Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ask For What You Want...

I wanted to go somewhere so I did. Cardiff in Wales was my destination of choice this time.

The day started off with a bizarre dream. I would like summarize this yarn quickly, I am, however, in a story telling mood. This particular dream began with the fact that my house here in Bristol, 115 Queens Road, and all it's inhabitants, were all suddenly living at 709 Perkins St. on Whidbey Island in Washington. We had stayed up all night having a chill party when I got the idea to watch the sunrise.

We stomped down to Cpt. Coupe's Park, laughing and chatting as we went, and upon our arrival, sat on the beach overlooking Penn Cove. There we chatted and waited for the sun to emerge from beneath it's heavy earthen duvet. Suddenly, I exclaimed that it was going to rain and so, as if upon my will, it began to sprinkle. Everyone was in awe of my ability to predict the weather; I was not as sure. Then I felt something culminating inside me; defining what that something is would surely be impossible. This culminating feeling inside me reached an apex and out poured the prophecy that it was going to thunder... and so it thundered. Whether or not I was conjuring these phenomena is still unclear to me but it was during the aforementioned ponderings that there came the most absurd occurrence.

Soaring through the pre-dawn ashen sky there came a boat; an Issaquah 130 class ferry boat to be precise. But fear not! for though, to you the reader and I the narrator, this may seem a rather appalling and perhaps even horrific event, in this whimsical dream world it was just another proverbial walk in the park.

My dream-self understood this and watched undaunted, though having to calm the others who were gasping in awe upon witnessing, for the first time, a flying ferry boat. I explained to them that there was indeed a giant crane in Seattle that would hoist the ferrys from the water and then fling them to their desired destination, always mind you, landing safely keel first.

We watched as the crew of this Issaquah 130 class ferry unbuckled from their safety harnesses, for though sailing through the Puget Sound skies is a generally innocuous occurrence, it is better to err on the side of safety.

Well my dear reader, I wish there was more to this particular dream but alas my 7 o'clock alarm sounded and I had to steal my conciousness away from that fascinating adventure. But it was the toll of my alarm which hastened the beginning of another adventure!

Bristol is a city of the night. Rarely have I set my head upon my pillow before the clock strikes midnight and, as people like to get as much sleep as possible, we can surely assert that late nights inevitably lead to later mornings. So you can imagine how bizarre it might be to come upon the streets that you are accustomed to be teeming with people, now silent and empty. There are a manner of people that are up this early: pre-work runners and the hungover, partially naked, post-partier. I did pass many such people in my shuffling to the bus stop, maybe not all half-naked but in their pyjamas at least.

Anna is a friend of mine from Boston. She organized our wonderful trip to Cardiff in Wales. It was she that I met at the bus stop at 8:00 Saturday morning.

It was my first time on a bus in England, nothing fancy but something worth noting. I still need to go on one of the red london double-deckers. We arrived at the train station and I have to say that I love train stations. I love trains. They're so relaxing. We got on train at platform 9 and 45 minutes later we arrived in Cardiff. My first impressions were mediocre at best. It may have been the overcast skies, the drizzle of rain, or the fact that Cardiff doesn't look much different than anywhere else in the western world; concrete buildings, paved streets, all the commodities of home. There are some fundamental differences in Cardiff.

Cymraeg (Welsh)

You know you're in Wales because almost every piece of print is written in English and in Welsh; Cross walks, street signs, store windows, etc! Not only that, welsh is frequently spoken by the locals. I sat outside at a coffee shop called Harleys indulging in one of my favourite past times, people-watching, but also marvelling as strangers strolled by casually exchanging words quite unknown to me. "Really Zach, Welsh people speaking welsh,
what a novelty" you might sarcastically say! but to be truthful, the thought of this other language had not even occurred to me until I was immersed in it. I have to say, it was electrifying. I always get excited by the littlest things!

