Thursday, May 26, 2011

Can I Get A 'SMH'???

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been an odd few days. All I can say is SMH! I knew London wasn't going to be perfect, and I don't want to focus on the negatives, but I'm trying to record things as they happen, and smh's are errwherr.

*For those of you wondering what 'smh' is, it is an abbreviation for 'shake my head', and at the Kappa Kastle we actually pronounce it 'smuh'. So if somebody does something/something happens that you disapprove of or dislike, you might say 'smh'.

Here are some recent 'smh'-s I've come across in London over the past few days:
Excessive body odor? SMH!
Fat guys who wear shirts that say "I came on Eileen"? SMH!
People who talk too loudly on buses? SMH!
Leg cramps from walking for five hours straight everyday? SMH!
Dirty old men who smell like booze and old fish and almost vomit on me? SMH!! Now, I can handle drunk froshies or crying sorority girls, but this was different.
People who can't clap to the correct beat at a concert? SMH! Glue your hands together and sit quietly!
Gap-tooth homeboys who confront me at the bus stop, mumble 'you look amazing', and then believe me when I say that my name is Kelly and I'm from California? Major SMH! (By the way, I enjoy lying to men I don't approve of or show no interest in. It's a hobby.)

But the ultimate SMH of the day happened tonight at dinner. My boss Mark and his wife Lawry took me to dinner at a Turkish restaurant in Hackney. She'koyokh, one of the acts for our music festival this summer was playing a show of Eastern European folk music there, and I was having a lovely time drinking beer and trying new food. Out of nowhere, a man dressed in hasidic clothing asks to sit down at our table. At first I think, what are the odds that a rabbi would come in right as I'm getting drunk? Is God trying to tell me something? I mean, this guy has the long beard, traditional black suit, side curls, etc. He's the real deal, and I have no idea what to do in this situation but smile and finish my beer.

When he ordered a beer, I was sincerely confused. I don't know much about rabbis, and I have never met one that drank turkish beer. But as the band called for a break in their set, our new friend toasted his beer with us and explained that he was some sort of religious medicine man. He told us how his father had survived Auschwitz, and the mood suddenly became awfully heavy. He began telling us a story of how he met a woman who had a stomach tumor but refused chemotherapy and western medicine. Her family begged him to do something, so he took her to the depths of the rainforest in Brazil, changed her diet, fed her a plant mixture, and meditated with her for six months. Finally, he told us that her stomach tumor shrank over time and her cancer disappeared. It had been nine years since their trip to Brazil, and she was still going strong. No big deal, he just cured cancer.

Throughout this story, I'm not sure if I'm just drunk or if this is really happening. He started to speculate that big pharmaceutical companies know what the plants in the rainforest can do but are destroying it for their own profit. He told us how he attended Harvard divinity school for graduate work, but confessed to Mark that he had never heard of Martin Luther, which I found odd. Then, out of nowhere he looks me straight in the eye and tells me that all women should be vegetarians. Apparently, meat is incredibly acidic, and not good for our bodies. But the explanation took an odd turn when he started talking about the acidity of semen and how that should be the only 'acid' we put into our bodies. I know I was drifting in and out of the conversation, but I truly didn't know what to think about this.

Luckily the music started up again, and he sang and danced along to the yiddish and gypsy songs they played. After the show, Mark explained that I was from America and the old man started rambling about the places I had to visit in the states so that I could really 'see America.' It's not like I have lived there for nearly 23 years, but his suggestions were nice. Mark and Lawry found him enchanting and not weird like I did, so they exchanged contact information and he offered his services anytime he was needed. I still don't really know what to think.

So what can we take away from these few days? Sometimes, all you can do is smile and SMH...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Whatchu Know About Walkin' ? (or, My First Few Days in London)

I've been in London for about 80 hours, and my dogs are BARKIN'.

But before I walked like 15 miles this weekend, I made it safely on my first international flight. I was so proud of myself for doing well on my flights! I am normally horrible with planes, but this time I convinced myself that if I could get to London, the flight would be a miniscule part of my trip. I didn't manage to sleep on the 8 hour flight from Houston to London, but I did watch plenty of horrible movies. At first, I stayed awake so I could eat dinner. Then, I stayed awake to wait for the line for the bathroom to go down. Then I started watching a movie that I actually wanted to see. Then I started watching a movie I didn't care about so much, but couldn't get very comfortable so I didn't sleep. Then I started another movie because we were about to eat breakfast. Then, there were 30 minutes left of the flight and there was no point in sleeping. Needless to say, I slept a lot that afternoon!

On the flight, I jotted down a few notes about my experience flying:
"Screwdriver: GOOD.
Skyy in the sky, nothing better
Watching 'Eclipse', thinking awful thoughts about Taylor Lautner next to an older gentleman-AWKWARD AS FRONK
Knowing he's glancing over to see Bella and Edward make out, and sitting so close to him that I know he can tell when I hold my breath when Taylor Lautner takes his shirt off-HELLA AWKWARD

I may be 22 and entitled to watch awful PG 13 tween movies, but I am still embarrassed to be watching Twilight next to this guy who could be my dad. Luckily, I'm a bit tipsy and don't care that much."

After the flight, I had to walk from surely the farthest terminal to the UK border, where I had to present my visa/passport and letter of sponsorship for my internship. I stood in the queue (that's native for 'line') for almost an hour before a 3 minute accost about why exactly I was there. A bit scary, to say the least.

