Month: November 2015

Snickerdoodles Go International

This weekend was the intensive orchestra rehearsal weekend for the Royal Holloway Symphony Orchestra. To break up all the music making we had a few social gatherings and activities. On the first night, we all went out to a pub after the rehearsal for a relaxing evening. On the second day, during the longer break there was a Bake Off, due to the popularity of “The Great British Bake Off.” We didn’t have the facilities for a live bake off so we all made our cakes and cookies at home and brought them to the rehearsal to be judged by everyone. I have already revealed what I made in the title: Yes, Granny’s (and now my) snickerdoodle recipe has gone international. None of the English students knew what they were but fortunately, the director is American and so is one of the oboe players, so they joined me in chanting the word “Snickerdoodle!” Besides the name, they aren’t very odd cookies and soon everyone was trying them. The most common reaction was a face that somewhat resembles this 😮 followed by this 😀

This was the spread, and Meike cutting her carrot cake.

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Our director posted the results on Facebook. I won 3rd place! But that’s not what mattered, what mattered was that we all got to eat snickerdoodles.

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After we were all somewhat disgustingly full of cake, we got back to rehearsals and ended the night with an 80s themed party at the campus pub.

Flute repairs, bouldering, and the LPO

The title says it all! Mostly because I couldn’t come up with a more clever one. Today I had to catch an early train to London to drop my flute off at a repair shop (just for an overall tune-up).

I knew I would have to stick around until 5pm so I planned ahead and packed gym clothes and researched local climbing centers. I set out for the center that I had in mind and after getting a bit lost and meeting this cat:

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I found it… and it was closed. Fortunately, however, I was in London, and there are about 10 climbing centers spread out over the city. I ended up going to the next closest one in Vauxhall, cleverly named the “VauxWall.” Mid-day on Friday turned out to be a relaxed time to climb and I was one of about five people in the entire gym.

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It was an amazing gym with three climbing rooms, a weight room, a sitting area with couches and lockers, and a little cafe. I felt like I could live there and I did end up staying for quite a while (I did resist the urge to apply for one of the positions they are hiring for though). I climbed, chatted with a few other climbers, and got a compliment on my “Pink Floyd The Wall” shirt, which, yes, I did wear on purpose.

I left with enough time to spare and went to the Southbank center to buy a ticket for the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert. Since I was by myself I was able to get a student ticket in the 5th row of the front stalls for £8! I stopped by the flute shop and got my clean flute back, and a couple of biscuits (they had a few to spare). The LPO concert started at 730pm so I bought some dinner at the Southbank market and found a cozy spot to work on coursework until then.

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No photos during the concert but I did take this one to show how close I was to the stage and to show the organ pipes up at the top. The theme of the concert was “From darkness to light” and the conductor, Susanna Mälkki, was making her debut with the LPO. The first piece was Liadov’s From the Apocalypse. The second piece was Prokofiev’s Piano Concert no. 2 performed by Beatrice Rana. She is an amazing 22 year old pianist who earned international attention when she won the Montreal International piano competition at 18 years old. The final piece was Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1 in E minor. I’m planning on going to their concert next week Friday as well because it features selections from “Tosca,” which we just covered in the Italian Opera course.

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A day spent running around London can feel like a week of adventures. After the concert, I had smooth travels back to Egham to round off a long but productive day. Most importantly, my flute is all cleaned up for the intensive orchestra rehearsal weekend. Our final concert is next week Wednesday so we have multiple rehearsals and sectionals all this coming weekend (with social events interspersed… orchestra social events are usually just going to a pub).

 

Bonus picture! (this has nothing to do with what I did today but a few days ago I went to a Royal Holloway choir mid-day concert and it was my first time in the school chapel)

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Arts & Humanities in the English system

I am an imposter in a foreign system.

It’s not really that dramatic, but that’s what it sounds like when I try to explain to people that I’m a microbiology major taking music and sociology courses while I’m here. The courses I ended up with are Youth in Society, Music Analysis, Orchestra’s Around the World, and Italian Opera from Rossini to Puccini.