As we moseyed the streets marvelling at the little things we came upon a not so little wall. Following it's supremely laid masonry as it tapered off in the distance, our eyes settled on a large gate, and through it we perceived upon a mound, a castle Keep. Hurriedly we scampered across the street to investigate and came to a screeching halt at the end of a queue. The price was steep to get a tour of Cardiff Castle, so we resolved to come back after we explored a little more.

There was a novelty shop directly across the street and loving all manner of trinkets I stole inside to examine the goods. It was there I bought some post cards and a welsh flag. I was going to get a shotglass, but alas! they were far too expensive.

We found a directory and were excited to see the Museum of Wales was literally around the corner! So we walked briskly in that general direction marvelling at the Castle walls as we passed. On our way to the museum we stopped at a park, whose main attraction was a rather dashing bearded man frozen forever in a pose of nobility. John III Marquess of Bute, also the Earl of Windsor, was staring thoughtfully into the distance as Anna and I stared mystified by his large cast-iron presence. It was also in this park that I found a book. It sat lonely, on a lonely bench, in a lonely park, being tormented by the rain. Well you can't just leave it there, it looked so helpless! I had to take it home with me. That is how I am the new owner of The Shadow of the Wind. I've not been terribly impressed by the beginning but a house-mate of mine tells me that the start is slow but the rest is well worth it... we'll see.

We continued forth to the museum, but in doing so we passed yet another grand place: the Town Hall. Compared to the little white building in Coupeville, this building is Epic. We didn't, however, go inside; we couldn't be bothered. We were on a mission, a mission to visit the National Museum Cardiff and bask in the glory of it's literal freeness.

"Yes" the voice inside my head stated, "This was a good choice." Walking into the museum itself was enough to knock you off your feet. A massive dome rose up as if it wanted to float away, and everywhere massive columns supported the enormous building. There were two parts to the Museum, first a natural history section and second an art section. We made a B-Line for the natural history portion and let me tell you that it was a good place to start.

Inside I got to touch some of the oldest rocks on Earth, from the British Isles, and finally from Wales itself. Now, for most touching rocks might not be the biggest thrill but come on! Oldest rocks in the world... a literal blast from the past. I happened to love my Geology class and the entire field itself, so this was rather like my version of the proverbial kid-in-the-candy-store experience. I also got to touch an iron meteorite that was about the size of a basketball. It's hard to describe what it looked like, but my first response was a giddy smile followed quickly by the thought "funky."

We made our way through the rest of the natural history part quite quickly, I was actually more interested in the history of Wales from a human aspect, but this exhibit pretty much ended with prehistoric man in Britain. Hmm...

Anna and I took a moment to sit and rehydrate and then we were on to the Art section. Anna is not a huge fan of Art in general. She said she had been to the Louvre in Paris and spent a grand total of 15 minutes in it; secretly I was sobbing on the inside. Regardless, I dragged her along.

I really enjoyed some of the busts we had to pass to enter the exhibit, not anyone of major note, they were mostly just busts of British people. One guy had the most amazing mutton chops. Seriously, cast forever in marble with those things framing your face is pretty incredible. I didn't get to take much time inside the art Museum as our day was limited, but I did take some time to admire Mr. Monet's paintings. Yeah. The Nation Museum Cardiff has original Monet paintings. I was awed. You always see copies of them around, or cards, posters on uni students' walls, etc. But I was in Wales, in Britain, looking at original Monet paintings. God I love my life. Thanks everyone who helped me get here.

After that high, Cardiff would present us with some lows before it would reveal more of it's treasures...

Anna and I arrived in Cardiff early that Saturday morning, little did we know that we were not the only ones with this grand Cardiffian adventure in mind.
We marched back the way we came and found, to our dismay, that the train station was "conveniently" close to the Cardiff shopping centre. At 9 in the morning the streets are pleasantly manageable but at 1:00 on Saturday, a hoard of consumers descends into Cardiff. Anna and I, going from the serenity of a quite museum were immediately overwhelmed and made for the quickest route to some calmer place; to regain our composure and confidence. Sooner or later we'd have to go back in, the map says there's a cathedral on the other side of the mob, the directly other side.

