Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas in Kent: A Few Days of Rest & Board Game Fun!

After weeks of essay writing, Christmas was the perfect excuse for a couple days off, and another visit to Kent. It was great to see everyone again!

We spent most of the holiday playing Boggle, Scrabble and Articulate (a really great word game that's kind of like Taboo). Boxing Day, I'm sorry to say, was a sore disappointment. The mall opens at 9am, not 6am, like in Edmonton --and the sales are not worth queuing up for. In fact, the only shopping I did was to buy gym clothes at the over-priced Nike store on Boxing Day, and today, to buy a skirt and sweater at H&M, since we don't have one in Oxford.

Thai Silk at the O2 Dome
Also, on the 27th, we went out to the Millenium (O2) Dome in London, for dinner at a wonderful Thai place called Thai Silk. It definitely beats the Thai place I tried in Oxford, and the cuisine really reminded me of Thailand. The decor is beautiful as well - the perfect place to have dinner and catch a movie. Of course, I had my favourite dish - tofu green curry and jasmine rice. Nice and spicy!

 As for the film, I was not too impressed. Although The Hobbit's cinematography was spectacular, the plot could have been improved and was far, far too long. To be fair, though, the last time I read the book I was twelve, so I can't remember every detail, and can't comment on the plot's originality.

I've really spent the majority of the time studying though ---2.5 essays and my DPhil research proposal down, 2 more intense research essays to go. My goal is to finish them all in 7 days, and have the remaining 7 for editing. I need some New Year's luck to make it happen ---lucky '13!

Luckily, I was able to find a really great place for Kiara to stay that still had room available ---at Top Dog Home Boarding. Ineta, the lady that runs it, is actually a dog trainer who owns two training schools, and takes dogs into her home during the holidays. She only charges £20 a night for large dogs, too (most places I checked are over double that on Christmas week). This week, Ineta had her own two golden retrievers, a lighter golden retriever named Taz, a little dog and Kiara --all sleeping on her living room floor.

My cousin Tina and 10 year old Taz! 
Kiara nice and calm at daycare!
The only trouble was, when we went to visit Kiara for a day and take her for a lovely walk in a very muddy park and then left, apparently Kiara was whining the WHOLE evening. She probably thought we were back to take her home!  Apparently she has some separation anxiety (the non-destructive kind; she doesn't ruin things when I leave the house). Apparently, I also spoil her royally. I'm not so surprised at that, actually. Many trainers have told me that Kiara's the "top dog" at my house. I've really tried...but I guess I'm just not a good dog-mom? Poor puppy!

Here is a slideshow of Christmas Day with my family in Kent. Even my grandmother, Jhaiji, came over to the house to open presents! I received a lovely necklace from Sonia, a Gordon Ramsey blender/processor (to go with the Jamie Oliver cookbook I bought myself) from Jhaiji, wall stickers for my house from Tina, an awesome filter/waterbottle for kickboxing and a calendar from Sunny and Nia, and a beautiful Gucci bracelet, a file organizer and some London-themed place mats from Aunty and Uncle. What a great Christmas! I will say though, that Rakhi's pictures of homemade key-lime pie at home looked so delicious. I tried a British kind of pie--minced pie (filled with dried fruit, not mince).

Now, for a few hours off for New Years' Eve...(blog post will be up tomorrow) and then.... (you guessed it)...

.... back to study, study, study --and apply (using all sorts of strategic methods) for PhDs in the UK! I'm sure it'll all be worth it in the end.

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone - and all the best in 2013!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

London's Cozy Winter: A Christmas Market & Somerset House

Friday was a guilty pleasure-a break from work, (which I probably shouldn't have taken) and a break from the diet (which I definitely shouldn't have taken). Chocolate cinnamon snicker doodles just looked too good, and sometimes you just feel like enjoying life in a big city!

London's Southbank Christmas market was a first for me - we don't really have Christmas markets in Canada (at least not that I know of. Maybe Montreal does? I've heard they celebrate winter well). It was really beautiful...-1 degrees Celsius by the flowing river, a pitch black sky, blue and white Christmas lights and a street lined on both sides with cute wooden houses selling everything from friendship bracelets to oil paintings. The mixed aromas of bratwurst, mulled wine, cider, roasted cinnamon almonds, and various  random other cakes, like cinnamon and caramel "chimney cakes" (pastries), filled the air. Families, couples, and single wanderers like me meandered through the winter festival. 

