Saturday, November 23, 2013

Kiara & The Leaves: A Beautiful Autumn Photoshoot in Oxford!

Kiara - my beautiful pup!
One part of being a workaholic in Canada that I miss is the numerous photography classes I took (the grad student budget/potential British salary  just doesn't make that happen). Hoping to remember bits and pieces of courses I've taken, I headed off to the park near my home in Oxford last Sunday to photograph my beautiful pup. 

Kiara is four years old now, and wow, does she know how to pose! I did get some strange looks from people walking by as I talked to my dog, telling her to pose...hold that know, maybe like photographers would do for kids. K is much better than a kid, I still hold to that fact ---she's beautiful, caring, cuddly, does not require diapers or crazy feeding schedules or answers to annoying questions or constant babysitting or require me to change my whole life plan and give up my life for her--and she is genuinely one of the best parts of my life. 

Why not to live in Edmonton, Canada (photo from EIA website)
The photo to the left is how Edmonton, Canada looked on November 16th, when these photos were taken (official airport photo!) Lucky for us, we live in the UK and can enjoy the beautiful autumn weather all the way into November and beyond. 

I feel extra lucky to have Kiara with me, today, as last night (very early this morning to be exact), I had the most terrifying scare I've ever had. I fell asleep on the sofa (having spent the last three days and nights almost entirely on my Oxford PhD proposal due at midnight).  Kiara was upstairs. She came downstairs and woke me up around 5am (I thought she had tripped down the stairs). Then - she went flat on her side and started CONVULSING. It was the most frightening ten seconds (15 seconds?) of my life.  She was conscious, but SHAKING uncontrollably and foaming at the mouth and twitching her legs. I petted her to try to calm her down, then thought she might be choking and pried open her mouth, remembering the first aid course I took for Girl Guide leadership and sweeping her mouth for an object (nothing). I rushed to my phone to Google an emergency vet or pet hospital, but before I finished typing she had stopped. She shook her head, barked, looked at me and then acted TOTALLY NORMAL. She cuddled with me in my bed all night and totally didn't understand why I was suddenly sad and crying. Obviously, I didn't sleep a wink.

Thankfully, it is Saturday today, not Sunday.The vet was open and able to schedule me in last minute for their Botley office. It turns out that sometimes dogs have "fits" and 10 seconds is not a cause for alarm. Some dogs get "ideomatic epilepsy" (which means they don't know where it comes from), but hopefully she doesn't have that. So, I have to watch her carefully, and film it if it happens again,  but since her physical exam was perfect two weeks ago (other than an ear infection and small skin rash), she should be fine. I felt SO happy and relieved after returning from the vet's office today. 

I'm still a VERY amateur photographer, who only owns a Canon Rebel T1i and three lenses - the original, the portrait lens and the 70-300mm zoom. Clearly, I'm horrible at taking action shots. It's been almost two years since I took a photography course, so bear with me!  

Anyway, enjoy the thirty best photos I took of the smiling puppy!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Brick Lane Graffiti Tour, Vintage Markets, Billy Elliot & A Delightful Day with Old Friends

Vintage Style photo: Sneha, Sapna & Arjun at Billy Elliot
Friday was an incredible day with Sneha and Arjun. Sneha was visiting Arjun, who is doing his Masters at Leeds, so they both came down to London for a few days.
 It's always amazing when childhood friends see each other again - friends that you've known since you were five years old.  It's a lovely, conversational combination of old times and new adventures, of old dreams and new aspirations, of old recollections and new memories.

We met up just after noon (to make the 12:00 noon Alternative London Walking tour we booked). Reason I was late? The Circle Line to Liverpool Street comes every TEN MINUTES from Victoria. TEN MINUTES. And takes almost 30 minutes to get from the centre to the east end.  Now, all of you Edmontonians are all like, uh, hello, that's twice as fast as any mode of transport I've ever heard of, but over here in beautiful London most tube lines come every ONE minute. or TWO minutes. Or, at non-peak hour, THREE minutes. So, my "careful" planning to ensure I left my house in Oxford at 8:45 am and was at Liverpool Station by 11:30, resulting in my arrival at 12:02. 
Flexible rules...

