Sunday, July 4, 2010

In London

Well, just in case you were beginning to wonder, I'm alive and in London.
I don't know what time the computer will say I'm writing, but right now it is 11:45 AM in London, which means that in South Carolina it is 6:45 AM, and in Texas it is 5:45 AM. Pardon me for yawning.
I suppose I should start at the beginning (as the song says, "a very good place to start.") On Thursday morning I woke up mostly packed, unpacked the few things I needed to get ready, repacked them, and then ran out the door and hopped in the family car. We picked up Dad from work, then headed out to Charleston. We had a wonderful lunch at Hyman's, then continued out to the Charleston airport. I checked in on time at about 4:00, and when we asked a lady at the check-in desk about help in making a very quick connection from my first flight to my second, she said she had moved me up closer to the front of the plane. After giving and recieving goodbye hugs, I sniffled my way through security and then hung around by the gate for the 2 1/2 hours until my flight, during which I was stalked by a little toddler girl about to go on her first flight. It turned out that when the check-in lady said she had moved me up closer to the front of the plane, it was an understatement. I was on the second seat in the entire airplane! The stewardess stood next to my seat to give the safety demonstration. The flight passed safely and without a glitch, and the stewardess, whose name is Melissa, gave me directions to my next gate and recommended a fish and chips shop that she goes to every time she's in London.
When we landed in Dallas I had to wait a couple of minutes for my valeted bag to be brought up, but as soon as I got it I began bustling over to my next flight, leaving somewhat imminently. I was looking for the right shuttle when a couple of people zoomed past me, running with backpacks and a frenzied look in their eyes. "I bet they're on my next flight," I thought, and it turns out I was right. It was in this scramble to the gate that I learned the art of riding up and down escalators with a rolling bag. We were all just in time to board, and the plane took off on time at about 9:30 Dallas time. Dinner was a couple of hours into the flight, and then everyone settled down to try and sleep. I'm not sure how much sleep I was able to get, because I was seated near the wings in the loudest part of the loud plane. I could hear the scraping, groaning sound of what I'm hoping was just the raising and lowering of the landing gear at take-off and landing, and was immensely grateful to my mother for giving me a pair of good earplugs during the entire loud, uncomfortable 9-hour flight. Because of the 6-hour time difference between Texas and London, it was around noon on Friday when we arrived at Heathrow.
In following the correct patterns from landing to the correct gate, I got a mini-tour of the airfields, and began counting all of the different countries I saw. Since I thought I would begin blogging imminently after my arrival, I didn't think to write them down, so I only remember a few: Saudi Arabia, Canada, Ireland, Australia...And there were several planes there that didn't have their name in English on the side, so who knows how many countries were represented at the airport that day. After debarking from the plane, I followed the crowd along to the border check. There are two lines in this area: UK or European passports, and everyone else. The line moved along smoothly and quickly, and although I didn't know it there were many other students coming in for a University of Southern Mississippi program, so the Scottish gent who looked at my passport didn't even have to look at all of my papers before he gave me the go-ahead. The next area led to baggage claim, where I managed to snag my suitcase on the first try. Then I scurried on out to the next area, passing through the "nothing to claim" area and on to the long line of people waiting for whomever they were picking up. I was just beginning to worry when I saw someone at the very end of the line holding a "British Studies" sign, and he told me where to hang out while he directed the rest over and they were bringing the "coaches" (buses). It soon felt like a third of the airport was standing with me, and that was when I realized just how many people were coming for the same general program I was, if not for the same class. We ended up having to wait for the buses for a good long while, because of some small glitch, but eventually we were loaded up and on our way to the dorms.
 We saw several sights on our way out the windows of the bus, like the London Eye and the houses of Parlaiment. We were the last few to arrive for the program, getting to the dorms at about 3:00 that afternoon. We had just enough time after check-in to refresh a little bit before it was time for Neighborhood Walk with our classes at 4:00, here's a link to a Google map of my class's walk, although not in precise order. We finished ours with dinner at Texas Embassy, which gave it a good try but didn't quite get to Texas level. Then it was back to the dorms to settle in for the night.