For anyone planning to visit the market, don't forget to check out the
"real food market" near Waterloo station...smaller than the main market, it's affordable and sells fresh veggies, bread and baking. On the weekends, it's also open year-round.

London has a winter warmth about it - wear gloves and a coat and you are so cozy and warm,  even if you're wearing a skirt. No piles of snow, windy snowstorms, frozen hair, black ice, or melted, muddied,  dirtied and then re-frozen snow mush. Just decorative snow on the rooftops and frost on the windows.  Such a romantic feeling in the air! It almost feels as though you could fall in love with someone standing the very least, in love with the city. 

After Southbank centre, I took a quick visit across Waterloo bridge to Somerset house, where a small skating rink stands elegantly amid historic buildings. I think my cousin Sonia and I may come here xmas week (so I can teach her to skate!)

The Christmas arcade, like the market, was ridiculously overpriced...I saw a very large, warm knitted grey snowflake and reindeer blanket that would be perfect for cuddling with Kiara on the sofa and watching laptop tv...but it was £60! That's like $95! The designer is called Theo. Their website doesn't have the Christmas design up on their site, unfortunately, but they have similar products, here.  Who knows, perhaps it will be a Christmas splurge (or I'll buy a lookalike on boxing day). Ironically, the only semi-look-alike picture I could find online to show you is a throw from John Lewis, and three times the price of the one I want!

Here's a slideshow of my evening! I came home to cuddle with my puppy (sans ridiculously expensive blanket), and watch one of my favourite Christmas movies, Love Actually.

Stayed tuned for a post about puppies and Christmas cheer tomorrow, and then hang tight as I pause blogging to write essays until Christmas. To the cozy, warm, romantic London winter...Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Glühwein @ Anna's: Frohe Weihnachten!

From left: Anna, Chelsea, Majka, Paola,
Punit (Anna's housemate), Samantha & Ricky
 Monday night was an excellent break from exam planning and writing, as the ALSLA group met for a wonderful evening of glühwein at Anna's. Now, I know I was semi-disappointed with the Royal Oak's mulled wine a couple weeks ago,but Anna's version was delectable. Real, homemade, mulled wine.

Majka --Majkuláš!
We did also try adding in a Mark's & Spencer's pre-mixed bottle as the night went on ---double mulled!!!  (Seriously, though, the first batch was the best).  I've been excited to try real mulled wine back when Kristin G. told me about how they back it at home in Germany ---way back when my adventures started, in Singapore!

The night started out with conversation and lead to a game of "Never have I ever...." --always a fun time and excellent bonding! (Of course, contents of that game are sealed by the ALSLA pact, so no more blogging on that...)

Oh, an excellent part of the night was Paola & Ricky's homemade tiramisu! My favourite dessert in the world. Kat added some Kahlua to the tiramisu (since we had hot chocolate and kahlua out anyway), but unfortunately the picture was way too blurry to fix and post :(. Also, it was close to Ricky's birthday, so we got to sing Happy Birthday over mulled wine and tiramisu. Reminded me of my frequent visits, and going away party (thrown by my wonderful friends) at Menotti Cafe in Singapore --check out my blog post on it, here! 
Homemade tiramisu!
Thanks, Paola & Ricky!

Xmas tunes!

Happy Birthday, Ricky!
This is how much Paola doesn't like wine

Thanks, ALSLA-ers for a wonderful night!  

Also, I thought I'd add a couple pictures from last Sunday  night, as well. After exam planning until midnight Friday, and then kickboxing for two hours on both Saturday and Sunday, it was time for a girls' night. Silje, my friend from kickboxing club, invited me over for a movie night with her roommate Pauline. We watched P.S. I Love You (yes, an unrealistic and sad romantic comedy) and had a meal of build-you-own-burrito, and wine. I'm totally stealing this dinner idea for my party tomorrow!

Pauline & Silje

As for those exams (essays) I'm supposed to be writing, I wish I could say I'd made enormous progress (other than the outlines). In reality, I spent most of the last few days and nights figuring out my methodology for my dissertation ---which I am SO excited to begin (and have to put aside now to focus on ace-ing those exam essays)!  Now, though, I'm off to spend the afternoon at London's German Christmas market, which will be my first Christmas market, ever.

Tomorrow evening will be my Canine & Wine Xmas Party, as many of my classmates have been asking to meet Kiara! After that though, the next four weeks, days and nights, (with the exception of 2 days at Christmas) will be intense essay writing time. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Christmas markets, puppies and wine!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

British High Tea, A Piano Concert & Libraries - Living the Good Life!