These are all upper-level (2nd and 3rd year) courses at Royal Holloway so I don’t have to deal with as many introductory tutorials as some of my fresher flatmates do. I do, however, have to adjust to the overall relaxed pace of the system. For each of my courses I have to write a 2500 word paper. For full time students, this essay is 50% of their grade with the end of the year exam makng up the other 50%. Royal Holloway operates on the term system, meaning that students take modules during Fall and Spring terms and then only take exams during Summer term. Students who study abroad for only one term do not get to take the exam so our final grade is based on one paper. It sounds a bit stressful, and it is, but it’s one of the reasons I’m happy to be taking required core courses and music minor courses for OSU rather than my major courses.

Youth in Society:

This is an interesting course, as it is taught by an older Scottish man… luckily it is mostly discussion based and so we (the youth) get to talk about the various issues in the context of our own experiences. It is a sociology course, so we cover all the usual topics like gender, sexuality, race, class, and education in the context of our generation. The class does focus on the UK and their own history but the makeup of the course is relatively international so during discussions we get American, Australian, and Chinese perspectives on the topics as well. I finished my coursework essay for this course and turned it in already, so I am pretty much done for the term.

Orchestras Around the World:

I just gave a presentation in this course about the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, HYS, and PMI. This course focuses on traditional western orchestras and their influence in society. We look at orchestras that are making an impact in their communities in a positive way. We also look at groups that still perform traditional eastern music like Gamelan orchestras. It is an all around interesting course based on the professor’s own ethnomusicological research interests.

Italian Opera from Rossini to Puccini:

This one pretty much says it all in the title. It is a survey of Italian operas that were written during and slightly after the 19th century. Each week we move relatively chronologically and use a specific Italian opera to discuss a broader concept used in multiple operas. For example, when the topic of the week was “Death” we watched Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ and discussed the concept of realism in operas.

Music Analysis:

This course surprised me a bit. I thought it would be along the lines of the second year theory course offered at OSU but it turned out to be another topic-based course. This course is based on Schenkerian analysis of music: a method developed by a German scholar who developed his own set of notations and focused on the underlying structure of musical works. I have dubbed it the quantum physics of music analysis because to me, the more you think about it, the less it makes sense. It has been an interesting topic to consider – I will say that – but I still prefer the general analysis methods of analyzing the melody and chord progressions.

 

I started writing this blog entry quite a while ago and added to it as I went along, so some info is more up to date. The term is drawing to a close soon and I am looking forward to finalizing my projects on all of these courses (with more than a little anxiety, considering the grading scheme I mentioned above). Part of me still wishes I could’ve actually taken biology courses like I had planned to all along, but I only have my home uni’s department rules to blame for the lack of those. When all is said and done, I’m glad I got the opportunity to try my hand at being a humanities student for a term and I’m thankful for all the people I’ve met along the way.

Fancy Weekend in London

Another adventure to London! This time it was an overnight affair. Meike dubbed it “Fancy night.” Five of us set out for London on Saturday morning an our first stop was the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park!

We were thankful for the sun but the clear skies meant it was extremely windy.

The park was laid out like Disneyland: it had multiple separated “lands” and fair rides here and there. The most common theme was mimicking the German christmas markets. Meike, our resident German, was more than a bit frightened by the similarity. She said the buildings and the layout looked exactly like they would in Germany.

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Though, we were all pretty sure that in Germany they don’t have giant-animatronic-bird-holding men who tower over the crowds singing German tunes.

Another surprising feature of the holiday park was the amount of haunted houses. They decided to include some spooky in their celebrations. I was probably the only one of our group not bothered by this. Of course, I would also be remiss to leave out the giant animatronic skeleton playing the violin…

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Doesn’t this just make you feel festive?

After we were completely wind blown and almost frozen, we went off to Harrods to see the fancy shop windows, look at their fancy cheese, and to use their fancy bathrooms. Two of us, including me, were unfortunately still sick, so we decided to head back to the hostel to rest up a bit before any nighttime shenanigans ensued.