The second time through wasn't as bad and Anna even bought a scarf. It was a nice scarf. Also, having recomposed ourselves, we were now able to move through with relative ease, but it took all our senses, strength, and experience, to manage our way through that unforgiving beehive.

We reached the chapel but to our dismay it was not open, nor was there a graveyard. Anna has a thing for gravestones and I can definitely relate. There is a graveyard literally a block away from my abode that is now a park. Some of the stones have been lost to time, some have fallen over, and some are just fine. Walking around, admiring the stones, thinking about the people, it's calming and I hope not at all morbid. People were here before me, this is their mark on the world. Some were even younger than me, buried with their mothers, fathers, or siblings. Why is a graveyard so calming?

By this time Anna and I were feeling quite hungry. So, this time taking side streets, we finagled our way back towards the train station; earlier during our wanderings we spotted a wonderful pub called The Prince of Wales and that was our destination of choice.

It was well worth it and the pub was HUGE. I guess it served as a pub and a club at night. Two stories, massive open areas in the middle, TV's everywhere with a football game showing, wood floors, sports pictures on the walls, it was quite a place. I dare say it took up about a city block. Lunch was simple but good, Anna had a cider with her meal... because we can and no other reason.

It was in the Prince of Wales that we came across a small dilemma. What do we do from here? We could make an epic walk down to the waterfront. It was a risk because there were no indications of attractions other than places to "eat, drink, and shop." But it's a waterfront, surely there may have been an old wooden boat? A Lighthouse perhaps? It was a gamble because it was about 4 times as far to get there as it was to go back to Cardiff Castle.

We went to Cardiff Castle. It was a good choice.

All of the tours of the inside were full until almost 5, we didn't know if we were going to be around at that time, I had a birthday celebration to get back to at Queens Road. So we decided to pay a lesser fee and amble around the castle grounds for a while. What they were hesitant to tell us, but that we fantastically discovered anyway, was that we could go into the Castle Keep and the Museum as well with just the purchase the grounds ticket! Yay for frugality.

The Museum was great, it was more about the human history of Wales. Well, no, it was more about the military history of Wales. How there men were present in pretty much every British conflict, their bravery, their outfit changes, the different weapons they carried. There was a sword commissioned by some Welsh general for his regiment, it was similar to a short sword and one was given to each man. So cool, in a violent sort of way...

The castle keep was also very impressive. Surrounded by that token moat with a bridge. I can't really describe the pleasure I got out of it. Being there was just an overall good feeling.

After the climb to the top to gaze out over Cardiff, Anna and I agreed that it was time to go. All this adventure had worn us down. We made out way back to the trainstation and, having an open ended ticket, we hopped on the first train back to Bristol. I wasn't on the train fore 5 minutes before my head slumped to my chest and I was asleep. There is something be said for vibration. Be it cars, trains, a warm dryer, it always makes me sleepy. Next thing I knew we were in Bristol and about a half hour after that I was in my room safe and sound.

Besides this entry, my only physical reminders of Wales are my flag and my post cards. But memories are all I need, it was a grand experience. The only thing I'd do differently next time is go to a less touristy place. Everyone wants a genuine experience so they go to the token places, but I have an Ace up my sleeve: I have friends who live here and can tell me where I should go to avoid said mobs. Next time I go to Wales, I believe my Welsh informant Idriz spoke of the sea coast and the small town on which it lies...

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I haven't written in quite some time. I feel that it is necessary and I'm probably going to spend the rest of the night writing in this and in my Journal. I can say that I am tired, and I can say that I miss home, and I can say that I need to go for a jog sometime tonight to break up this writing bonanza.