Bodleian Library 

For the last seven days (Week 9), the start of what some may consider a "term break" or "holiday", the ALSLA group at the University of Oxford has been writing essay outlines for our exams (one for each course) - due at midnight last night (for no feedback or marks, but apparently for our own good). Hence, my week was spent days in beautiful libraries like the Bodleian library pictured below, and nights buried in my laptop at home, realizing how difficult it is to narrow the scope of extremely broad questions into a plan for a 2500 word masterpiece. When I have a teensy bit of time over the next few weeks, I will take a proper College and Libraries tour (as a self-guided tourist) and post a slideshow of the beautiful buildings in this historic city. You can only enter the room with the ancient books above (Lower Reading Room) if you have no bags or items with you. Reminds me of a library in the Professor's house in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe!

I do have to steal Claire Chang (one of my classmates)'s cartoon here (on the right)...this depicts the week perfectly!

Kellogg College's piano concert was a great evening out Tuesday night, as we listened to some very talented pianists at the college (and reminisced about playing the piano when we were kids and giving it up. Seemed to be a common theme at the event). It was really nice to hear some Chopin though -- and a couple catchy jazz tunes! Perhaps one day, when I own a home again, I'll take this up again. Maybe it's like riding a bike and, after a 10 year gap, it can still come back to you? The program of pianists is on the left!

This Saturday afternoon was especially great, as I went back to kickboxing and enjoyed high tea with Juliet at Old Parsonnage Hotel. (Yes, this is the high tea post you have been asking for!) The hotel is a very antique-British looking and reminds me of the Antiques Roadshow that was always on at home during the holidays when I was a kid, as part of regular day-time television. The red walls, oil paintings, comfortable armchairs and selection of "high tea", "very high tea" or "light tea" (ironically the contents are not "light" at all, but wonderfully and deliciously caloric clotted cream, jam and scones). Juliet and I chose the latter. As promised, loyal readers, I had tea (Juliet had a cappuccino). I must say there was nothing spectacular about the tea --pretty normal darjeeling! The waitress explained that the  "house" tea, called Old Parsonnage Blend, was a regular tea mixed with something called Lapsang Souchong, which she described as "smoky".  As the Brits would say, that sounded "dodgy", so I had a regular darjeeling. 

The clotted cream, jam and scones, reminded me of a trip to Cambridge and Cheddar Gorge when I was 12 years old (I honestly can't remember which place had the clotted cream). Back then, and today at Old Parsonnage, it tasted like heaven, creamy, smooth, fluffy and yet not too sweet.   Obviously, this heavenly food cannot be on any healthy diet --so this was a definite cheat meal! 

More importantly, this was a rare and wonderful opportunity to actually have a conversation with a classmate about something other than "work/studying". (British people call studying "work"). We spent three hours in the cafe, enjoying our first break of the season.

Juliet at tea
Sapna at tea

Well, speaking of "work", now that the essay outlines are roughly sketched, I'm off to read more literature, re-work the plans into something distinction worthy (or close), and simultaneously come up with a brilliant methodology for my dissertation! Ha, tall order, I know. I will say though, that I am very excited to be here -- and to dive into my research, dissertation, and (hopefully) new career. Oh, and of course, to visit London a few times during the "break", visit a Christmas market and experience a British holiday season!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Christmas with Linguists: A Multicultural Fiesta!

 Week 8 has been a phenomenal string of cultural experiences and fun to end off our first (Michealmas) term at Oxford, before digging right in to our take home exam essay topics. It all started Wednesday afternoon, for those of us enrolled in the optional English Language Teaching module. For our last class this term, we each had the opportunity to present a cultural holiday or tradition from our country. 

Majka with Chinese New Year sign
Back row: Julie, Kingsley, Kat, Mark, Ricky
Front row: Majka, Sapna, Dima, Paola, Anna, Fei, Ani, Quingli & Mengru


ILOVE having such culturally diverse, linguistically fascinating colleagues!

Here's what we learned:

  • Majka - taught us Slovak Christmas related words, and introduced us to the tradition of cutting an apple sideways and looking for the "star" at the core. A "star" means your family will have good luck in the new year!
  • Anna - introduced us to German cutlery words and the tradition of German Christmas markets
  • Dima - taught us a Lebanese dance, served us baklava - and best of all - taught us an old fashioned Lebanese celebratory chant. This is a short video of us practising the chant at our end of term dinner the next night: (since it's the first time I'm embedding from Facebook itself, I'm sorry about the sizing the picture to play)

  • Paola - taught us a very cute kids' song about the fairy that comes to visit Italian kids on December 6th - and puts candies in their shoes
La befana vien di notte
La Befana

con le scarpe tutte rotte
con la soltana alla romana 
(I'm not sure about this line)
viva, viva, la befana!

