Sunday, November 29, 2009

Of Boats and Bards

20 July

Today, my sister's boyfriend and I decided the weather was too nice not to go to Greenwich.

We checkout the old Naval School, 'The Queens House' which is an 18th century house near where Elizabeth the first had her palace.

We also looked at the Maritime Museum and Observatory. I learned a lot about England's Naval History, and through that quite a bit about NZ's as well. I also stood on the Prime Meridian with one foot in the East and one in the West. I learned about the history of time, navigation and space at the Observatory too. We managed to be both too early and too late at the same time for a show at the Planetarium so we grabbed some lunch. We also debated my non-commital beliefs over the history of the universe. I go by evidence yes but there are some things for which there is more than one hypothesis and both have their valid points ok! Lol.

After lunch, in a bid to evade the crowds, we decided to head to the Bank of England Museum. The Bank of England Museum is actually really awesome. It's about the history of money and banking which is of course really important to all of us. They have a real gold bar in there that you can try to lift up, weakling here could not do it one handed. They had exhibits about the economy and inflation too and we managed to win my sister a pin for being able to answer some questions to open a safe. Yay.

Fresh Pasta for dinner with homemade sauce by my sister. Oh my goodness amazing. Shame I can't get fresh pasta in Japan!

21 July

Today was Shakespeare Day.
After I went to see some books at the British Library I went to the Globe Theatre for As You Like It then Royal Albert Hall for an opera based on A Midsummer Night's Dream.

First up was the British Library. Home to a copy of every book ever published in the English language. They even have copies of misprinted bibles. The misprints completely change the meaning, for example in the "Sinner's Bible" where is says that 'thou shalt commit adultery' or the "Unrighteous Bible" which may have some truth in it to an extent when it says 'the unrighteous shall inherit the Earth'. There are also Bibles in the original Greek. There are originals of Shakespeare's manuscripts, Captain James Cook's diaries, King James' private library, not to mention my favorite thing in the whole place JANE AUSTEN'S WRITING DESK. It was amazing!!! The whole place was amazing. I could have spent all day there to be honest.

Alas though, I was booked for a play on the other side of the Thames at The Globe. As You Like It performed by the Globe Company was amazing. My seat was really good too. Right at the back of the lower gallery to the right hand side of the stage if you were facing it. People would have sat there for 2 pence in the 1600s. I sat there for 16 pounds I think. I had an uninterrupted view of the stage, apart from a pole which didn't block all that much. The play was really well done. I admit to having known nothing about As You Like It before I went but thoroughly enjoying it anyway. The principal actors really brought their characters to life and were brilliant with the witty puns and other jokes threaded throughout the work. The dude playing Touchstone was amazing with the speed at which he could crank out the jokes that his character constantly made. I was absolutely floored by the whole experience and can understand why a play at The Globe is a must do in London after that. I can also understand why I saw a rather famous and not quite so great looking in real life actor there too, brushed past him in the shop, ever so slightly star struck still.

After my Globe experience was 4 hours of A Fairy Queen at The Royal Albert Hall, one of 2009's BBC Proms. It was based on a Midsummer Night's Dream an included the whole of the play plus dancing and arias. It felt like it took forever. We had balcony seats with amazing views but it was hot up there. We got home at 1130pm and my sister was starting her new job the next day. Needless to say the length of it left her a little stressed and the rest of us exhausted. It was definitely worth the 13 pounds for the seats though and I would go to one of the BBC Proms again, provided I hadn't already had an amazing 2.5 hour play before hand.

My day of being literary was over all a very awesome day and I hope that I can have another day like that sometime. I'd love to spend more time in the British Library for sure and maybe go back to The Globe. It left me thinking, this is a place definitely worth visiting again. :D

Back to the Japanese study I go now.



Of Coffees, Shows and Oxford...


I have realized once again how much money I don't have so am spending my weekend at home this weekend contemplating some cleaning and study but mostly catching up on Japanese Dramas online (to keep myself in the loop with my students, hello Tokyo Dogs and Samurai High School this afternoon) and on some British television which I have acquired thanks to an amazing friend. I was staring at my computer and TV screens most of yesterday doing very little so today I thought I would catch up another few days at a time of my UK and Paris trip which I returned from more than 4 months ago!