My mum asked me to make a list of word comparisons. That's not a bad place to start. British to American:

Knackered = Tired
Knick = Steal
Muesli = Granola
Queueing = Lining Up
Bell-end Idiot = (rather harsh insult)
Piss head = Drunk
Duvet = Comforter
Chav = Particular type of man; much like white trash
Loo = Bathroom (they may also say Toilet)
Fit = Sexy, Hot
Buff = Sexy, Hot
Half 5 = 5 thirty
Lift = Elevator
Tap = Faucet
Rubbish = Trash
Biscuit = Cookie
Crisps = Chips
Chips = Fries
Anorak = Water proof jacket (like my North Face)
Faculty = Department (eg. Arts Faculty v Art Department)
Jumper = Sweater
Pants = Underwear
Trousers = Pants
Track suit bottoms = Sweats
Waistcoat = Vest
Vest = Tank-top/wife beater
Bumbag = Fannypack

That's all I can think of right now.

I guess I'm feeling a little bit overwhelmed right now. There is so much reading to do, but there are other things I want to do too! Like go out with friends, party a bit, see the city, see the Country! I was having a good discussion with a gal named Georgina today. We were talking about the differences between the Faculties. The chemistry or medicine students get about 14 hours per week of what they call "contact time" that's time with professors and grad students helping you grasp the material. Contrast that with philosophy and sociology, or any of the Arts in general. They may have as low as 6 hours of contact time per week! I have 7. I'm paying how much to be here and i'm only getting 7 hours of teaching time? How bogus is that? They give me an hour, one measily little hour of discussion with my peers and a grad student per two hours of lecture and about 7 hours of reading per week. That is not enough time for mine and 19 other students questions to be answered, or at least spoken and contemplated! No wonder UW is 16th in the world according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities (, and Bristol is 62. Because at least the contact time is available if I want to take advantage of it!

The other thing that is irking me today is a welsh guy named Idriz. Idriz is awkward, he's tall, he's got hair past his chest, he says suggestively sexual comments far out of context, he walks around aimlessly drinking squash juice, and he openly reminisced about his threesome in his back country welsh town.

Well, I didn't end up writing as much as I would have liked, but it's more than nothing! More to come,


Monday, October 15, 2007

All that is Solid Melts Into Air

Brights of Nettlebed
That's just a cool name from a furniture store near my house.

In today's news, Zach was horribly embarrassed when he went to take his swim test for the Sailing Society. As he had no proper swim wear, he had to wear his purple husky short shorts. Following that initial minute embarrassment, he was mortified to find that all the Sailing society reps there to test him were women; fit women. Unclothing in front of them only added insult to his already battered self image.

In other news, most of today was spent pondering society. Given the Introduction to Marshall Berman's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity, I was immediately engrossed in his writings. If I were to describe to you what Modernity is, and how it relates to Sociology, well... I'd do it quite poorly. However, if I give you a few of my favourite quotes from Berman that may just do the trick.

"There is a mode of vital experience--experience of space and time, of the self and others, of life's possibilities and perils--that is shared by men and women all over the world today. I will call this body of experience "modernity." To be modern is to find outselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world--an, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are."

On The Modern Environment:
"All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify, all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profanes, an men at last are forced to face... the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men." - Marx

"a tradition of overthrowing tradition" - Harold Rosenberg

"everything is pregnant with its contrary" - Marx

metropolitan life is "a clash of groups and cabals, a continual flux and reflux of prejudices and conflicting opinions" - Rousseau

Basically, our society is ever changing, our traditions, morals, and cultures are obsolete before they can become solid, and everything is contradictory. It is in the world we now live, everyone experiences modernity as the norm, but everyone feels they are experiencing modernity for the first time because in a sense they are; no ones experiences may be the same in a world that is in a constant state of flux.

With this flux there comes a double edged sword as mentioned in the first quote. You may be in a maelstrom of craziness, and that maelstrom might have you forget who you are, but it's going to offer up an immense amount of experiential possibilities, or as Berman says it so simply, "this atmosphere--of agitation and turbulence, psychic dizziness and drunkenness, expansion of experiential possibilities and destruction of moral boundaries and person bonds, self-enlargement and self-derangement, phantoms in the street and in the soul--is the atmosphere in which modern sensibility is born."

