moir. It was nice, but bizarre. It was in the tiniest room imaginable (the kind you walk into and instantly realise there is no escape from, causing you to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into), with a small audience mostly comprised, I’m fairly certain, of the poet’s friends. She was a grey, steatopygious woman who mostly read poetry about … y’know, love and children and getting old and housework and twee things like that, with a healthy helping of cliché in between. There was the usual discomfort of a spoken word performance, where you don’t know whether what you’re hearing is just the poet addressing you, or if it is supposed to be a part of the performance. But it went to a whole new level of weird when, to accompany her poetry, Moir drew different objects, images and toys out of a box onstage and arranged them on a table or stuck them on a big board like some kind of Play School presenter – there was a definite sense of the pantomime about her. Furthermore, in each transition between poems, her husband standing at the back of the room (about thirty centimetres away from the front) would play twenty seconds of some tenuously relevant song, to which the poet would halfheartedly and awkwardly dance.

 

But I mean, it’s a fringe festival – what else do you expect. It was weird, but her poetry had moments of poignancy and beauty, and I think sometimes that’s what art and poetry are about. Even though the style may not be your preference, you actively experience it, you hurl your intellect up against and into an artefact, a performance, a text, and see what you come up with, see what it makes you think about. I didn’t regret going at all; she was a lovely, warm woman of some talent who I was glad to support with my presence and entry fee.

In between the poetry performance and the next event Til and I had another delicious dinner and I discovered how AMAZING Pilsener Urquelle is. No wonder the whole city is obsessed with it – it’s to Prague what Bintang is to Bali. Possibly it’s so good because the Czechs, apparently, INVENTED lager, and have the highest beer consumption rate in the world per capita. So if you’re in Prague and you go to a Pilsener restaurant bar and have the Urquelle in the proper glass at the proper temperature (12 degrees), you won’t be disappointed. Even Tilly liked it and she hates beer!

 

Hesitant initial sampling.

 

The next performance was this highly recommended (by Matt and Luke) play called 7th Circle about these magician charlatans that accidentally summon a demon and have to complete three tasks or the world will end. With hilarious results. It was funny, but it felt a bit like a band three or four HSC Drama group performance to me. I think the Canadians might’ve been more easily impressed than us, or perhaps had lower expectations beforehand. Either way, I personally enjoyed the subtle equation of charlatan magic with religious practice.

 

Onstage antics.

 

The second challenge was a dance-off against Michael Jackson.

 

Til and I stayed in different dorms throughout the trip, because it was cheaper that way. My dorm was supposed to be mixed, but I swear it was eighty per cent annoying American girls. That night, just as I was finally drifting off to sleep, two of them came in and started YELLING to each other. I couldn’t BELIEVE it. SO RUDE. I feel bad judging Americans on these girls; I know all nations have their idiots, but the incidence seems to be higher in Americans in my experience of hostel life. At first it was like, ‘Oh my Gahd! Where’d you go!? Did you go to the big club? We were so wurrayed’ and then it turned into a half-hour discussion of the top ten most inane topics in the world. And then, just when you think it’s over and they’re finally going to sleep:

 

‘Oh, I forgaht to aask you if you like guacamole.’

 

‘Whut?’

 ‘D’you like guacamole?’

 ‘Why, do you have guacamole with you?’

 ‘No.’

 ‘Well why’re you aasking me that?’

 ‘It’s from Step Brothers.’

 ‘Oh, raight.’

 ‘Have you seen it?’

 ‘No.’

 ‘What? Why naht?’

 ‘I have started, I just never finished it.’

 ‘Gahd, get with the times.’

 ‘I’ve seen most of it, I just never saw the whole thing!’

 And it’s like oh my God SHUT UP! Learn to express more than one single unit of meaning in each utterance. Every notion of your speech does not have to be given the maximum dramatic space and effect! Your conversations just devolve into these long, vapid exchanges of nothing, that way. No wonder the world hates America.

 

On our last full day in Prague Til and I went to look around the grounds of Prague castle, from where there are great views of the city. We had lunch up there with one of these views, then came back down to go to one last Fringe event. But alas, we could not find it in time and gave up (something that happened frequently on the trip). We did, however, find a Gloria Jean’s, whose iced coffees I’ve been missing desperately. That was a treat. One of the (few?) positives of multinational corporations.

 


 

The inviting entrance to Prague castle.


A view of the castle at night.

 

Joy!