  • Ricky - told us about American Thanksgiving!
  • Sapna - I also talked about First Nations (Aboriginal & Metis) people and the traditional of "sharing circles" and oral storytelling
  • Flora, Kingsley & Fei - taught us to say Xīn Nián Kuài Lè (mandarin) and Gong Hei Fat Choi (cantonese),how to properly accept a "red packet" of money from an older family member, and about Chinese papercut art
    Chinese papercut

    • Mengru - let us try the art of Chinese button making - I definitely can't weave!

      Chinese button art

      • Qingli - enlightened us about a different kind of "Valentine's Day" They celebrate Qixi in China, and it's more of day to spend with family. The colours, instead of red and white, are pink and blue.


        • Julie & Mark (instructors) - brought us Christmas crackers full of trinkets and British mince pies (I seriously thought they had mince meat in them, but nope, they're sweet!)                              

        Here's a group shot of us at the Chinese Hot Pot restaurant called My Sichuan in Gloucester Green in Oxford on Thursday night, celebrating the end of term.

        From front left: Jeff, Paola, Sapna, Majka, Juliet, Dima, Sally, Glenn, Ricky Kat, Kingsley,  Fei, Bronson, Flora, Mengru, Claire, Sally, Anna, Ani, Alexandra

        Samuel, Mengru, Claire, Flora, Sally, Sapna, Samantha, Glenn, Ani, Jeff

        Well, the fun continued this afternoon with a Sunday potluck in the Common Room. Wow, did we ever have a feast! While I lack the gourmet chef skills of many of my classmates and just brought Christmas oranges and wine, we had an array of vegetable and meat Chinese dumplings, German potatoes, German chocolate cake, "egg spread" on toast from Slovakia (divine!), chocolates, shortbread, Chinese ginger dessert, wine, ginger beer, jamaican chicken, chinese cookies, green onion cakes (waaay better than what we get at home) and chicken with rice. The best part was the brief "borrowing" of college pots and pans to help us have our feast! There was also some dancing - but we made an ALSLA pact not to put those photos online :) 

        Chinese ginger milk dessert

        Well, I have to say, I don't think I've ever been part of such an amazing, culturally diverse group. Happy Holidays, everyone ---and good luck on exams! 

        I should get back to a PhD application due on Tuesday and start planning for those exam outlines due soon...stay tuned as we ALSLA-ers make some time for fun social outings around town for study breaks!

        Thursday, November 29, 2012

        Lovebirds and Mulled Wine: A Weekend Away & Back to Reality

        Skittles & Banana
        After a very hectic Week 7, I took a much needed rest in Dartford, Kent, where I had the chance to spend some time with family, wish my cousin Sonia a Happy 25th Birthday, and meet her birthday presents ---two lovebirds! Now, the lovebirds may look a tad like budgies for us non-avian fans, but they are really quite smart  - and have quite the bite when they are chicks!  

        In fact, Skittles & Banana are not allowed to come out of their cage for a few months, until they slowly get used to humans around them and realize that we're not bite-worthy! They actually come from the parrot family and can eventually be trained to talk! They also live up to 20 years.

        For a  cute video on lovebirds in love from National Geographic, check out this link! 

        I basically spent the rest of the weekend chilling at home and forgetting about work (except for googling places that may fund me for a Phd)  The last part was a reaction to  a very deflating realization of its true costs at the department PhD seminar on Friday). That's right, distinction marks and proof of $140 000 will be part of the conditions if I get in!

        Returning to Oxford was bitter-sweet.  Even though I was only away for 3 days, it seemed like I went on a holiday! On Tuesday, we were assigned our first two take-home exam questions - which will take a LOT of work to fit into 2500 word essays! Following that, we had a drink at Royal Oak pub, with our professor, and those of us in our class who could make it. Thanks to Flora for the beautiful collage picture below!

         From top left going across: Ani, Samantha, Flora, Sapna, Dima, Majka, Ernesto, Jeff, Sally, Bronson, 
        I did have a chance to try mulled wine - which I've been waiting for. It was pretty good --but I will say that perhaps my expectations were a bit too hyped up! I'll definitely try mulled wine at the Christmas Market in London Southmarket in a couple weeks and let you know how it compares to the Royal Oak's £5 glass. There was even a suggestion that we should have an ALSLA (that's our course - Applied Linguistics & Second Language Acquisition) Christmas party and make our own!