Luckily, the guy in charge of the two hour Alternative London Walking Tour (Josh Jevins) was still introducing himself when we arrived. Then, we took an eclectic look at "street art" (ie: graffiti). He pointed out the works of famous street artists (now showing their work in high end art galleries worldwide), like Banksy and ROA. It was freezing cold, so we left half an hour early (Josh was not so happy about that, despite the very generous tip Sneha gave him!). One comment he made bothered me a bit - he said that London opened up immigration in the 70s to re-inhabit derelict areas by providing cheap accommodation to immigrants, hoping they would kickstart the textile industry. Why do they always hate on immigrants here? Oh, and we went for lunch at Dishoom - an Indian restaurant I would definitely recommend! We almost missed that, too - since the front door looks like it, too, is graffiti art! 

Check out Brick Lane's "street art"! (The last picture I took is my favourite, due to the juxtaposition of the two worlds of London's rich and poor coming together at the site of new retail and residential developments on the edge of Tower Hamlet).

A ROA Crane (Jevins claims the artist painted it at the request of the Bangladeshi community, as it is a symbol important to their culture)

Random lego xmas tree (artist unknown)

Racial Harmony

Juxtaposition of the rich and poor (The cartoon caption says "We're gonna need a bigger gun, love"

Vintage Markets

The best part of Brick Lane is definitely its markets. Especially the GIANT vintage market with many vendors which we almost missed because it's down a flight of stairs. Despite my derelict financial condition (c'mon, job market!!!), I spent 50 quid. What I got for it was wonderful --- a pair of black leather boots, an olive green corduroy coat, a pair of button shaped earrings (those were new) and a warm beige scarf. The funniest part was when we came across a Scouts Canada hat. I would have bought it as a joke, but it was 10 quid!

Cream Tea

Sneha and Sapna
Neither Sneha nor Arjun had had cream tea before (though Sneha marvelled about the scones she had the previous day; much better than Canadian scones!). So, before the show we stopped at a pub that was (luckily) serving cream tea until 6pm. We do have a pic of this on one of the phones (coming soon). I can't seem to remember the name of the pub, though and google is not helping. Mousseau? Something like that...

Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot was one of the highlights of the day. It is a beautiful musical full of tap and ballet dancing, well co-ordinated routines, and an engaging plot. Many of you will remember that I DID NOT LIKE Wicked. Yes, I said it.  It lacked plot, the characters were not convincing, and you had to suspend your disbelief much too much. If you want to read my rant about it read the bottom of this post.  Billy Elliot is a must see --- and it's incredible how the lead actor (actors, I'm sure) is about 12 years old and puts on an incredible acting/singing/dancing performance. The story is set at the time in England when Margaret Thatcher was in power and shut down coal mines/unions to privatize them.  It is basically about a young boy whose father works on the coal mines and forces him to take boxing lessons; he discovers dancing lessons at the same community hall and decides he wants to be a ballet dancer (much to his father's horror).

All in all, a lovely day ---hope to see you again soon, Sneha and Arjun! 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Graduating from an Oxford MSc. - A Solemn, Traditional Convocation (and some fun!)

Graduating from the University of Oxford on November 9th, 2013 was quite the adventure! Remember Matriculation last year? (It's backwards graduation, in essence - official enrollment at Oxford!) If you thought 10 minutes of Latin was traditional, try 1 hour of Latin and 10 minutes of English!

Two of the points the Vice Chancellor made that resonated with me were:

1) "At Oxford, we do not teach you how to think"  --- Oh that's definitely true. In fact, they don't even teach you what to do. At all.  For example, there were not even really clear instructions on what we were supposed to do at the ceremony. (Check out the photo of Dima and I trying to figure out what was happening)

Dima and Sapna ---confused!!!