We rounded out our exploration of Prague with another stroll, a venture down to the water’s edge, a stint in the Kafka museum shop where I bought a copy of The Metamorphosis, and then a mouth-watering pizza dinner.

 

 

That night was the last of the Fringe Festival, with Belushi’s, the bars on the ground floors of all St Christopher’s hostels, hosting the final party, so we hung out in there, me enjoying my last Czech Pilsener Urquelle.

 

Next day we departed Prague for Berlin by train. Here’s hoping we don’t catch E coli and die in Germany!

Cheers,

Luke

PS. All these blog posts and I still haven’t worked out the formatting … No idea why the font changes halfway through, or why there’s such big paragraph gaps sometimes and other times no gaps, but sorry about that.


Wow … such lies

Hey. Luke Bagnall from UEA in the UK here, and if you read my last post about Amsterdam, you’ll know why I’m so pissed off about the blatant lies told by O’Reilly in the video above. Everyone knows those North-Western/Scandanavian progressive, secular, liberal, expensive welfare-state European countries have the highest standards of living and the lowest crime rates anywhere in the world. So how can he get away with just lying like that? Now I’ve experienced for myself what I’ve always heard about Fox.


Three wollongongers do london: the longest post ever part two

Luke here, continuing on from my last post.

The last thing I said was about how we kind of poorly timed our trip because we missed the Royal Wedding, but one way it wasn’t poorly timed was meteorologically. The weather was spectacular. Last time we were in London it was grey, bleak, positively Russian, but it couldn’t have been better this time. Compare the pair:

December

 

April

Actually, those two pictures probably don’t really demonstrate the difference that much. Except for the leaves. That was just the only thing I took a picture of twice. 

After the tour, lunch and Snog we returned to Trafalgar Square to go to the National Gallery (yet another free attraction – although we did donate), but first we saw the performers outside:



That second guy was such a wanker. There’s pumping the crowd up and then there’s gratuitously wringing them for all they’re worth. I swear he took half an hour just to get through that stupid tennis racquet. It’s not even impressive; you’re just skinny …

The National Gallery was good, but we weren’t really up to it after the walking tour and all. Our feet were killing us so we ended up surrendering and going for cider and wine in St James’s Park. I love that you can drink in public here! They’re not, however, very big on screwtop lids, so getting to our precious liquid required some ingenuity:


Kirb using Til’s fake plastic key; I favoured my metallic phone case.

After that it was more predrinks in a bar and then back to Jamie’s Italian for a delicious, inexpensive dinner.

 Predrinks at Verve.


 Til being counselled by our (pleasantly) surprisingly knowledgeable waiter.

 

Til’s truffle tagliatelle


 My lemon curd.


Kirb’s raspberry chocolate brownie


 Til’s walnut slice.


What looks to be an authentic Crapper’s toilet!

The next morning we visited Westminster Abbey. Of course, the first thing I did when I got inside was get the baby (DSLR) out to get  a photo of the amazing stained glass windows. Before I’d even gotten the lens cap off, this waspish old bag in an absurd green cloak had blustered over to me and snapped, ‘There’s no photography in here!’

‘Oh, sorry’, I said, immediately repentant. I was a little embarrassed. ‘Really?’ I asked, suddenly finding it astonishing that you wouldn’t be allowed to take photos of such an iconic attraction.

‘Well there’s notices everywhere!’ she snarled, as if I’d just whipped it out and started pissing on Chaucer’s grave or something.

I looked around, genuinely looking for a single one. ‘Well I don’t see any, and that’s a really nice way to speak to someone, isn’t it? Very Christian. Turn the other cheek, love thy neighbour and all that.’

Except by the time I’d turned back from looking around she’d already stormed off, probably luckily, or I really would’ve said that to her and then gotten kicked out of the church. But what a bitch. It was just the way she spoke to me, and the fact that we were in a church and that she was presumably Christian. Sorry if I was so distracted by the magnificent historical splendour around me that I didn’t notice one tiny green sign prohibiting photography. As if I’d walk in and blatantly take a photo right in front of her if I’d seen the sign. Besides violating her Christian beliefs, she was also not living up to her job description which, according to the Westminster Abbey website, includes ‘[h]elping visitors to feel comfortable in the Abbey and not to be daunted by the building.’

