Tuesday, February 28, 2012

'E' is for Exchange Dinners

The ABC of Oddities continues! Except that this time I'm jumping a few letters and going straight to E for exchange dinners...

So. In addition to formal dinners and guest nights, colleges also organize dinners whereby two colleges will invite each other to their respective formal dinners, in a manner such that the same group of students hosting one week will be the ones visiting the other. In other words, it's an insitutionalized way of socialising and discovering other colleges. The various logistics of organizing and getting a spot for such an exchange dinner are tedious (and vary from college to college), so I shan't bother you with those. I will however tell you that exchange dinners are a great way to spend whatever money the college automatically charges you each semester for a meal plan and which you refuse to spend eating bland-to-mediocre food at the college Dining Hall. (Chicken. Potatoes. Carrots. Swedes. Again and again and again...! But I digress.)

By the way, this is what the South Building, where Hilda's dining hall is
located -- see that protruding rectangle in the left corner?.

This term, our MCR has been extremely active and put together not one, nor two, but SIX (!) exchange dinners. (Which really means 12 meals, 6 "at home" and 6 "away" at other colleges.) Exchange dinners are a fun but time-consuming affair. On one hand, you get to discover the people, atmosphere and food of other colleges, which is great fun and always exciting. On the other hand, tradition begs that exchange dinners first begin with a champagne reception (usually at 7pm, after you've rushed over from your class and happen to have an less-than-ideal empty stomach). Then there is dinner itself , generally appetizer-main-dessert, though some colleges *ahemStCatzahem* do 4 courses. Then the whole thing is followed by port or second desserts (port + cheeses), which is one of those inexplicable traditions that no one particularly likes (the port, not the cheeses) but that we absolutely cannot get rid of.

As mentioned, the exchanges that I've participated in have been with Mansfield, St-Anne's, St-Catherine (aka. St-Catz) and Lady Margaret Hall (aka. LMH). For a myriad of reasons, I've only done the "away" leg of the exchanges at Mansfield and St-Anne's, but I did do the "home" leg of all the other dinners. It's been great meeting new people (and better acquainted with current classmates), as well as visiting other colleges' dining halls and common rooms. I particularly liked Mansfield's common room (which is literally up a freaking tower!) and was rather impressed with St-Anne's formal food (lamb! white chocolate tart! actually delicious port!). However, we have been incredibly lax with our photography (too busy gawking and socialising, hah), so forgive me for the lack of pictures. In fact I only have one...

St-Catz at Hilda's: somehow our table ended up being 70% lawyers...

And here are some pictures of Mansfield which I stole from the Internet:

Mansfield. Looks gothic, but actually built in the 19th Century!
Practically brand-new by Oxford standars!

Dining Hall in faux-medieval style.  Remember Merton? Like that, but more
colourful. And newer.  And cozier (there's only three long benches!)

(Photo credit: my camera, friend's FB, Google Image.)

Monday, February 27, 2012


Oy vey! Mais qu'est-ce qui se passe? À peine trois semaines après notre première tombée de neige, le mercure est remonté dans les 5 degrés celsius et plus, et il fat...non, je n'en reviens pas...il fait soleil?! Des journées entières remplies de soleil...en Angleterre? Mais c'est inconcevable! Incroyable! La fin de monde tel qu'on le connaît...!

Du soleil! Du beau, gros soleil! (Christ Church War Memorial)

Non, mais regardez-moi ça!! (Le Thames vu du Pont Abingdon)

Et en plus, les bourgeons ont commencé à ...euh, bourgeonner et les fleurs à..euh, fleurir. Des fleurs! Des bourgeons! Fee fi fo fum, ça commence à sentir le printemps là là!

Magdalen Bridge en floraison.

La pelouse du Jardin Botanique.

Des fleurs de cerisiers? (University Church)

J'ai eu la brilliante idée d'aller m'installer dans le jardin de mon Collège, en face de la rivière Cherwell et des terrains verdoyants de Magdalen School, pour lire quelques pages de mon cours de Philo du droit. Inutile de dire que je n'ai absolument rien lu.

Une idée bien intentionnée mais naïvement irréfléchie...

