Monday, 29 December 2008

In London the airport

This morning we were up and early to catch the Eurostar train to London St. Pancras.
I then spent the rest of my time in London trying to decide whether or not I should buy a jacket. The mad rush and the non-cheap-price-during-Boxing-Days-sales-season made me not buy it and I sort of regret it now. It was a wonderful jacket, too.

We watched a movie and then caught a train to Stansted airport, thinking the flight was as 10 o'clock. Instead, it's at 11:20 and furthermore it's delayed 35 minutes for some reason or another. And now I'm here spending my change on the Internet because I have nothing else to do and want to sleep and brush my teeth! Yay!

I don't know how some people do it--travel for months without a routine (unless travelling becomes the routine). I'm sick of stations/ports, sick of baggage screenings, want my computer and music back, and want to lie in "my" bed even though it's not the comfiest in the world.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Two Things

One: Musee D'Orsay (sorry I have no French keyboard) is amazing.

Two: Apparently Brazilians love Paris?

Friday, 26 December 2008


I want to go to Italy. I want to hop on a train right now and head to Milan or Sicily, because I'm on the European continent and I can. Also because Paris is freezing cold today.

What made me think that? We got out of the (magnificent) confines of Paris today and travelled to Chartres by train. It's only an hour outside of Paris but it's a whole different world. It has that smaller-town feel. As we passed by places on the train, I saw fields and agricultural towns.
It was S's father who suggested we go to Chartres as it houses an exemplary Gothic-style cathedral. The cathedral towers above any other building in town and of course it's beautiful. The stained-glass windows are numerous and intricately detailed. After visiting that main sight, we headed downtown, passing by so many boulangeries and patisseries and whatnot. I can't even count how many I walked into just to look around. But they really remind me of Chinese bakeries. I wonder if one copied the other or did this style of bakery display evolve parallely in two different cultures? It's a cute town with lots of shopping! and a nice breather break.

Speaking of travel, ever since my arrival in London until a couple of days ago, it didn't hit me that I was travelling at all. London could've been any other place in Iceland - just with a huge population and English-speaking, etc. Even as I was visiting Stonehenge and Nottinghill, places I could only dream of visiting a few years ago, it couldn't sink in that I was really there. "Wow," I think, "I'm taking pictures, my look through the lens could be me watching a film."
I guess this is because I didn't travel directly from Canada to London or Paris; I was already in 'travel mode' and 'out of my environment' before I got going.
So am I in Paris? Other than the parlance de francais, maybe. Only maybe. "Wherever you go, there you are." who said that?

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Grating Gravel

The gravel is ugly, is everywhere, and reminds me of Iceland. When I post pictures I'll point it out. It's where grass or water is supposed to be and it's an eyesore. Yucky!

Reflections of London

Here is what I wrote during the night of the last full day I had in London:
This has been a good day. A walk along the Thames in the Docklands and Southbank. I must say, London is expen$ive. The prices would be normal if only it were in Canadian dollars. Everything is double the price. A cuppa Joe is 2, and I think $2, not bad, but it's actually $4. That's fine, but it adds up. A shirt os 50 but really that's $100, etc. I feel like I'm paying through my nose every time.

My favourite places in London aren't in the city centre. They are Ealing and the Docklands, sort of suburbs of the city. They both still have the metropolitan feel to it without the mad rush of downtown. Or maybe that's just because it's Xmas time and I've spent way too much time walking up and down Oxford Street. Every day has either been crazy or insane.

Still, for the little time I stayed, I hope to be able to say I took part in the city's culture. I saw X-Factor's Alex Burke win, I read the free metro morning and night papers, I attended a choral concert. That's not saying much, but as J said, it's more of a city in which to live than to visit. In many ways London reminds me of Hong Kong. I love cities but I find they can be so cold, impersonal, especially if you don't know anyone. I find myself missing Reykjavik.

Notes about London

I sort of forget the order of things that I did for the rest of my time in London. I did a lot, walked a lot. I met up with two people, one who took me to Notting Hill and Southwark. In Notting Hill I tried the oddly good pork pie and had a really good cupcake topped with green tea icing (not in the same establishment).