Sadly, fancy night/weekend ended early for one us because she was worried about her coursework so she left in the evening. The rest of us, after 30 minutes of searching through London on a Saturday night, found an Italian place with a table for four. Dinner took quite a while to arrive but at least we got all that time to share hilarious stories! After dinner we took the tube to The Shard, which was Meike’s original idea for “Fancy Night.” Ever since that day I was dressed too much like a tourist to be let in to their fancy bar on the 32nd floor, Meike was hellbent on going up there with all of us to drink overpriced alcohol and enjoy the view. This time I was able look fancy enough to get past the bouncers. It’s a good thing they didn’t look down, though, because I still had Doc Martens on.

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The picture is blurry and doesn’t do it justice but the view is incredible. We also made a point of using the fancy bathroom in this building, although this one turned out to be a bit frightening. There was very dim blue lighting and all the walls were mirrors except for the window above the sink. The woman in there before us told us that two of the mirrors were actually the stall doors and that she had been in there trying to figure that out for about 5 minutes, so she figured she’d pass on her knowledge to us to save us the trouble. To add to all that, the stall walls themselves were made up entirely of mirrors too.

This was the end of a dizzying 360 video I took to show how creepy the lighting was in the stall.

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After the spooky bathroom situation we had a relatively relaxing night back in our hostel.

In the morning we were in no hurry to get home, so we went out to a nearly-empty theater, which was expected considering the English are generally still asleep at 11am on a Sunday, and we watched the final installment of the Hunger Games together. Then, sadly, fancy weekend had come to an end and we caught a train home.

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Here is our wonderful group at the Winter Wonderland on Saturday.

 

Bonus Picture!!

MISTER CORN

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London Within Reach

I haven’t posted in a while but I’ve still been having adventures! I went to London last weekend with some friends who were visiting from Scotland. I took them around to all the usual monuments and then we went off in search of food festivals and markets. On one of the days they took off to go to the Harry Potter Experience so I spent time with a different friend in London. I have enjoyed having London so close but I’m still very happy that I chose a location outside of the city. London is exciting and beautiful but if you’re going to spend time there you have to be prepared to also spend money. I’ve, thankfully, been taking friends around who haven’t seen much of it before so we end up doing the free museums or other free activities. Even then, unless you pack food for your day out you end up eating somewhere along the line at a pricey coffee shop or food cart. I’m glad that I have access to the city via the train and that I can go in on a day off when I have them, but also that I have a quiet campus to come back to with a nice kitchen where I can cook my own food and and a cute town just a short walk away. I don’t think I will ever not prefer small towns to large cities. Not tiny towns of only 1000 people, but towns like Hilo and Corvallis and Egham (I clearly follow a trend).

Okay that’s my commentary on where I live… now for some pictures from London yesterday

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Kingly Street decorations

We walked around Soho and while running errands and then headed off to the Cereal Killer Cafe (one of those “must see” quirky spots in London) for the novelty.

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Then, we went to the science museum and the natural history museum!

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Alan Turing’s Pilot ACE computer

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Snapchat had some pretty funny filters on Friday… I decided to use one of them

We also stopped by the office of our program coordinators and sat down for a cup of tea with them. We thought it was quite funny that they seemed upset when we told them we were planning on spending our Saturday’s studying and doing coursework instead of going out. There was another girl, who’s studying in London, sitting there with us and she said she was going to go out so I think they were happy with her answer.

We did have a fun Friday evening back in Egham though. My flat hosted a girl’s pizza and wine night and we ended up having a party of about 10 people (we ordered a hilarious amount of pizza). We sat around talking about an interesting range of things: at one point I gave a very brief lesson on the history of Hawaii and the annexation. We did talk about fun things too though, we played games and a girl from Northern Ireland gave lessons on her accent. That, in my opinion, is the best way to spend a Friday night.

So, as it is Saturday and I am not planning on going out today, I should stay true to my word and get back to my coursework… though I might make a snack first.