17 July

On the 17th of July I was still on my Paris high. It was time to get a haircut, purchase the world's best hair straighteners and see an awesome show.

The hair cut went really well I must say. She gave me a style that has worked for the whole of the last four months and still looked fabulous even when I can't be bothered styling it and as it has gotten longer. I only recently discovered some split ends but that can be blamed on more than 4 months of not having cut it. Hello hairdresser in NZ when I'm there.

I also had my first real coffee in a year. Yes, yes, I did. What a mistake! I had it after I'd had another coffee so it wound up being the second coffee in the space of 2 hours. Now everyone knows what effects coffee can have on people. In my case that day it had that effect and well let's just say I was in a crowded place and got just a little freaked out by the crowd, as can happen and had myself a minor melt down that my amazing sister helped me through. I got just a little bit over anxious I think. Too much coffee does that to me which is why I try to limit myself to one NZ strength coffee in a 4 hour space. The result was that my sister and I had the heart to heart that we'd been needing and worked out a thing or two about where I want to go and what I want to do with my future which was really really cool.

The place I got the coffee from Sacred Cafe in Covent Garden was amazing though. It was like stepping into a cafe from home. Seeing the salads that look (and taste) just like the ones in NZ supermarkets was awesome. The coffee, soy mochaccino (I can never work out how to spell that!) was perfect and I was in heaven! There was just something about that taste of home. Needless to say I went back that place just about every one of the remaining days I spent in London.

We had Italian for dinner just before the show we had tickets for. We went to see Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. It was amazing. Much better than the movie and I do have to say that the leads did the drag queen thing pretty well. It helped me get over my anxiety attack, by getting me singing along with the music and redirecting my panicky-ness to the very real fear of falling from the Gods where we were sitting, oh my goodness those seats were on one heck of a slope.
I definitely recommend going to see Priscilla, though, if you're in London, it's running and you can appreciate that kind of thing. We're talking Abba, Aretha Franklin and other showy music from that era.

The next day was up early to go to Oxford for the day.

July 18

We got up early to catch the train to Oxford from Paddington Station to catch up with my sister's friend from when she lived in China, someone whom I got to know when I was living in Wellington. She lives near Oxford and her father and sister both went there for university. It kind of made the University of Otago seem a little, well, not Oxford maybe.

The four of us had loads of fun attempting to punt before lunch. It's really hard. I eventually got the hang of it but was not so good at turning and kept almost falling into the water. Winner on that day was my sister's lovely boyfriend who managed to push us back to safety without landing in the drink. :D

I learned the rule in the UK about not being cheap when it comes to food. We ate at some random cafe and the steak, oh my goodness I have never had such a dry steak in my life. Eeew!

So we walked around Oxford a bit. It was around graduation time so there were a few people here and there taking photos for their graduations but not much else really. The buildings are amazing and I could really sense the history of the place. I really liked it. It especially liked stumbling upon an anti-research on animals protest. I'll admit to having considered arguing with them but then realised where I was and how many times my high school debating team used to win and how many times I'd given up on arguments of that nature since, so didn't. Would have been interesting though.

The protest was right outside a free science museum so we went in. My sister got horribly bored after 5 minutes but her boyfriend, our friend and I were really enjoying ourselves. I found a replica set of Leuwenhoek's (again not quite sure how to spell that off the top of my head) microscopes and got a little bit microbiology/microscope geekish on it. We then tested our abilities to draw a circle. Microbiologist/Political Scientist me scored 80%; Historian/Primary School teacher my sister's boyfriend also scored 80% and the winner on the day was our Zoologist friend who managed a stunning 85%. Well done to her!

We went for a drink at a tiny pub with another friend of my sister's briefly and then headed back to London for Thai Fusion for dinner.