After the WC-S-B tour I had some time on my hands so I went to Earl's Court to look around at a 24-hour Tesco's (the ubiquitous grocery shopping-but-not-really). When I got out at the Earl's Court tube station, I was facing the stadium and that's when it finally hit me that I was in London. You see, Muse, my favourite band of the last few years, played a huge concert there and all the online fan forums were talking about the Earl's Court venue. And I finally got to see it in person! What a tourist I am.
Here are some notes I wrote about the grocery trip:
10 o'clock finds me not adjusted to the "time change" (really, light change from Reykjavik to London) at a 24-hour Tesco's trying to find Jaffa cakes, Walker's shortbread, good crisps and Cadbury's. I can only find the first but there's also mint chocolate sticks I've been looking for for years. There's club-like dance music on, really weird when trying to look for fruit. Loeb (in Ottawa) does that too.

I spent Tuesday morning trying to find two record shops and a photography gallery that all had either closed up shop or moved out. Dang you, Google Maps/Yellow Pages! I was tired. But what I got out of that was wandering around Soho a bit. I feel as if it's a more shopped and walkable Queen Street West in Toronto. If I lived there, I'd like to collect all their business cards!
Lesson learned: when in a big city, give up trying to get to specific shops and just explore the neighbourhoods. I should've known this from my experiences in Toronto.

That night I checked my e-mail. I received a message from my parents to relax and not go around crazily so much or else I'll get sick! So I did. On Wednesday I went east to Brick Lane for lunch after having a late morning, then I went west to Ealing's PM Gallery and Manor House. They had an exhibition about Alan Fletcher (the grandfather of modern design and author of the best book Art of Looking Sideways). That was my day. Yay!

On Thursday night, my second last night, I had pre-ordered tickets for a Christmas concert featuring the Westminster chorus. Sweet! This is my chance to go see the choir in one of the most famous churches! Ever since leaving choir I've been missing songs at Christmastime. Anyway, I get to Westminster Abbey and no one is there. A guard there says, "Let me see your ticket. Is it Abbey or Cathedral?" It's a cathedral. I get in, there's scaffolding all over the walls. What a rip-off. At least the choir was good.

On my last full day I went to the Museum of London at Docklands. It told the history of London as a trade city. Nice. On my last day I squeezed a walk in South Kensington, which is where I had been living all along (I use the "which is" construction a lot, don't I?). I never knew that it was sort of a French quarter. The irony was a bit too much, since I was headed to France in just a couple of hours. Then I managed a tour of the V+A museum and the Natural History Museum. Before getting on the train to Paris, I went to the British Library because it's right next to the train station. I saw a copy of the Magna Carta and such.

Then Paris.

Random notes:
Other foods:
I LOVE Jaffa cakes! The McVitie's kind, it must be. Also, ever since my childhood book about the postman delivering presents, I've always wondered about mince pies. I finally tasted one and wanted immediately to throw it out. It's a concotion of weird fillings, including raisins, which I hate.

My favourites:
I am absolutely in love with St. Paul's Cathedral. The first time I went there was at night. I was (safely) almost all along. The huge magnificent building was lit up, this thing of beauty almost all to myself. Then a group of Italians gathered on the steps, singing a song. I took a picture of it, which may be my favourite picture of the trip so far.
London's monuments are best at night if one wants to look at them from the outside. They are all lit up and crazy beautiful, grand. Like St. Paul's above, Big Ben, and the Tower Bridge.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008


Since this is Christmas Eve I should not really be saying this, but I am surprised at how most great works of architecture in the world are in the name of religion or government (mostly monarchy). Why does it have to be that way?

Anyway, Merry Christmas for all those who celebrate it.

Au Paris

Okay, there are so many things I want to say about London and all its quirks, but for now....

Paris, je t'aime! J'aime tes rues, tes parcs, tous tes choses!
I could seriously see myself living here. The cloudy skies are perfect. It's always spring-like weather, not very windy.
Or maybe I'm just having a honeymoon phase with this city.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Days 2 and 3

Day 2
I keep on hearing/looking out for hearing Scandinavian languages! I heard some Danish on the tube and I was thinking, "Hey!" Maybe I've been living in a Scandinavian country for too long.