        PS - Just a note -- I am very annoyed that Google has started charging us to blog -- $2.50 a month if your pictures are over 1GB, including Google Drive which of course they are, after blogging for 5 years. The best reaction, I think, was Georgina's (she has an awesome blog about Cambridge - click here), and I quote "Boo Google. Boogle. Boo Blogger. Blooger."  Ah, the price we pay for the commercialization of our lives!

        Stay tuned for more ALSLA end of the term fun, exam studying time, dissertation and PhD application fun --- and hopefully --once I confirm a place for Kiara to stay ---Christmas in Kent with family and a New Year's Celebration with ALSLA-ers!

        Monday, November 19, 2012

        Oh, Tassimo! Simple Pleasures of A Studious Weekend (and Week)

         Oxford may be one of very few schools where you can be a complete, totally studious geek ---and still be both totally normal and  MILES behind! For the "weekend" (the last four days), I have avoided the Friday/Monday useful, but optional seminars and have been cooped up in my house, writing the "formative assignment" --the unmarked, one-and-only chance for feedback before writing  our four, end-of-term, graded exam papers worth 100% of our mark for the course. They are the four papers that will determine my (hopefully successful) future and PhD (they call it "DPhil" here) application. 

        With the exception of 2 hours of kickboxing, 2 hours of taking my broken Samsung Galaxy S3 screen to Vodafone to be fixed, a couple hours of cleaning the house/laundry , two, 2 hours walks with Kiara,(one to the vet at 8am this morning) and a mere 3 hours a night of sleep, it's been study, study, study - and figure out my dissertation plans. In fact, except for kickboxing training, I've been wearing glasses instead of contacts for the last four days in a row (a rare occurrence!)

        Tassimo  has been my saviour!  Thanks to Aunty Viniti and Uncle Steve who gave me this generous gift! While I had a Nescafe "Dolce Gusto" when I lived at home in Edmonton, this Tassimo T40 is much better, with a greater variety of flavours and stronger brews of both tea and coffee, as well as hot chocolate. So far, Kenco espresso (using my own milk to make a cappuccino), Carte Noir Latte, and Chai Tea Latte are my favourites, but look at the variety I get to choose from! Now, all they have to do is get Illy, the smoothest Italian coffee, to let them make Illy T-Discs...and we will really have PERFECTION!

        The best espresso!
        My Illy Espresso Can! 

        Now, as much as I'm trying to be on as protein-high, low fat, low-ish carbs diet as possible (Varsity Kickboxing Match against Cambridge in under 6 months!!!), I will admit that this weekend has involved my deepest sin ----Nutella! (on the lowest calorie bread slices I could find). Trust me, there's something to be said about Nutella and extreme studying energy! (that, or it's just a really great excuse).

        Week 6 was one of the most intense, exhausting weeks I can imagine. In fact, on the subject of linguistics and "codeswitching" (words from one language to another during the same sentence/conversation), I think the French word "epui" more fully conveys my feelings! Plus, I still have to review my notes for Weeks 5 and 6 tonight , and prep for my Week 7 (second) meeting with my supervisor tomorrow morning. Is it only Oxford that "numbers" the weeks of term?

        Handing in my formative assignment ("How Fluently Can L2 Learners Speak?Evaluating Definitions & Measures of Oral Fluency in SLA Studies") last night and receiving comments on it this morning made me breathe a sigh of relief. The comments were exactly what I thought the essay needed myself ---more examples and definitions of researchers' terms in the four studies I chose to analyze --- which definitely could not fit in a tiny 1500 word count. Perhaps I chose too loaded of a question to ask in 1500 words--but the answers I found will definitely help for my Msc dissertation and PhD proposal. 

        Good news is ---researching oral fluency in French and its most effective measures is getting really interesting, and I'm looking forward to making this part of my new career. More on Dissertation Fun in my next post!

        Good news # 2 ---Week 7 "weekend" will be an awesome break in Dartford, Kent. Kiara is off to Canada Farm Dog Daycare (I'm a raving fan of that place) and I'm off to visit Aunty Viniti, Uncle Steve, Jhaiji and family (you know you've been reading too much literature when the word "et al." comes to your mind before "and everyone."). Family time and perhaps a play in London coming up on the weekend.

        Thanks for staying tuned for my update of this relatively dry (though linguistically exciting) week! More to come, soon!