S'il continue à faire beau comme cela, ça sera la deuxième fois que je vis un réel printemps doux, fleurissant et complètement précoce à mes yeux! Je n'ai pas vécu un seul flocon de neige à Paris l'année dernière (je suis arrivée en début février) et la température montait jusqu'à 20C dès la mi-mars. La mi-mars!!! (Et dire qu'à Montréal on patauge dans la slush jusqu'au mois d'avril et qu'il neige toujours une dernière fois en mai...) J'ose espérer que mon printemps anglais soit aussi beau!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hellary so far

I'm baaaack! So my laptop got fixed (they had to change the screen, damn hardware problems). But then I got caught up in the maelstrom of classes, tutorials and socials (la vie oxfordienne, c'est pas facile!)...so yeah. I haven't been terribly diligent at this whole regularly-posting schtick.

So here's what been happening:

* School-wise, Hellary is indeed an atrocious semester, but not as bad as I had feared. All four of my courses are going full-swing, but I am finding myself understanding at least 50% of the material in Jurisprudence now (huzzah!) and I am honestly, secretly enjoying this feeling of getting my brain beaten up by the sheer amount of information thrown at it. I had my very first tutorials in Jurisprudence and Principles of Financial Regulation (PFR). I'll write about them in detail in an upcoming post, but suffice to say that I deeply appreciate the laid-back and small-group feel of them. I also wrote my first two tutorial essays: one on the semantic sting in Jurisprudence and one on investor irrationality in PFR. Both were complete messes, but hey, that's what formative essays are for, right?

* As for my social calendar, this term has been dominated by exchange dinners. I'll also write about them in detail in another post, but the gist of exchange dinners is to have different colleges host members of other colleges. So far this term I've welcomed MansfieldSt-Anne'sSt-Catz and Lady Margaret Hall (LMH) to Hilda's, while I myself have been to Mansfield and St-Anne's. We've also been having bar exchanges (same principle as exchange dinners but with college bars--yes, each college has at least one bar), College-organised brunches, Pancake Night for Shrove Tuesday, not to mention our own dinner and birthday parties. And let's not forget about the occasional pint down at the local pub, which quite literally happen any day and any time of the week (okay, maybe not before 4pm...). Ah, the pub culture in this country. Hmm, I should do a post on my favorite pubs here as well...

* One recent social event of note is the Oxford Union Moulin Rouge Ball, which was my first foray into a "proper" Oxford ball (the Masquerade Ball was a much more mellow affair). I most enjoyed going with a bunch of friends, the Silent Disco and dancing the night away in among Victorian reading rooms and debating chambers of the Union:

Hildabeasts (plus one honorary member) at the Ball. 

Group shot #2. 

Our attempt to do a group can-can shot. It was a Moulin Rouge theme, after all!

Silent Disco! Unfortunately B (center) twisted his knee a few minutes after
this picture was taken...ouch. We literally had to carry him home. 

* I went back to London (yes, again and again and again) with my friend Y. It poured buckets, we waited 90 minutes in the line for the Natural History Museum and ended up aimlessly wandering around Soho and Chinatown. It was a great day. We got some yummy Korean food at Bibimbap and brought home egg tarts (蛋挞) from an Asian bakery. Yum.

* And finally, the weather in Oxford has done a complete 360. First it (finally!) snowed, covering the city in a fine layer of dusty snow which all but melted by the next day. Then it got gray and rainy (ie. usual English weather). However, for the last week or so, it has been incredibly mild and, dare I say it... sunny (!!!). Oh yes, I have seen the sun peeking through the clouds more than once! It feels incredibly spring-like, which absolutely makes sense for this part of Europe, but personally I'm just confused at how exactly can winter already been over when there has only been about two snowfalls and ten days of sub-zero temperatures. Huh. Oxford did look awfully pretty when it snowed though: 

View of the City from South Parks, I think. (Picture sadly not taken by me.) 

Okay, that's all for now. More posting and catching-up soon...I hope!