Anyway, London seems to have a complete lack of rubbish bins. I find that I am in complete disorientation when it comes to the city, or that I just have a really bad tourist map with me. It's the subway -er, tube-stations that get to me. You're underground for a long time and then you spin and spin to get up the steps and when you're above ground there is no way of knowing whether you're facing east, west, north or towards planet earth.

I went on a free walking tour and saw all the sites. I then went to the British Museum. It was amazing, just being amongst all those artefacts, although I'm not one too keen on those.

At night I went to Chinatown to eat. It's good to hear Cantonese being spoken again. In Ottawa and in Reykjavik, if you hear Chinese it's 95% going to be Mandarin, which makes me feel even more isolated because that ensures that there is no community I can mesh with. I don't know what I'm trying to point out; you'd have to experience it to feel what I'm trying to say. Anyway, I go to eat fried dumplings and since those are Northern China cuisine I am dissapointed that I finally go into a Chinatown for the first time in half a year and guess what I have to speak...English! Because the waitress speaks Mandarin. The dumplings are okay; they're good for now but I've had better. I wander around Chinatown, being surprised at how touristy and natural this place is at the same time. In Toronto there is now more than one Chinatown, the more modern one being north of the actual city. It was a natural effect of demographic immigration. But here, tourists come here. I guess they go to Pacific Mall too...

And so I go into a bakery for two reasons: a) breakfast and b) I purposely want to speak some Cantonese! I order (in Cantonese, of course) a Napolean cake and a lotus cream-filled pineapple bun. I eat the Napolean for dessert, but it tastes distgusting. That's because instead of sweet cream they put in salty whipped cream! You're not supposed to do that! Oh, London, how you amuse me. The bun I save for tomorrow's breakfast while on a tour trip...


Day 3
I get up early for an Evan Evans full day trip to Windsor Castle-Stonehenge-Bath. In retrospect, it was too early in my days in London to be taking a trip outside the city.

The bun I eat is wholly filled with that yellowy, good, not-too-sweet filling. Way better than Canadian-made versions where they put a drop of the filling in surrounded by tasteless dry bread. After I polish the bun off, I hear the announcement, "Since our driver is so kind to us, usually there is no food allowed on the bus but he will let you eat lunch in here this time." Oops. Too late.

Windsor Castle is great, Stonehenge is mysterious, and Bath is intriguing. Too bad I didn't get much time for Bath, though, because I was about to explore the town when I saw a Barratt's shoe store manufacturer closing down sale and I spent the rest of my time picking out shoes! Reminds me of outlet mall shopping.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

In London

I have arrived. I was fortunate enough for Uncle Felix to come pick me up, give me an umbrella and coughdrops, a McDonalds lunch (my first since having left Canada!) and driving me to the hostel.

It was raining when I got here. Boo!
The night before, I didn't get any sleep and the moment I checked into my hostel I went out again, got my tube pass, booked a tour to Bath at Piccadilly Circus then shopped until I was exhausted. I was on Regent Street and there were endless amounts of retail stores, one after another. I was almost nauseated by the site of them, if it was for the beautiful lights I would've barfed. As if that wasn't enough, I proceeded to get lost trying to find the late-opening Tate Modern art gallery. Luckily upon getting lost I also found really good views of the Royal Opera and other sites...I can't even identify what I saw right now. I was at the Tate for three hours before getting really tired.

The streets are safer than people make them out to be, although I've taken precautions.

The tube really reminds me of a combination of the TTC and Hong Kong's tube system.
All the food in the supermarkets are so weird.

So I'm guessing this is what my week is going to be like: always on the move, getting lost, and being exhausted. London is huge, spatially and of course population-wise. People speak so many different languages here. I guess I've gotten disused to Toronto. Tomorrow I will take a walking tour. I wish I could take those comprehensive tours, but I really don't have money to do it right now.

I'm learning how to navigate a totally foreign city on my own. It feels weird, especially in the rain, but it's all cool.