Now, I’ve been to a lot of churches and abbeys and cathedrals since I’ve come to Europe, and at first I did feel a bit guilty taking photos in a place of worship. It felt disrespectful somehow. But I’ve since come to the conclusion that it’s not me turning them into a tourist attraction – it’s them. They’re the ones charging a seventeen pound entrance fee, hawking cheap religious merchandise, trying to elicit a few more pounds out of you by deliberatley funnelling you past the coffee stand which, I might add, is sitting ON TOP OF PEOPLE’S GRAVES. But oh no, we wouldn’t want to defile the sanctity of the church by cheapening it into a mere tourist attraction with our photos. I’m sorry, but if you’re selling it like a tourist attraction, the tourists should be allowed to take photos of it. Also, you can’t forcibly dominate one and a half thousand years of human history without surrendering some privileges; it’s part of the bargain. When a culture or institution gains a certain amount of supremacy in the world, it relinquishes control of the institutions and constructs it previously commanded and enforced so that, today, many of the irreligious celebrate Christmas, and Christian relics such as abbeys are of as much, if not more historical importance than spiritual.

But anyway, I am glad I didn’t get kicked out, ’cause the church was really cool. The audioguide was narrated by Jeremy Irons! I was having inappropriate Lolita flashbacks. Saw the graves of lots of famous people. Sure wish I had some photos. Haha. We saw one grave of some guy named something like ‘Baganoll’, and we were going to get a cheeky picture, but then we remembered a fact from Dave’s tour: that Britons are the most watched people in the world, with some ridiculous amount of the planet’s surveillance cameras situated there. So we thought maybe not. Also we’d had the fear of the ‘greencloaks’, as I’d taken to calling them, struck into our souls.

 ‘No photos!’

We did get a few photos in the cloisters, which I later discovered you were allowed to do anyway, but whatever.



In the cloisters was the coffee shop I mentioned above, and the delicious pastry fragrance wafting from it wasn’t helping the fact that I was starving. I refused, however, to give any more of my money to this evil institution (haha), so we finished up in the abbey and since I LOVE them and Kirbie hadn’t tried one yet, went in search of pasties. Usually it’s not that difficult: there’s a Cornish Pasty Co every five seconds in this country but, like Starbucks, you can never actually find one when you want one. 

Next up was the British Museum (free once again!) which was, ironically, having an Australian exhibit that we, needless to say, didn’t see. There I got to see a lot of old friends from Ancient History, plus some other cool stuff.


 Cool roof.


 

 Me with the Rosetta Stone.

 Only mention of Hatshepsut I could find.


 Lindow Man.



Once again, after the museum our feet were dying. Kirb went back to her hostel to get ready for the pub crawl that night while Til and I dropped dead in the nearest cafe to be replenished by some surprisingly good (by European standards) iced mochas. 

Known for their restorative properties.

After a minor travel mishap which involved me running all over London looking for an internet cafe, we were reunited with Kirbie for a speedy Maccas dinner and the pub crawl. I was neg-vibing on it a bit at first, due to exhaustion, but it turned out great.  There was one crazy Western Australian guy who must‘ve been on drugs, and a Swedish girl who challenged us and a Canadian guy list ten famous people from our countries, only to list brands when we turned the tables on her.


Crazy guy



It kind of became evident as the night went on that the pub crawl was more of a singles-fest than anything else. By the end of the night it was kind of just the guys passing around the girls, which was funny and gross to watch, but we left around that point.

The next day was Kirbie’s last in London, and I had high expectations. We were going to the Tower of London and to see Lion King, two things which I’d really been looking for. And as always, ‘when a man get something he wants badly he doesn’t like it’ (VS Naipaul’s Miguel Street). I did like them both, I just had such high expectations that I was slightly disappointed.

That’s one major lesson I’ve learned from my exchange experience so far. It’s been a fair while since I’ve made new friends – everyone I’m close to at home has known me at least since the startof uni. So having this intense experience of becoming close to people in a period of six months has been a kind of checkup on what I’m like as a person right now. Everyone else I know has preconceived notions of me, but the people I’ve met overseas have nothing to go on but what they’ve discovered for themselves in the last few months. In a way, their opinion of me will be the most unbiased account of who I am, perhaps not wholly, but currently. And it’s interesting because two of the people I’ve grown closest to over here, Sam and Kim, have both said I’m a very cynical person – which is something I don’t know many of my friends at home would call me.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and learned from it. I think the best way to be, in this respect, is to have the acuity to be able to perceive things as they are with all their faults; the disposition to not be bothered by those faults; and the social awareness not to come across to people as a critical asshole who can’t be pleased by anything. I think I had the first two to begin with, but I was never aware of the need for the third until now.