The dorms we're  staying in during our time in London belong to the Waterloo campus of King's College London. This link gives you virtual tours of the Waterloo Bridge and the academic building across the street which includes the classrooms we use and the computer lab where I am currently typing (the Waterloo campus). If you click on the tab "King's Accomodation" at the top, then click on "Stamford Street" at the bottom, you'll get a 360 degrees look at an example room of where we're staying. What it first brings up is the common kitchen in a flat, shared by eight people. I had thought to perhaps use the kitchen pretty frequently, but came to realize that buying everything required (pots, pans, plates, silverware, etc) would burn too much of a hole in my pocket. It's when you click the small picture in the middle that says "bedroom" that you see one of our rooms.  The thing that looks like a slightly ajar closet door with a towel hanging on it is the bathroom, which is pretty much the same size as an airplane lavatory with an extra couple of feet at the end for the flat, uncurtained shower area. The picture's a fair representation of the room, except that it's missing the little heat waves to show that it has no air-conditioning. That's one of the most noticeable differences between London and back home: air-conditioning is not standard. Because the buildings are built to hold in heat, it is often cooler outside than inside. If everyone weren't jetlagged and wilting in the heat, I wouldn't be too surprised to see an adventurous bunch hauling mattresses out to the courtyard. As it is, we hang around wherever it's cooler and joke about the possibility of sleeping outside.
Other differences: you always look right when about to cross the street, drivers are rather aggresive so if you're not a local you'd better just wait for the light, intersections look differently (different system for pedestrians etc). It's sometimes Coke Light instead of Diet Coke, you can never predict what language a random person on the street will be speaking, and coins are more prevelant. The @ sign and quotation marks are switched on the keyboard, which has really affected my attempts at typing all this. Almost everything is pronounced differently than an American would think, like the Thames sounding like Tim's and Leicester sounding like Lester, which led to me thinking about the Goofy Movie which I watched as a kid and what Leicester's Possum Park would be like. ~Last but not least, the tube works along certain lines and then in certain directions. Let me make that clearer. While the metro in Washington DC runs in colors and then the last stop to show which direction you're going, like Red line, Shady Grove, the tube runs in lines and then whichever direction you're going, like Northern line, North or South.
I've already learned something about myself on this trip that I hadn't realized before: when I enjoy traveling, it's really about with whom I'm traveling.
The society of the students and our professors is a different one than I'm used to. I'm used to a team environment, where everyone sticks together most of the time. Here, we do group activities when scheduled, but otherwise we drift around with whomever's nearby or just on our own. I must admit that I've already broken the promise to never go anywhere by myself, because it's expected that if you have something to do you go out and do it on your own, and that's how things are set up.
However, I've kept the promise to attempt to learn a London accent, although not altogether successfully because what I've found is that there is no London accent. If you limit it to English, and British speakers, then there's still a wide range in what you'll hear in a single day in London, from an almost Cockney type of accent (Frasier fans, think of Daphne's brother) to a very precise accent (think Emma Thompson, or Colin Firth).
I have been very successful in another promise, which I forgot to put here earlier: I promised to have several pictures with me in them. I've been a good little cheesy tourist here and there, and so far I have a picture of me in a red telephone booth, me with the London Eye in the background, and me & a friend with one of the Queen's House Cavalry guards --who are not the black-hatted type, but still aren't allowed to move for the most part, except we caught ours smiling occasionaly.
I have also been successful in promising to write on this blog as soon and as often as I could, because I don't even have my own computer card yet. We're supposed to get them tomorrow, and in the time being we check out and then check in a card from the security desk. I'm actually assisted in this promise by the fact that for my class we're actually supposed to be keeping a blog, something I didn't realize until our first class yesterday.
Well, I've written more than enough for now (my apologies for the length), so I'd better finish up. Today, Sunday, July 4, I didn't have anything in the morning and so allowed myself to try and sleep in and beat the jetlag, somewhat successfuly. All I have scheduled is a LondonAlive walk (part of the orientation process) at 2:30 this afternoon, which is supposed to last only until about dinnertime. Tomorrow begins the actual schedule of visiting libraries, museums, and archives. I'll write more then, and try to include details of where I'm going and what I'm doing as time passes. My goal with this blog is to share as much of the experience with y'all as I can.

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