Monday, February 6, 2012

A year in hindsight

For me, 2011 began not on Jan. 1st, as Gregory XIII had intended, but on Feb. 6. This was the day I set out from Montreal to Paris to begin what I've since then referred to in my head as "My Great European Adventure". I remember those first days in Paris with the kind of heightened sense that only nostalgia gives. The grey skies, the humid air, the not-quite-winter-nor-spring state of things. Of myself, even, in a way. We had our first snowfall in Oxford this weekend; all but the last dredges of snow have melted by now and it's back to drizzles and mildly chafing winds. The weather today reminded me of Paris. Although 'reminded' is a rather weak word for what I have been feeling. The drizzling grey skies didn't just cause me to recall the early days of my Parisian adventure, it positively transported me body and mind back to the dirty Beaux-arts-lined streets of the 15th Arrondissement, as one dashes down the street to pick up breakfast from the closest bakery before running off to fight the early morning metro rush to class.

The following scene is forever seared into my mind:


A girl exits Maubert- Mutualite station, chocolatine in hand and a lost expression on her face. She is trying to the find the way to her school, Universite de Paris II Pantheon-Assas, and probably took the wrong exit out of the Metro. She turns 'round the corner, past a bistrot-bar where a lone waiter is cleaning and closing up.  As she stands at the foot of Rue des Carmes, staring up the slight hill and wondering who is evil enough to schedule classes at 8am...she suddenly sees. Straight ahead, above and beyond the rooftop chimneys of the Hausmannian buildings lining the street, the imposing dome of the Pantheon sticks out like a beacon in the night. The Pantheon, final resting place of great French men (and one Franco-Polish woman). Across from the Pantheon lies the Place du Pantheon building, site of the old Ecole de droit de Paris. (She knows this because she checked on Google Street View.) "Liberte, egalite, fraternite" are emblazoned on its walls. This is where she is meant to go. She is no longer lost.

I sometimes think that Paris imprinted too strongly on me, and wonder whether it is a good thing. It's as though I was a blank page, upon which those first experiences were written with such a heavy hand that nothing coming afterwards could hide their marks . Paris was a time of many first's: first time living alone, first time living abroad, first taste of travel adrenaline, first ad hoc constructed and then deconstructed in situ circle of friends. I had a grand time in Paris - "time of her life" wouldn't be entirely incorrect. That is incontestable. I just hope that it hasn't spoiled me for all that is yet to come...although quite often, especially as I sit in my cold kitchen eating a mediocre millefeuille and trying (still!) to grasp the concept of the semantic bloody sting, I fear that it has. Terribly, irrevocably and wonderfully spoiled me beyond redemption.

Happy one-year anniversary, Paris la jolie.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

I haven't gone AWOL! Well, not really...

Apologies for the radio silence lately. I swear that it's entirely the product of bad circumstances, and has nothing to do with my (lack of) blogging enthusiasm and diligence - nothing!

You see, the following events occured in the last week or so:

1. MY LAPTOP DIED!!! Broke down, gave me the black screen of death, and brought life as I knew it to a screeching halt. I have been computer-less for exactly ten days and some fifteen hours. The first few days I now refer to in my head as "Internet detox". I relied on public computers, got lots of reading done, it was great and productive, etc. etc. etc. But for the last five days or so? I have been dying. DYING. It turns out that I do as a matter of fact required 24/7 access to my emails, Google, Facebook, Youtube, and so on and so forth. I've taken to haunting my College MCR common room for hours on end in order to satisfy my Internet-related cravings. It's been mildly disturbing, not to mention cold and lonely and utterly pathetic. (Why yes, I am writing this from the MCR as we speak! And yes it is 5:30am where I am right now. Pathetic, see?)

2. I hab a cold. It id sho annoying. Actually, 90% of my fellow Oxonians seem to be cold-afflicted at the moment. I blame it on the weather (it's getting properly cold here, we might even get our first snow today/tomorrow!), but mostly on the all-pervading dampness of the country and the temperamental functionality of the heating system of this place.

3. Hellary Term is well underway and tutorials are a-reckoning. I am, to be quite honest, terrified. I haven't written a real essay in ages, much less a philosophical essay on the semantic sting in Jurisprudence. Heck, I'm not even sure I understand what the question is!

(In less whiny news, Chinese New Year happened - we squeezed in 32 people in a tiny house and made our own dumplings, thanks to my mother's filing recipes - and I went to London (again) last week. I managed to take in the much-touted Da Vinci exhibit at the National Gallery thanks to a crazy friend-of-a-friend who lined at up at 5am, and then spent quality catch up time with a childhood friend.)