I think I have a higher tolerance for faults than other people. Yes, I can pick holes in something and point to the parts of it that I didn’t like, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it otherwise. That doesn’t mean I dislike it all together. I have an exacting standard of perfection, but not an exacting standard of enjoyment. So yes, I can be disappointed by a whole lot of things in Lion King: the fact that the lines were rushed and said without conviction, that the additions to the show weren’t of the same quality as those from the original, that Simba’s accent was far too posh, that Nala kept making the same ridiculous gesture with her body and so on and so forth, but still come away from the show having loved it.

I love language, and think it’s our best medium for communication, but even so, it’s so inadequate. There is no way to economically modulate it enough to accurately convey the middleground, the liminal, the grey , the inbetween of human experience, and you can see this in the way we think. It’s difficult to list the faults of something without it seeming like you didn’t enjoy it because language forces us to make assertions in relative polaritie, with only clumsy adjectives and things as modifiers. That’s why you get all these people saying in their Facebook ‘About Me’s that they’re ‘a walking bundle of contradictions’ and ‘so random’, because when called upon to give an account of themselves in words, they find it difficult to reconcile any words which contradict one another, they are ‘unable to hold in their minds … two contradictory ideas’ (Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance – you can tell I’ve just been studying for a Postcolonialism exam, can’t you?). They go to write that they’re quiet, but then they remember that, when they’re with a certain group of friends they’re really boisterous. But what? Quiet AND boisterous? No! God, I’m just sooooo random! 

You’ll notice how long and dense (and boring?) all my posts are, and how full of relative pronouns (which etc) they are. This is because I’m trying to accurately represent my experience, and that requires modulation. But people don’t like picky people (everyone hates professional critics), and it’s my responsibility, not theirs, to control how I represent myself. I think sometimes I’ve got to just hold my tongue and say I liked something instead of saying I liked it, except for all these things, but I still liked it. Lesson learned.


 Insecure, much, Henry VIII?



After the Tower of London, we went to this really bizarre restaurant. It wasn’t overtly weird, it just kind of built up in strangeness so that by the end, I was convinced it had been started by this family who had everything except the chef, and they finally found one to work for them, but he was like, ‘All right, but we’re gonna do things MY way’, and from then on the family lived in terror of displeasing the chef by violating any of his punctilious rules. First, they didn’t have eftpos. Then they wouldn’t take our order until Til had gone to the ATM which they said sometimes didn’t work, they wouldn’t let Kirbie have two toasted sandwiches instead of one (without getting two entire meals), and they gave us paper coffee cups for our Coke. They had a whole page of restrictions on the front page of their menu, essentially saying things like ‘no alterations’ and ‘too bad if your food comes out at different times’. Do you see what I mean? How it was all so self-oriented instead of customer-oriented. Like, NO we don’t have EFTPOS even though it would be really easy for us to get it because we’re in the middle of the city next to a gigantic tourist attraction; NO we won’t take your order yet because we don’t want to be inconvenienced if the ATM doesn’t work; NO alterations, NO food out at the same time, NO proper glasses because we don’t want to wash them up! It’s like, it’s called the hospitality industry for a reason …

 Coke in a coffee cup.

The bill said service wasn’t included, but there was no way we were tipping, so we just left the exact money and sketattled.

Sadly that night Kirbie left. It’d been so good having her there; we probably wouldn’t have done half the things we’d done if she hadn’t been there to energise and motivate us – we were leaving the hostel at nine in the morning and not coming back till eleven, twelve, or one every night. She really made our visit.


Kirb being swallowed by a sea of tube commuters.

After Kirbie left, Til and I walked around Covent garden and watched an amazing busker for a while before heading home.


Our last day in London turned out to be a return to all our favourite places without us meaning it to. We started out at the National Gallery, this time in the Portrait Gallery, where we saw some very cool familiar faces:


 Anne Boleyn

Charles Darwin.

Charlotte Bronte.


Ted Hughes.


And guess who else we saw? That’s right, Mandalf!:

‘JUST, KIDDING’.

It was this guy:


(image from http://www.life.com)

After that it was a return to St James’s Park and Snog:

 BAMF once more.



And then finally we revisited Covent Garden, my personal favourite, for some chorizo and chicken rolls which were AMAZING. It was the perfect way to  end our stay in London.