2)  "At some universities, the graduation ceremony is 'festive'. At Oxford, we prefer to have a serious, solemn ceremony" (and something to the effect of solemness = respect)

Note - I have no idea why  the vice chancellor, and not the chancellor, was present.
The Sheldonian Theatre

Here are a few bullets on the ceremony:

  • Yes, it's really in Latin
  • You don't get to hold a scroll, or a faux scroll 
  • Your go on stage with about 30 other people
  • You don't even get to be presented by your name, but after a group of names in which yours is included 
  • You are presented twice - once in your matriculation gowns, which you've had all year, and once again with your specific colour robe (mine was light blue)
  • During your first go at it (in your normal gown), the person at the head of the group holds the Dean of your college's hand and then as a group, you all bow to the centre, to the left and to the right, then to the proctor again. Then the proctor says something in Latin, and you all say  DO FIDEM!  (Take courage!). Then you file out and hurry to get changed into your other gown at the Divinity School building before you're up again
  • Depending on your degree (MSc, BCL, MA, DPhil (Phd), etc.) and your specific area of study, the second presentation seemed to happen differently. A couple of the degrees even got a tap on the head with a book from the vice chancellor (????) and the DPhils all got to shake his hand

  • As an MSc. graduate, the second time is much simpler -you go up in rows of four.  You bow together, and then the chancellor tips his hat off/bows his head to each of the four people individually. Then, you file out.

Sapna and Anna
One part of Oxford's system I don't like is that our whole class (24 people) could not even graduate together! At Oxford, you graduate with you college, which is randomly assigned according to a college that accepts your area of study. So...our class of 24 people was split between people graduating on November 8th, November 9th and November 16th. At least most people who left and came back for graduation came for a few days, so I did get a chance to see a few of my classmates again.

Aunty Viniti and Uncle Steve came down from Kent for the ceremony - thank you for coming!!!  Anna also joined us and we all took a few photos in front of the Sheldonian Theatre. We went to Arzoo for Indian food and then I joined Juliet, her parents and cousins, Dima and Dmitri for dessert at Pizza Express.

Enjoy the photos!
Bowing pose! Juliet, Dima, Sultana, Sapna

Jeff, Dima, Juliet, Sophie, Sapna

Aunty Viniti, Uncle Steve and Sapna

Sapna & Aunty Viniti

Sapna & Uncle Steve

Anna and Sapna

All Graduate-d!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Halloqueen - Oxford's Annual (Cross) Dress-up Fest!

Sapna & Anna
Just a short note about this year's annual HALLOQUEEN party!  Yes, that's right, Oxford's way to celebrate All Hallow's Eve is a cross-dressing spectacular! Brendan, Anna and I spent hours choosing our outfits. I managed to scrape by with top hat and business suit, kind of like Charlin Chaplin minus the cane, but Anna went all out and decided to take a feminist take on Robin Thicke.  For those of you (like me) who hate music videos and don't have a clue who this is....he's a singer (unfortunately half Canadian) who made a sleazy video at MTV's video music awards comments how he knows girls "want it'. Miley Cyrus managed to make his performance even it if you really want to know.

Brendan and Anna
Brendan and Sapna
The best parts of Anna's outfit?   1) The make-shift pinstripe jacket, made from (yup, you are reading this right), a roll of masking tape! and 2) The awesome sign, advocating women's rights, rather than the sleazy Robin Thicke attitude.

Brendan really put on a show...look how well Anna did his makeup and wig!

So, while the rest of the world (or most likely North America) is celebrating the night when the words of the living and the dead supposedly cross, Oxford students are cross-dressing. Unfortunately for us, we waited 1.5 hours in the freezing cold (albeit not freezing to Canadian standards), and STILL didn't even get through half the queue to be let into St. Antony's college! The trouble was they sold advance tickets to St. Antony's students and their friends...leaving the rest of us to freeze in the cold. 

It was an okay night anyway, and we met some people from Hertford College and then spent the rest of the night with Kellogg crowd at a horrible club (I love Oxford's "bops" (parties), but I am WAY too old for Oxford's horrible clubs). Next year I guess we'll find some friends at St. Antony's if we decide to go!

Happy Belated Halloween!

Stay tuned for my MSc. graduation post....coming soon!