All Hallows’ Eve in Edinburgh

My plan for the weekend was to visit Avalon in Glasgow, explore Edinburgh on Halloween and the next day, and then to go back to Avalon’s before heading back to school.

I got to Avalon’s place on Friday and we got to relax for a few hours before she had class. She lives out from the city center and since I had nowhere to go I just went to class with her. I got a nice review on the lymphatic system. We went back to her place and I got to meet her housemates and chat about home for a bit (they are all American). Later that night we all got into our costumes and headed out to a Vet school sponsored party. I dressed as Dana Scully from the X-Files because it’s an extremely easy costume to wear: a suit and an FBI badge.

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On Saturday, I got into Edinburgh in the early afternoon, too early to check into my hostel. The friends I was planning on meeting in the city were off doing their own thing with limited access to wi-fi, which was our only means of communication. So, I set off through the main part of town towards the hostel, which was about a 20-minute walk away. They let me store my huge backpack in the laundry room for the day until I could check in.

IMG_6768I spent most of the day wandering around checking out the old town. I found a path up the side of Castle Rock and eventually made it up to the castle. I couldn’t justify paying to go inside, but I still got to enjoy the view… until it started pouring rain. It was a very Hilo-like downpour because everything got soaking wet and then it stopped in about 5 minutes. I finally got in contact with my friends long enough to agree that we were going to do afternoon tea at 3 pm. So, I spent the time until then walking down the royal mile. I made the mistake of entering a 4 story tourist shop and I ended up getting lost in the maze of plaid. I made it all the way to the basement where they had giant weaving looms set up. I also ended up in a room full of whisky at one point. Once I finally remembered the way out, a bagpiper showed up and started playing in the middle of the store. I finally escaped and noticed Scotch Whisky Experience building across the street. I decided I’d save the tour/tasting until the next day, but I did head up to the coffee shop for some Gaelic coffee, Scottish brie, mango chutney, and crackers.IMG_6784 It was as delicious as it sounds. I overheard a funny conversation at the bar while enjoying my snack. An American man commented that he was drinking early in the afternoon. The bartender looked up and said, “It’s 12 o’clock somewhere.” The American man said, “oh well in America we say ‘5 o’clock somewhere’… you all start early here!” The bartender just said, “well… our days are shorter up here.”

Once I was back out on the royal mile another group caught my eye. A few people were in period costume holding adorable owls and asking for donations. They were allowing people to hold the owls, but they were also advertising Halloween events for the Gladstone’s land house behind them. After I took a few pictures of the adorable and ridiculous owls, I went inside to do the self-guided tour of the historical 17th-century house.

 

The house tour had little checkpoints with volunteer historians on staff to explain a bit about the specific rooms. The first man I met in the front room was from Oregon, but we decided it was much more interesting to talk about Edinburgh so he told me about how the room was an addition to the original structure of the house. I moved on through the house and got to see a lot of restored items from the time, a few that did belong to the owners of the house. Along with the history about the building and the city at that time, there were flyers with scary stories in each room. One was on Scottish folklore about fairies and ghosts, one was entitled “how to spot a witch,” and one was about a famous mass murder that was never truly solved. This was my favorite just because the ending of the story says that many people speculate that the wife lit the room on fire, and I think her portrait says it all.

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Look at that face
Look at that face

After the spooky house tour, I continued down the royal mile passing a street musician, a rogue bagpiper, and a double decker bus reserved for a wedding. I stopped by St. Giles cathedral to look inside and then I finally met up with my friends for afternoon tea. They are all fellow Americans studying abroad in London and they came up as a group. After enjoying our tea and sweets, we went back to the hostel and relaxed until our spooky “Double Dead” city tour.