Cheers,

Luke Bagnall


‘The last refuge of the unimaginative …’

– Oscar Wilde on conversations about the weather.

Luke here again, with a quick post concerning meteorology.

The English and their weather. In the presentation we had on our orientation day, they gave us some tips on integrating into English society, one of which was not to introduce ourselves to strangers by name straight off but to talk about the weather. This instruction became kind of notorious among incredulous exchange students and local students alike. I think they miscommunicated their idea there – they should’ve  specified this was for strangers at the bus stop. Don’t stride up in your cowboy boots and rhinestone belt and say, ‘Hi, my name’s Bill. Pudder there, pal.’ I don’t think the advice was meant for use with class- or flatmates.
It’s funny – I’ve noticed that really prevalent among the English is this attitude that ‘people just aren’t meant to live’ places. Anywhere hot or cold, anywhere that storms, anywhere with poisonous animals or floods or ice or humidity or mountains – basically anywhere outside of the hundred or so square miles that comprise the United Kingdom of Great Britain: people just shouldn’t live there. They simply aren’t meant to. I’m sure this is due to the fact that Britons happen to inhabit the only place on Earth where literally nothing can hurt you, where the most dangerous animal is the semi-poisonous, at best, adder, and the wildest meteorological swing is between lukewarm and temperate. As if we can all find somewhere as mild and sterilised as Britain to live. And a lot of British, especially older ones, are happy to look at Asia and Africa and say people aren’t supposed to live there, but they certainly don’t want any more Asians or Africans around (a lot of racist grandmas and grandpas around).
You hear a lot of moaning about English weather, but honestly it hasn’t bothered me, and I’ve been here through winter, since December, although I did miss most of the snow. And now that it’s spring there’ve been quite a few nice days. It was funny at first – 16 degrees and everyone drops what they’re doing to go outside and just be out. They appreciate it more. The field outside my kitchen window looked like a beach on the warm days we’ve had lately.
Luke Bagnall

Travel disaster the fourth

Luke Bagnall here once again, realising, having written this post already, that it probably won’t be as interesting to anyone as it is to us, but it feels like it needs to be told, dammit! I give you

the latest travel disaster of the trip so far: the journey from Les Deux Alpes back to Norwich.