Monday, 1 December 2008

It's All A Hoax!

*If you're not interested in the intricacies of languages PLEASE don't read this ramble

I grew up thinking that English is such a hard language to learn!
People always did so poorly in spelling classes, and so many educational institutions in English-speaking countries set up ESL (English as a Second Language) programs for immigrants. I myself was put into one (using racial prejudices, I'm sure - I wasn't an immigrant, although my first language wasn't English).

At age 8 already, I thought that so many people had trouble speaking/writing/reading/listening to English.

When I started learning French in grade 4, the first couple of weeks was comprised of our teacher reassuring us that learning French couldn't be that hard.
They gave us impressionable youngsters a sheet. Here is a copy of it:

"So you think French is hard!"
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, though, and through -
Well done!
And now you wish perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead - it's said like bed, not bead.
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there's dose and rose and lose,
Just look them up - goose and choose
And cork and work and card and ward
And front and font, and word and sword
And do and go, and wart and cart -
Come! Come! I've hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I mastered it - when I was five!!!

This poem no doubt had an impact on my love for the wonder of languages, but it also tricked me into thinking that only native speakers could unlock the key of speaking English properly.

Furthering my biased view of English were the numerous foreign accents that the media, especially television, placed on ethnic speakers. I watched a lot of The Simpsons when I was young and anyone who was not yellow had a foreign accent--like Apu. I thought that all foreigners studied so hard and took years and years, almost a lifetime, to learn English.

What got me into other languages was singing other languages in choir, such as trying to pronounce the Latin, German and other things properly. But this gave me a strained view of what learning an entire language consisted of. I thought I was learning a language when singing songs. No one told me that I was just mimicking some sounds in a language I did not understand at all.

My attempts at trying to learn Chinese and French "because I had to" was a very lazy way of learning a language -- I had no motivation whatsoever. There was no pull for me to learn any of those to completion. So when I came out of almost 6 years of learning those and I could not even understand anything I just became angry at the system, not realizing that learning a language took practice, initiative, and all those other things I did not do.

So I come here and everyone speaks English almost perfectly even though none of them have it as their mother tongue. They take lectures in English with ease even though they've never done it before, and they read the textbooks in English and write English essays and exams. My mind is thinking, "WHAT is going on here?" I thought English was mighty hard. Didn't that poem say so?

When I first started learning linguistics in university, I remember learning about case systems and clitics and all that. I was fascinated, but that was it. All it did to me was fascinate me, but I had no use for it. I could not apply it anywhere. Then comes Icelandic with its three genders and its four cases and all these.

People from Greece, Germany, Finland, with their crazy case systems say that English is easy. A person from French-speaking Switzerland, with its highly irregular orthography, says English is easy to learn. She's been learning German for a longer time but English has way surpassed what she knows in German.

Here are some theories as to why English is easy to learn:
1. It's highly flexible. Native English speakers are so used to hearing other accents that they accommodate for foreigners (sometimes overaccommodate as to the point of being patronising).
2. The phones are some of the most common found amongst other languages in the world (except for the 'r', I'm told)
3. There is absolutely no case system, noun gender, and I'm told that verb conjugation is easy. Genitives are easy, word order is regular, etc. It is a language with synthetic leanings.

What gets me is the phonology and the orthography. I learned that they are highly sporadic. The stress is random and can mean different things depending on context. The orthography? Just look at the poem above. I guess it comes through with practice.

Now here is a second language acquisition question: Is it because of the greater opportunities one has to practice English, or is it because of the nature of the language in relation to other languages, that English is easy to learn? Or is it both? If both, which factor has more effect?
My answer would be that at first it's because it is "inherently" easy, but as the learner progresses it would be because of the huge access to people, books, films, materials in English.

And does this have anything to do with English as a lingua franca? The sociolinguist would say it's because of the opportunities, but wouldn't people in the past have just given up on learning English if it was too hard, no matter what opportunities it provided? They could've switched to Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Chinese, Russian, whatever as their second language.

Okay I should be studying now so I will stop here!
Please send comments about this.