My friend insisted on leaving early to see if we could catch the celebration of Samhain in the city center. We made it on time and despite the crowds we managed to find a good view of the dancers, IMG_6935fire twirlers, and eventually the demonic drumline that marched past us. Eventually, we made our way up to St. Giles, which was the meeting point of the tour. I didn’t take any photos on the tour, but I remember some of the stories. First, we went into the underground city and learned about how it was carved out for the poorest of Edinburgh to live. We stood in a small room, about the size of a college dorm room, that reportedly housed 13 people. Our guide explained how there was no exact record of what went on in the underground and that the police hated going down there, meaning it was most likely an extremely violent place to be. It was still a ghost tour, though, so she did share stories of things that have happened on tours that they have given before. I thought the best one was of this woman who brought her 6-year-old daughter on the tour. They don’t allow children, but she was allegedly very pushy with this newer tour guide and demanded that she take her daughter with her. While they were in the underground, all standing in one of the small living spaces, the tour guide’s light accidentally went out (at which point, our own guide turned off her light). As he fumbled with it for a bit to get it back on, the woman felt her daughter’s hand grip hers tightly. She tried to assure her daughter that everything was okay and that the light would come back on in no time. Her daughter, however, continued to grip harder and harder on her hand, and she began to grow concerned. Finally, the guide got his light back on and shone it around asking if everyone was okay. The mother looked down and her daughter was no longer next to her. In fact, she was in the back left corner of the room standing against the wall. The mother and tour guide ran back to ask her what happened and she said an adult had grabbed her hand and lead her back there until she was at the wall. All the while, a child had been gripping the mother’s hand up in the front of the room (spooooooooooky).

The next big stop on the tour was the Greyfriars Kirkyard where we learned that the apparently famous story of the Greyfriar’s Bobby is all a lie. The dog was most likely chilling in the cemetery all the time because it is built on a mass plague grave and so bones occasionally come up through the ground when it floods. Our guide told us about the famous grave-robbers/body-snatchers who provided cadavers for the medical school. She also told the story of the covenanters who refused to convert religions and were kept locked in part of the cemetery for months before most of them were tried and executed for treason. This part of the cemetery is locked to the general public during the day, but the tour company is allowed to go in. We went and stood in a crypt that is home to the famous Mackenzie poltergeist, for more spooky stories. Our guide told us that one of the reasons the section was locked was because one night in the 90s a drunk homeless man stumbled in looking for shelter. He decided it was a good idea to go down into a tunnel he had found in one of the crypts. He crawled through the tunnel and eventually came to four large stone tombs. He began banging on one of the tombs… which was heard above by the man tending to the kirkyard. This attendant was understandably startled by the sound of banging from an underground tomb. Meanwhile, the homeless man had moved around enough to loosen up some floor boards and he ended up falling through to a section of a mass grave. He eventually climbed out and ran for it, almost running into the scared attendant and scaring both of them even more. Our guide explained the poltergeist theory that she believes in, that a poltergeist will develop in a specific place where a significant amount of fear has been felt (the imprisoned covenantors, the homeless man, and the many frightened tour goers). I did not have any poltergeist experiences of my own but I think our group was sufficiently spooked by the end of the tour.

Sunday morning I slept in too late and missed breakfast with my friends, so I took my time getting ready and set out for another day in Edinburgh. I went back to the royal mile and to the Scotch Whisky Experience, where I rode a barrel through a faux-distillery, learned about the regional whiskies of Scotland, chose one to taste, and got to see the world’s largest collection of whisky (about 3400 bottles). The first room housed most of the normal bottles:

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The last stop of the tour was the bar, which had a wall full of the quirky bottles. The guide explained that every item in the case had whisky in it, including the dog statues, animal figures, human statues, a clock, and every piece in a chess set.

After the whisky tour, I went back to the Greyfriar’s Kirkyard to see where the tour had taken us the night before. This is the locked Covenanters’ prison that we went inside: IMG_7029Sunday became a day of one tourist site after another. After the graveyard, I walked through the National Museum of Scotland for a while and then caught a bus down to the Botanic gardens. On my way back up to the train station, I treated myself with tea and pancakes at a chocolatier and then said goodbye to Edinburgh… for now…

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I spent my last night back at Avalon’s place, planning for her visit to Egham/London this coming weekend.