The first leg of this journey went smoothly, the worst part being when we had to move from one bus to another and I’d been asleep. It really went sour when we arrived at Stansted Airport with only two British pounds between us. That’s fine, we thought. We’ll just get some cash out at the airport. Oh wait, no, Luke lost his wallet in Ireland and now has no cards, and Tilly has no money in the account she can access with her card.
That’s okay, we think again, they have internet at airports. We’ll just get on and Til can transfer money from one of her accounts to the account she can access and then we’ll be fine. So we spend one of our two pounds on ten minutes internet access. But for some reason the computer WILL NOT LOAD Til’s internet banking page.
We decide to explain the situation to one of the people behind airport help desk in the hopes that they will lend us their computers for thirty seconds to transfer the money. But of course they don’t. They tell us to go and try another internet access point run by the same company. Obviously those computers didn’t work either, so we went back to the desk a second time and asked again, thinking this time surely they would show some human compassion and let us use their computers for a SECOND. But no, British customer service proves itself once again to be shocking. They couldn’t really have cared less, despite the fact that their stupid advice had left us stranded in the airport, bereft of our last two pounds. Instead of helping us they directed us down to the nearby swanky Radisson Blu hotel to ask them for help. Great work there, Stansted Customer Service.
Thank God for the rich. They could afford to let us use their lobby internet access point despite the fact that we weren’t staying there.
That night we stayed at the Days Hotel Stansted, resting and recovering for the next leg of our journey. The plan was simple. Tilly would leave at six in the morning so she could catch the Stansted Express and the tube to get across London to the ski shop to return her gear, then meet me back at Victoria Coach Station for our one o’clock bus. I left a couple of hours later, catching the Stansted Express to London Liverpool Street, from where I was supposed to catch the tube to Victoria Station. Seemingly a simple task, but no.
Liverpool Street accesses three London lines: the Metropolitan Line, the Circle Line, and the Hammersmith & City Line. Trains for the last two lines both leave from the same platform. I knew this as I rushed down to the platform, but I was so ahead of time that I thought I may as well just get on the train sitting there – if it was the wrong one I could always just catch the train back.
I sat in my seat, anxiously looking out the window. If the next station was Aldgate, I was on the right train. If it was Aldgate East, I was on the Hammersmith & City Line and going the wrong way. It was the latter.
So attempt two. I get back to Liverpool Street and arrive on the same platform once again. Usually you can tell where the next train to arrive is going by the electronic signs that hang above you. But they only tell you the ultimate destination of the train, not the intervening stations, so if you have no knowledge of London trainlines, you need a map, of which there were none around AT ALL. The next train arrives and I stick my head in to hear the ‘next stop’ announcement; there isn’t one. I’d noticed on my way back from Aldgate East that trains have the same coloured railings inside as the lines on which they travel. Clever, I think. This train has yellow railings, the colour of the Circle Line. Good. This one should take me to Aldgate.
Nope. Aldgate East again. SO FRUSTRATING. HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHERE THE TRAIN IS GOING!?
At this point it’s a choice between going back to Liverpool Street again and chancing whatsoever the next train may be, or just taking the District Line from Aldgate East, which also goes to Victoria, but which takes a lot longer and will probably make me late.
I go with District Line because if I end back up at Aldgate East again I might just go mad.
I emerge from Victoria Station, FINALLY, having followed a sign that said ‘Exit’ and ‘Victoria Coach Station’, which I think is convenient. On the surface I search further for a sign directing me to VCS, but to no avail. How can they guide me so cossetingly to the surface only to abandon me like this? I find a map which has VCS on it, but of course, there’s no street signs around to tell me which street I’m on and the map is consequently pretty useless.
Til calls me, very annoyed because she had apparently been trying to call me the whole time I was in the tube and because she had JUST missed the bus to Norwich herself (THANK GOD – I would’ve been in so much trouble if we both hadn’t have missed it) due to a couple of travel disasters of her own, including the Stansted Express taking half an hour later than it should’ve, the ski shop being closed until nine, several tube lines being cancelled, and a typically overenthusiastic British set of directions from a policeman.
After hanging up, I decide the only way to get to the coach station is to circumnavigate the train station and see what streets surround it. As soon as I get to the other side, though, I find signs directing me to it anyway. So misleading! Why on EARTH would that sign clearly reading ‘Victoria Coach Station’ have lead me to an exit on the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE TRAIN STATION TO THE COACH STATION!?
Long story short we have to buy new tickets to Norwich and wait an hour or two. This means that we will not make it to uni in time to hand in our Creative Writing assignments at three, and probably not before the submissions close for the day at five, meaning we’ll have to hand them in the next day and incur a 10% penalty instead of just 5%.
When we do arrive at uni, though, we find that we still have fifteen minutes to get it in. We rush to the library to print them and do so, but for SOME RIDICULOUS REASON the printer just prints out ten BLANK PAGES instead of my assignment and has the audacity to CHARGE ME FOR IT! AHHHH! HOW do these absurd travel disasters keep happening!? HOW does everything manage to go wrong all at once!?
With five minutes to spare, Til prints hers and I go back to a computer to print mine again. Til got hers in literally at the last minute and I missed out. Luckily I explained the whole situation to the illustrious Trezza Azzopardi and she granted me an extension.
Thus concludeth travel disaster #4, the most recent and hopefully LAST travel disaster of our exchange trip!
Luke Bagnall