So Modernity is an experience, The Modern Environment a maelstrom that offers "experiential possibilities" but the "destruction of moral boundaries", so what is Modernism?

"These world changing processes have nourished an amazing variety of visions and ideas that aim to make men and women the subjects as well as the objects of modernization, to give them the power to change the world that is changing them, to make their way through the maelstrom and make it their own."

Berman is by far the most hopeful of those men I've quoted today. Most of these have an extraordinary struggle with modernity. They rue the constant flux for it's lack of stability, yet enjoy its possibilities. Nietzsche said that, "Modern mankind found itself in the midst of a great absence and emptiness of values and yet, at the same time, a remarkable abundance of possibilities." That leads to his advent of Nihilism and the death of God.

Of course, like the world around it, modernism can, and does, change. It's been happening over the centuries but it was in the 60's when there came a great amount of change. I'm not going to talk about that much, but what I will say is that though modernism was changing, the essence of modernism remained the same; that is in italics below:

"All these visions and revisions of modernity (referencing a changing views on modernism in the 60's) were active orientations toward history, attempts to connect the turbulent present with a past and a future, to help men and women all over the contemporary world to make themselves at home in this world. These initiatives all failed, but they sprang from a largeness of vision and imagination, and from an ardent desire to seize the day."

There are different types of Modernism as well. This could go on and on and I have to get ready for class. But I'd like to think of myself as the so called "Post-Modernist"

Post Modernist:
"Their ideal was to open oneself to the immense variety and richness of things, materials and ideas that the modern world inexhaustibly brought forth."

Maybe I'll be a Sociologist with emphasis on Post-Modernism. Who knows!

Love you all,

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Adjustment

The past few weeks have been a flurry of different places, faces, and emotions. I think that going day by day would be silly at this point, so i'll try to describe how i've progressed in a different way. Which way that is had yet to be seen!

There was so much that happened this last week, getting to know people, setting up my room, meandering the city, carousing the pubs.

115 Queens Road has been an experience. Being on the ground floor is rather manky. My room has silverfish, we have to keep our windows closed all times when we're not in the room which creates quite a funk, it's dark and dank, our kitchen in the smallest in the building, my room is right across from the loo, and i'm right next to the senior resident. The first night or so she came around to tell me to play guitar in my room (which I was doing, I just didn't have my door shut). But besides all that, my flat is amazing!

The guys on my floor are a good bunch, all nice chaps. There is Dom, short for Dominic, who's kind of a baby faced guy but very friendly and very well rounded. Then there is Ben. Ben never ceases to amaze me. He's a skinnier fellow, does rock climbing and is a certified "Life Saver" (it's like lifeguard except certifies for open ocean rescue and he can train life guards), he's a really good chef and he wants to be a Veterinarian. Idrez, now he's an odd fellow. Very tall but with extremely long hair. He's a lot like Teddy except with a British accent. He loves garlic and when he cooks it our place smells for days! He also does like Tai-Kwon-Do and wants to be an aeronautical engineer I think. Last there's Mark. He's a good guy too, geology major. Play guitar quite nicely. I also live on the same floor as our Chief Resident and Senior Resident. Jenny is our Senior Resident, she's pretty much a Nazi. Ed is our Chief Resident and he's AWESOME.

The Rest of the flat are very good people. There are 5 floors, ground and 1 are the guys floors and 2-4 are the girls floors. I have to say that there are many good looking ladies in our flat, but surprisingly the majority of our house is shacked up! Whereas I'm used to students severing ties before they go to Uni, the Brits seem more inclined to try to make it work. Anyway, it's a little disappointing but there are still some prospectives...

The first week, like I said, was crazy. There was signing up for classes, getting registered with the health services, turning in all appropriate paperwork to join the university, orientations, getting my student card, paying fees, setting up my room, connecting to their internet, setting up accounts, and on top of that it was Freshers week. Something that I was not expecting.