Oxford is a really beautiful place. I really liked it and would love to visit again so long as it isn't the height of tourist season. The streets aren't really designed for loads of people and if you've been getting annoyed by tourists for the last week anyway it can be a bit much. I felt a little sorry for the people who live and study there to be honest. I remembered what it was like when people came to see Otago's clocktower and felt a little sorry for them because this was thousands of times worse and constant. But it is well worth a visit and a really nice place. And only an hour on the train from London.

19 July

Rest day.

Went to see Bruno at the movies with my sister. Biggest mistake ever! Do not watch it! It is not particularly funny. 'Nuff said.

And on that happy note I shall end this entry here and watch a movie about Salavador Dali, which I hear is actually good, to help me get rid of the bad memory that was Bruno, shudder! then do some Japanese study... maybe

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Paris for a day!


It's pretty chilly in Takaoka today, so I thought I'd write about a day where it was the complete opposite. 30+ degrees Celcius in Paris on July 16th. :-D

16 July

Today I went across the English Channel (actually under it) to continental Europe for the first time ever. I went to Paris for the day. :-D
My sister wrote me an itinerary so that I got all of the important bits in.

I left the house in London just before 6am and took a train from St Pancras International train station bright and early arriving in Paris 3 hours later at 11amish. I think hot footed it to the Notre Dame which I dared not enter due to a) time constraints and b) crowds! Nortre Dame was spectacular and Paris felt just like a painting.

The next stop was the Louvre where I spent 9 Euros to see 2 things, the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, and get annoyed with crowds. Sadly, I am just like my mother and cannot stand hordes of people. I don't know what it is. But anyway needless to say the Louvre, the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo were all spectacular as one would imagine. The experience was one of pure amazement.

After the Louvre I wandered through Jardine de Tuileries, a bunch of gardens, where I stopped for a crepe made in France by an English, French and Hindi speaking Indian. You can imagine my surprise right?? The chocolate, banana crepe was one of the best crepes I've ever eaten made all the better by the fact that I was sitting on the grass doing what I do best, people watching. People watching and eating, love it!

I then proceeded to walk up the Champs Elysses to Le Arc du Triomphe via Sephora, a cosmetics shop and I didn't not buy something but I didn't want to spend all my money either so I only spent 5 Euros. :-D That's pretty good for me in shopping heaven. So then I did the been there done that took the photo of the big arch and proceeded off to the most magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower that Paris has to offer from Le Trocadero. I got someone to take a photo for me.

I then wandered down to the Eiffel Tower and waited in line for over an hour to get my Youth Ticket up, I was still 24 for 2 more weeks so I was lucky there. Rushed up to halfway, bought some souvenirs took a few photos and got the heck outta here because I was on a time budget and needed to catch my train which ended up being nearly an hour late!

The sore feet and mild heat stroke that came from power walking around Paris was totally worth it. I'm so glad I decided to take a day out of my London holiday to go to Paris.

It occurred to me on the train on the way back that I've eaten on 6 continents. I think that's pretty cool. Only Africa to go. I even beat my sister who has been to a crazy number of countries. That made me feel good at the time but it's kind of made me just a tiny bit determined to go to Africa at some stage... 'tis only a matter of when I've paid off my student loan and save enough money I guess.

And with that I'm going to go and find a nice warm spot in Starbucks at the mall to study some more Japanese. Such is the life of the girl who has realized how tight she needs to be over the next few weeks if she wishes to enjoy her trip home and treat some of her friends in 4 weeks' time, darn you money!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Science and Politics, strange combo???

Hello Everybody,
Long time no write.

I have gotten slack again and there is no excuse! That trip was 4 months ago for goodness sake but I am not interested in talking about that today. There's a three day weekend this weekend and I intend to send a lot of money home for my next trip so erm hopefully over the next 4 weeks I will be too poor to leave my hour and get organised studying and getting this blog up to date.