Further irish adventures

Luke again, this time posting about my return to Cork for my friend’s birthday.
If the first travel disaster of the trip was Tilly’s flight being delayed so that she arrived on Christmas Day, when there happens, absurdly, to be no public transport in London (even Wollongong has Christmas Day public transport) so that she had to pay seventy pounds for a cab to where we were staying (see ‘Some things that happened in london); and the second was when our train from Edinburgh to Newcastle was about to depart and we couldn’t find the place to print our tickets so we had to buy more on the train (see ‘English hospitality and castle tours’), then my journey to Ireland for my best friend Charlene’s birthday was certainly the third, and the worst yet.
Let me set the scene. It’s Wednesday and I have an assessment due at three in the afternoon and a train to London at three-thirty. Naughtily, I skip my class in the morning in order to finish the assignment and hand it in with plenty of time to print it out, submit it, pack for Ireland, print out my Ryanair boarding pass, and pick up my train tickets which I’d had delivered to the university for my convenience. I finish my assignment and go to print it out, but the university printer network is temporarily down. That’s okay, I think, I have so much else to do that I can come back in two hours when it’s back up again. I ask the guy at the front desk in the library if he knows anything about when they will be back up, and he replies that I’ll have to go and see the IT Helpdesk; he knows nothing abouti t. That’s RIDICULOUS. The line for the IT Helpdesk is twenty-people long. As IF the Helpdesk wouldn’t be in communication with the MAIN RECEPTION so they could answer that question.
Anyway, then I head to the post room, where I’ve never been before. I give the man my student card and ask if there’s any mail for me. There isn’t. Huh, I think … Odd. They should’ve arrived like, yesterday. Then I remember that we paid for the tickets on Tilly’s credit card, so they might have been delivered under her name but to my address, because I definitely put my address on there. I call Tilly because they probably won’t give something addressed to her to me. She doesn’t answer. I call her a further twenty-eight times. She doesn’t answer. Since there’s nothing else to be done, I head back home to pack my bag and write a plaintive status update, which Tilly sees and calls me.
We meet back up again at the mail room and she sees if she has any mail under my address. She doesn’t. I decide to call the train company and tell them my tickets haven’t been delivered, but I’m in the middle of uni with none of my details or reference numbers so the guy isn’t very helpful, and I end up running out of credit halfway through anyway. I buy more credit and call from my room. He insists that they have been delivered. I return to the mail room once again with Tilly and this time we try her address and her name, in case they saw her name addressed to the wrong flat and put the mail in what they thought was the right one. There’s no mail for her at her address either. By this time they’ve seen me three times in like, two hours, and I just decide to explain the whole situation. Then he informs me that for registered mail it’s my responsibility to check a separate list. HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW!?
Anyway, the tickets are there but it’s now quarter to three and my assignment still isn’t printed. We go to the computer labs in case the printers are working there, but they’re not. I decide it’s best to just go to the English Lit office and ask them what to do, since no one else must be able to print their assignments either. On the way I call a taxi to arrive at three to take me to the train station, but the lady on the phone says I’ll want it now if I’m going to make it through traffic by three-thirty. This means I have to bolt to the office because the taxi is on its way. When I get there, the receptionist tells me the library has been taking down people’s details and saving their documents to be printed and collected later, with notes explaining why they’re late. But this doesn’t help me because I have to leave NOW. As a sign that the universe still loves me, my lecturer for that subject somehow happened to be outside the office photocopying things at that exact moment, and I flustered at her until she agreed to accept my assignment by email, thank GOD.
I then RUSH to the place I’d arranged for the taxi to come to, and despite all that, I miss my train by a minute. I thought I was screwed but I hadn’t counted on the politeness of the English. I explained my situation and the lady at the desk gave me a free ticket. Bizarre. That would never happen in Australia. If you miss your train you miss your train. Harden up. Drink some concrete. Rub some dirt in it.
Anyway, from here on out things settled down and started working out for me. Little did I know my good luck wasn’t to continue, but more on that later.
The only thing I was really worried about at this point was that I hadn’t printed my Ryanair boarding pass, an offense for which they make you a pay forty pound fee. I somehow needed to find a place when I got to London where I could access the internet and print it out – but at six o’clock at night? I couldn’t even do that in Sydney, let alone a city I had no idea about. My first objective was to find a cafe that had free wireless, which was surprisingly difficult. A calm had fallen over me, however, because of the way everything had worked out with the previous disaster. I felt at one with the universe (haha), and was enjoying the experience of being alone in London on an adventure.
When I emerged from the Underground, there was a man standing there with a megaphone saying things like, ‘Do not ask questions like “Who created God?” Leave these to the theologians … Please carry on towards your next material purchase’ etc. It was really entertaining and he had a bit of a crowd around him. I recorded some footage on my iPod but I don’t think this site lets you upload mp4s.
I eventually found a Pret cafe (which I really love: they’re really quirky and they’re either genuine or canny in their environmentally friendly marketing) that had free internet, and googled ‘printing internet access London’. I found a nearby internet cafe and navigated my way to it slowly. I think it was called the Galaxy Internet Cafe or something, and there was some pretty cool street art around:
 