Freshers week may be brilliant in it's inebriated design. Basically, every night there is some sort of event for the freshers to meet each other. Most of them revolve around drinking. There were numerous pub crawls, dancing, tours, a trivia game (that i won!), talking, drinking, exploring, etc! I say Freshers week may be brilliant based on this observation:

In the States, freshers are, for the first time, on their own. They make their own choices, stay up as long as they want, and generally it is very easy to get their hands on alcohol. Many of those students do their biggest experimentation with alcohol in their first few months, if not first few weeks of college. Often they push their bodies to the limit of alcohol consumption and put themselves in not-so-safe situations as a result. Basically, they go crazy. I did a little experimentation myself and I witnessed plenty of it as an RA.

Contrast that with the British system. They can drink at 18. They've been to pubs before, they've experienced drunkenness with some of their closest friends, or even families, back home. When they get to Uni, they are in no way mystified by it's effects nor do they have the strong desire to get so pissed they cant see straight (well, most of them) What they do know is that alcohol, in amounts specific to their limits, can be a very fun, socially prompting device. So, under the supervision of Orbital Reps*, they are shown the city in a way very much different from the American way; through pubs, clubs, and buzzed group outings. [Orbital is an social committee that plans events for freshers, the Reps are the people that showed us the town and watched over us, often participating in the tom-foolery but to a lesser extent]

I just think that accepting alcohol into the culture is a better way to control it then trying to ban it. To me, it's a lot like what the forbidden fruit was to Adam and Eve, they were told they couldn't have it so they wanted it that more. It's accepted and then monitored by older students, friends, and family. They generally never go anywhere where they don't know anyone. Opposed to the American system where girls may go to parties in twos! That's asking for trouble.

Which leads me to another observation. The British people are conservative if you don't know them well. But once you get to know them they are a most agreeable people. I LOVE going out with them. They always want to incorporate everyone, they have a very casual system of drinking in rounds where one person buys a round, then another buys a round, so on and so forth! I'm going to try and get that going with my friends back home. But not just in drinking, whenever they go anywhere it's usually at least with one other person. Coffee shops are rarely filled with one person tables, sidewalks are tromped on in troupes.

I've been cooking for myself here as well. That's been fun, I get pretty healthy food. I make salad, yogart and muesli (that's granola in this language), pasta, PB&J haha. Sometime just peanut butter straight. I've been running too but that's because I'm having troubles with the Gym. Hopefully those problems will be worked out by next monday.

So I've been trying to eat more healthy and exercise however I can. That means running. I've started running again much to my knees dismay. However, with proper stretching I think i'll manage. I was also able to get some of my flatmates to come jogging with me, they really slowed me down but it was nice to have the company. I'm going on another jog tonight. After I meet up with the swim society.

By the way I joined a Sailing society. Basically they're clubs. In retrospect, it was not the best choice seeing as I have no means to get to the water, no sailing experience, and no wet suit. I'm going to a social tonight at a pub called the White Harte. Hopefully I'll meet some nice chaps there who would lend me a wetsuit and give me a ride to the boats. It would be a useful skill to have, then I could join the Yacht Club back home... except that Commodore Andrew Cheng really bothers me.

The other, and far more practical, society I joined was the Coffee Society. That should be good seeing as I've been to almost all the coffee shops in the area. Though, i'm going to have to tone down the coffee intake, not that I drink a lot, but due to the cost. I've tried to get my flatmates to get a coffepot but... they're not into the idea much.

Philosophy. I'm really excited about it, but I feel like I'm much more eager to participate then my fresher classmates. Not to mention that the lecture today was drab and a repeat of almost everything I'd concluded on my own. Our professor even said that everything he said today could be found in a book so, "Don't worry about copying down every word I say." Tool.

I thought at least our study sessions would be better but I was really the only one who read the text and contributed most of the answers. I was hoping, keeping myself from immediately giving up answers, so as to give my classmates time to answer. That was a silly notion!

What else is there to say? I mean, I could ramble and rant but I've written a lot already. School, friends, living, the city, running... There is one thing.

I miss you all, Family and friends, and I love you dearly.