Logbook #1

Travel News

How far did I travel this week?:I’ve traveled a lot of foot miles this week. Every day I’ve spent at least two or three hours walking to different parts of the city to explore around. This weekend I walked to Spitalfields Market, which took about 40 minutes. There were a bunch of stalls selling art and clothing in addition to some food vendors. I bought some Vietnamese meatballs from a food stall, and it was very filling!

How far have I traveled on this journey so far?:The furthest distance I’ve traveled so far is from the airport, Heathrow, to central London, which was about an hour long Tube ride. I haven’t had the chance to travel outside of London yet, as I’m still moving in and classes are only just starting. Soon enough I’ll start exploring other cities in England!

How did I get around this week?:Your legs are your friends in London. You walk everywhere. The underground Tube is the main transportation along with buses, but you walk to and from the Tube stations. In downtown London it’s sometimes easier to just walk between locations than to take public transportation. Plus, walking is the best way to explore the neighborhood, and it’s free!

What was the most interesting place I visited this week?:The most interesting place I visited was Camden Market. Unfortunately my friend and I got there just as the stalls were closing, but it was still a maze to walk through. The floor is made up of cobblestone, and there are shops lining either side of the road, scattered with food vendors. The stores are all independently owned arts or clothing shops, and the decorations are fantastic. One of the store fronts had a dragon statue weaving in and out of the wall. Another had two giant robot statues standing out front. Those were a little scary with their silver skin and glowing eyes. You could get lost in those markets!

Other Travel News from this week:This past week my flatmate and I got to tour the National Theater. It’s a giant concrete building on the bank of the Thames River in central London that has three theaters inside that host plays and musicals year round. At any one time there is usually one classic British play happening, like a new take on Shakespeare. There may also be new and different plays that have small audiences and are very intimate, like “Pomona,” a play that looks like it takes place in a sewage system and is about a monster. Half the building is woodshops and costume rooms where they design all the set pieces and props by hand!

Nature News

How was the weather this week?:Before coming to London my friends and family wished me good luck with all the gray days. London is known for being cloudy and rainy most of the time, but luckily the sun has appeared quite a lot this week! There was a blue sky and almost no clouds when I moved into my flat, and other students were sitting on the bank of the canal in between the hours unpacking. I was able to explore the neighborhood around Mile End, where Queen Mary is located, without a rainjacket!

What animals did I see this week? :One thing you’ll notice about me is that I have a special relationship with squirrels. Remember how Doug from the movie “Up” points and yells “Squirrel!” every time he sees one? I do the same thing. I even ran into a beautiful black and white cat while walking this afternoon. The most unexpected animal though…a fox! I stayed up late on Sunday to watch the Lunar Eclipse, and saw an orange fox dart past my dorm! I’m on the second floor, so it can’t reach me, but I’ve never seen a wild fox before!

What was the coolest thing I saw in nature this week?:Since London is a metropolis, there isn’t too much nature around. Luckily Victoria Park is next to campus, and we have a living bridge, too! That means a bridge across the road that is covered in grass, plants, and trees. My favorite part about the area, though, is the canal. It’s like a man-made miniature river. It isn’t very wide, and the water is always calm enough to see your reflection. Along the bank there are canal boats parked head to tail. People actually live in these tiny boats! Some have solar panels on top and others have potted plants instead. The owners can then move up and down the canal in their house whenever they like!

Other Nature News from this week:So far I’ve been able to adjust to the weather. It can be pretty chilly, but a long sleeve shirt and jacket cut back the cold. The hardest part is when it’s too cold to leave my jacket at home, but once I’m walking in the sun for five minutes I’m too hot with my jacket on. I’ll learn to dress for the weather soon enough!

Lifestyle News

What main languages are spoken here?:London is one of the most diverse and cultural cities in the world. So there are many languages spoken here, depending on what neighborhood you live in. For example, Mile End, where my university is located, has a large Bangladeshi population, so the second most used language here is Bengali. The main language is English, which is different from American English. They use different words and phrases here, and the accent is also very different. For example, it’s not called an elevator, it’s a lift. And don’t ask for the restroom, ask for the toilet.

What type of money is used here?:The currency used are GBP, or the pound sterling. It’s commonly referred to as the pound with this symbol: £.
English people will also say “quid” to refer to one pound, or a “fiver” or “tenner” for 5 or 10 pounds, respectively. Instead of cents like in the United States, fractions of a pound are called pence. There are 100 pence in a pound. The pound sterling is, to my knowledge, the strongest currency in the world. That means one pound is worth more than $1. 1 pound is actually worth around $1.67.

How much does a bottle of water cost?:Living in a city means that the cost of water depends on if you’ve stumbled past the touristy portion of London. Otherwise you can get a bottle of water for one pound, or about $1.67. It’s cheaper to go into a coffee shop and pour yourself some tap water, which can be free. They typically have pitchers of tap water and glasses on the counter. Otherwise if you ask for water in a restaurant, they’ll give you bottled water, which you have to pay for.

What was the best meal this week?:Tonight was my best meal so far. Each night a different flatmate cooks dinner, and tonight was the other study abroad student’s turn (there is one other study abroad student in my flat, and the remaining four are all normal Queen Mary students). He cooked the most amazing vegetable lasagna. It was filled with ricotta, mozarella, and parmesan cheeses with layered zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower. I may have had seconds. And I may have wanted thirds.

What music did I listen to this week?:Thursday evening my flatmates and I saw a blues band perform in a British restaurant (or pub). The band was absolutely amazing, and everyone was tapping their feet. Blues music is really jazzy and has a regular pulse. If you hear it, you’ll recognize it!

What activity was the most fun this week?:Today I got sorted into Gryffindor. Yes, Queen Mary has a Harry Potter Society, and I took the sorting hat quiz. Then the entire club met and all the new members waited in line to sit underneath the sorting hat which shouted out our house. Okay, so the person holding the hat over our head shouted out our house. We’ll have House Games and the Triwizard Tournament throughout the year to see who wins the House Cup at the end of the year. GO GRYFFINDOR!!!!

What did I read this week?:Thus far, most of my reading has been orientation materials. I’ve been handed course schedules, computer password papers, forms to sign, and more. Now that classes are starting this week, I’ll be reading some textbooks on Interaction Design (aka why do people like to play with some technology but not others). It’s also fun reading the Tube map.  The Tube is the name for the underground subway transportation in London. There are so many different stops which are difficult to pronounce. My friend and I took out a Tube map and started reading out the different names and checking the pronunciations with our British friends.

What games or sports did I play this week?:This past week was the school’s club fair, where I joined the Ballroom and Latin Dance Club. This Wednesday is the first meeting, and I’m super excited to get back to ballroom dancing. I got in touch with the club before I arrived and volunteered to help teach some lessons as I did a lot of ballroom dancing back at Harvey Mudd College. I can’t wait to meet all the new dancers!

Other news from this week:There’s been a lot happening in London politically lately. London is a really expensive city to live in (a “cheap” meal could cost you $9) and lots of residents are protesting the minimum wage. The minimum wage is 6 pounds per hour, but you need to be earning at least 9 pounds an hour to be able to pay rent in London. That means many people are forced into debt to simply live in London. This past weekend there was a riot in Shoreditch, which is a few miles away from Queen Mary. Rioters were throwing red paint on shopfronts and throwing chairs through windows. Luckily I wasn’t anywher near that, but it was scary hearing about it from my flatmate (no one I know was hurt).

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