On the way back I came across these kind of art exhibition things and nearly went past, but then I made myself go in and have a look and start a conversation with someone. I did it, but once again I didn’t account for the differeing national character. Where the English politeness had helped me before, I now ran afoul of Londoner standoffishness. Pretty sure if someone who was obviously a backpacker came up and started to have a conversation  with someone in Australia they’d be up for it, but they seemed kind of weird about being approached. Still glad I made myself do it though.
 I stayed that night in Stansted because my flight the next morning was really early – like, five or something.  Somehow, because I’d been staying up so late recently, I thought it would be a good idea to stay up all night because it’d be easier than making myself go to sleep early. This was a plan doomed from its outset. I ended up having an hour of sleep and desperately wanting more.
And now, the sad conclusion of my bad luck: I arrived in Cork, met Charlene at the airport and instantly began talking the way we do. While doing so I wandered around taking photos haplessly, not realising what I’d done. I’d lost my wallet.
Appreciating a dew-covered statue of a hurler during those last moments of innocent joy …
Obviously I went all around the airport talking to people but to no avail. And I got really pissed off because of the dismissive way the staff on the whole treated me. It just wouldn’t happen in Australia. They wouldn’t just say ‘Sorry, nothing’s been reported’ – they’d suggest what you should do next, who you should talk to, where you could leave your phone number. So frustrating! Service is so bad on this side of the world!
Anyway, that was a really crap way to start my trip in Cork. But I got over it eventually. It was the credit cards I was most worried about, and they’re all sorted now. I lost about a hundred Euro, but that was the worst of it. In those last minutes before I realised I’d lost my wallet I took the picture below of a crow sitting on a sign, but as I took it, it flew off, which augured my bad luck ‘flying off’ because after that I was all good.
Losing my wallet though, did force a temporary stop to my travelling giving campaign. Right before I left I watched an interview with Australian philosopher Peter Singer, where he talked about his aim to change the culture of giving so that donation was an ordinary thing – something which you would expect any decent person to do. You could meet people, conceivably, and casually say, ‘Oh, so who do you donate to?’ I really like this idea, but if I’m going to donate to one organisation I want to do my research and work out which cause suits me, which one I really want to give my money to, and I haven’t done that yet. I can’t really explain it, I suspect because it doesn’t make sense, but I feel a kind of guilt being in someone else’s country and being better off than them. Here I am, a visitor, a traveller in London and there’s a homeless man whose country this is, and I’m better off than him. I just made a promise to myself that, while travelling, I would give something to everyone who asked it of me – even if it’s just always the smallest coin in my pocket (although I think giving single pennies away is more insulting than anything else). I know it’s irrational, but I don’t think giving can really be a bad thing, so I’m happy to keep doing it. It’s either homeless people, charity workers, or buskers, so the money’s never going somewhere it shouldn’t.
Anyway, onto actual Cork. This was my second visit, and Charlz and I basically fell into our old habit of waking up late, wandering around the city, going somewhere for breakfast, then spending the day until dinner in a cafe somewhere drinking coffees and hot chocolates. I’ve really missed our seven-hour conversation marathons in Gloria Jean’s back home, so we had to take advantage of the time we had. It’s hard spending so much time in cafes, though, because they don’t really have the flat white over here, and back home it’s the standard staple caffeinated drink. Without my flat whites I don’t know what to order. Lattes are pretty close, but they come in big effeminate glasses and I feel like an idiot. And cappuccinos? Eh, I don’t really like froth. Luckily, I think the flat white is starting to take hold. I’ve seen it on a few menus with a ‘New!’ sticker next to it, such as at Eat in London. They had it in the Cork Costa, but it was obviously really new and they were trying to fan the flame of its success. They had a deal where you could try it and if you didn’t like it you could have your regular coffee free, but they wouldn’t let you have it in any greater quantity than a small because of the risk, haha.
 Cafe dwelling.
  Beautiful Cork.

This time I made a point of taking a photo of Mr Connolly’s bookshop. Lonely Planet has named him as an integral part of Cork’s culture, and he’s a very interesting man. He resents being turned into a tourist attraction, and while I was talking to him (because Charlene knows him) he told someone off for trying to take a photo of him without his permission. I was therefore a bit apprehensive about taking this photo, in case he thought that’s what I was doing, but I got away without getting in trouble.

 
 That’s James Joyce out the front, there.
On Charlene’s actual birthday we followed much the same routine as usual, going to cafes and stuff.
 
 
 Entertaining nonsensical tryhard sachets.
A disappointing iced coffee – the Europeans just don’t get it.

We also went out to dinner at Charlene’s favourite restaurant, Scoozi’s, where I gave a brief speech in an attempt to embarrass her.

 
 Antics.

Anyway, I think this post’s gone on long enough!

Luke