What I've been thinking about a lot lately, since someone close to me is working right at this interface as of late, is this idea that science can be affected by politics. People who know me know that I was one of the few crazies at my university to combine the two. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology with a Genetics minor and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Studies with no minor but certain an Asia-Pacific focus given my background and where I come from. But I do think that science and politics are topics that for all intents and purposes should remain seperate. However, as we all well know, from both history and the current series of debates regarding stem cell research and such like, will never be able to remain so for very long even if we were able to find some way to split them up. No matter how hard we try the are that couple that shouldn't be together but can't stop getting into each other's affairs.

To attest to this I'd like to point to Galileo, persecuted for heresy by the Catholic Church (no offence to my Catholic friends intends!), the major political (no matter how much they tried to deny it) power at the time. I recent times The Vatican has apologised for such short sighted accusations, but as often happens with science it takes a while for a hypothesis to become the accepted theory.

To further attest to this I'd also like to point to Sir Joseph Banks, botanist, head of the Royal Society in the late 18th century and champion of all who wished to pursue knowledge. He and his mates at the African Society (I'm not 100% sure that's what it was called) pushed exploration into the heart of Africa for knowledge gaining purposes. Unfortunately, the French and the King of England got involved and they had to change their stance on not exploring for political gain. Banks firmly believed that science needed to remain free of political influence but, sadly, was unable to shy away from the occasional use of public funds and/or prevent the use of knowledge, gained for the sake of knowledge, for political gain in the long run.

Throughout history those with the knowledge, especially in terms of Defence Science, have been able to control the political landscape. The man with the best ability to blow things up has the higher chance of getting the victory he seeks in war. This is something the Japanese can well understand, though they learned the hard way, and something that may or may not (depending on what side of the fence you sit) have led to the Cold War.

Then, of course, there comes public opinion, moratoria, the GMO debate, the Birth Control debate, the Abortion debate, the MSG debate (I sit in the anti camp on MSG, I think I might be allergic and am getting sick of becoming Ms Tomato Cheeks whenever I eat school lunch!), the euthanasia debate and many many others all of which spring from science developing the ability to do something that can be applied to real life.

Let's not also forget Climate Change. Whether a politician champions it or sticks their head in the sand they always have an opinion. I am a biologist so I shall make no statement here. I will say this, though, at the Polish research outpost, Arktowski Station on King George Island off the Antarctic Peninsula, I was told the the incredibly hospitable wife of the base commander that the bay used to freeze 4 of 5 winters, as at 2001/2002 New Year that figure stood at 1 in 5. At the up coming Copenhagen Conference I'd like to see the politicians and scientists present have productive dialogue but I remain unconvinced that even if a politician is personally convinced by the science that they will act according to that, they do after all have constituencies to answer to.

This whole thing is something that intrigues me.
I stand firmly in the camp that says "we should learn what we can". I also stand firmly in the camp that adds "within reason" to that line. But, who decides reason? How do they decide reason? Can reason be freed from human absurdity?

I find myself desperately hoping that the person who decides what the reasonable limit should be is not Pope Benedict XVI, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Yukio Hatoyama, Vladimir Putin, Helen Clark, Kevin Rudd, John Key or any other world politician.

I'd like to think that modern scientists are able to restrict themselves on what ultimately is ethical and where the line should be drawn. Unfortunately, though, I'm just not sure. Politics and science, like politics and religion, have played uncomfortably together for a very long time, I might even venture to say far to long. But as long as public funding is needed or the public has an opinion politics and science will continue to play together and fight with each other and indeed enhance the humour of each other.

But let's not forget that there is also politics within science, one of the most famous stouches being that between Rosalind Franklin and Watson and Crick who until late in their lives and long after her death refused to acknowledge publicly the role she played in the elucidation of the structure that gives us all life, DNA. But perhaps that is a story for another day.

The interplay that occurs between the two, science and politics, is something that fascinates me. Anyone wanting to offer me a Masters in it can feel free to pay me to do so. ;-P

I think for now though my ponderings shall remain ponderings because realistically I am not going to find any answers here just now am I? Though I suspect the answer is that it's not as strange a combo as one might think.

I hope you're all well.

My feet are cold so I'm off to stick them in a bowl of hot water to defrost them. :D