My boss, Mark, picked me up and we drove through the city to Hackney where I'm staying. We made a stop at the Diorama Art Center offices at The Crypt Center near Regents Park, which was exciting to see! Once I got all my baggage into my room, I promptly went to sleep for 8 hours. After dinner with Mark and his wife Lawry, we walked around Hackney to a nearby churchyard, as well as other shops and a freehouse. Freehouses are abandoned properties that have been 'squatted' by a group of people who might otherwise not have anywhere to go. Anyone can drop things off like clothes or books or whatever, and anyone can take anything they need. It has a few people in charge of looking after it, but it isn't regulated as to who takes/gives what. They also hold free events there, like poetry nights, lectures on life skills like skillful squatting or wiring electricity, movie nights, etc. We walked in and heard about 15 minutes of free verse poetry and stand up comedy. It was very intriguing and entertaining, and just interesting to see how differently these people live. Even when I donate things to Salvation Army, I assume someone else will pay for them. If I go to the thrift store where other people have donated things, I expect to pay. I had never really encountered a place where you can take what you need and leave things for people knowing that they won't have to pay for them, allowing them to save money on clothing, etc.

Sunday was a perfect day in the country, mixing with the posh at Lady Bessborough's country estate. I had coffee next to a Matisse sketch and saw the Picasso in her grandchildren's playroom, not to mention the millions of dollars worth of modern art that covers the gardens outside the estate. After that, it was a short drive to Stonehenge, then off to Salisbury for a 13th century cathedral visit and dinner at a pub.

My first day at work was awesome. My main responsibility is to prep for an execute a 5 week outdoor music and dance festival, but that doesn't start until June 22. Until then I'm working with the New Diorama Theatre, and the people there are so legit. There is a cafe' attached to the theatre that helps support it, and it has amazingly delicious food like duck and coffee imported from Nepal. I can't wait to work with them all summer, and even though most arts management internships I've had have been a drag, this one is very promising.

I feel like I'm finally getting my feet under me, and I'm comfortable walking around my neighborhood. It's not so overwhelming anymore, but the idea that I'll be here for another ten weeks is a little unnerving. There's so much I want to do, but I do feel like I'll have time to do it.

Culture shock is a funny thing. Though there's not exactly a language barrier, my family has a much different lifestyle than I do. For one, they recycle EVERYTHING. They compost old food and don't use plastic sacks. They don't use major grocery stores, and support local markets. Driving here is ridiculous- stop and go all the time, bumper to bumper traffic. The most shocking idea was when Mark told me that "drivers here rely on others to know what they're doing, whereas in the states drivers assume that everyone else on the road is stupid." What a novel idea! It seems to work for them, but it still makes me incredibly nervous.

I can't say I'm wild about cyclists on the road, and I wish there weren't people who meander aimlessly on the sidewalk when I'm trying to get somewhere. Using public transportation has been awesome so far, even though it was a little overwhelming at first.

Food has been a bit of an issue because I'm a somewhat picky eater, but all in all I've been open to trying new things. The Danish girl that lives in my house with me (Louise) made spinach pancakes last night that were awesome, and I've had plenty of fish and fresh food. There's considerably less salt used here in home cooking, and I think my arteries are in a state of shock. I have been easing myself into the idea of cultural food by alternating my meals with new stuff and familiar cuisine. But even what's familiar is a little off. For instance, I had a burger at a pub that was made with onions in the meat (not an altogether foreign concept, I know, but unexpected to say the least!), and a 'Mexican Quesadilla', which was actually just thin slices of ham and cheese in a tortilla served with ketchup. I am addicted to Dr. Pepper, so while I hoped that would be a comfort, even that is a little different. It tastes a little off, and upon inspection of the bottle I bought today, I learned that it is considered a 'sparkling fruit flavour soft drink,' which explains the subtle fruity hint I picked up. On the side of the bottle, it also has a little tag line that says 'What's the worst that could happen?', which is definitely not what I want my soda to say. I drank it anyway, because it's all a part of the experience.

For my female friends out there wondering what the beau sitch is in London-there are SO many beautiful men here! While I'm pretty sure most of them are gay, I haven't been brazen enough to approach them. We'll see what happens when I hit the pubs with some friends, but until then, I'm satisfied just watching. I work in the financial district of central London and many young men in slick suits filter in an out of the theatre cafe' I frequent, and I am totally okay with that. It motivates me to dress nicely for work. 

I keep a notebook with me so that I can write down different things I'm thinking when I'm out and about. Today I sat down and started a comprehensive list of everything I've done/seen. So as of 24/5 (dates are written backwards here), I have-
 *Gotten an Oyster (under/overground transport card) *ridden a double decker bus/underground/overground trains *seen Stonehenge *seen Salisbury Cathedral *stood next to a Bently and Aston Martin *eaten spinach pancakes *gone to Broadway Market *gotten groceries by myself *cooked with a gas range *eaten pub food/drank pub beer *watched a football game with the locals (ManU vs Blackpool...must do this again!) *Seen several small galleries (renovated firehouse, old victorian house) *seen St. Thomas church *gone to the post office and figured out how to mail things *gotten tired of the smell of fish (its errwherr herr) *seen many beautiful men in business suits

Until next time, thanks for sifting through my life! Pics are up on Facebook :)

Friday, May 13, 2011

6 Days and 1 Long Island Tea

I'm about six days away from jumping on a plane and traveling almost 5,000 miles to London, England for 12 weeks. I hate flying and have cried on about 90% of the flights I've been on (keep in mind, I hadn't flown before I was 18), I don't necessarily like being lonely, lost, or confused, and I've had a personal vendetta with the study abroad process since my sophomore year of college.

Does it make any sense that I would want to go abroad? Not really.

Am I doing it anyway?
Why the hell not?

Let's back up to sophomore year when I had my first real encounter with study abroad. I had just started dating this really great guy when he told me that he had a dream to study abroad in Germany for a whole year his junior year. We had only been dating for a couple months, so even though I cared about him a lot, I encouraged him to go. The last thing I wanted was for him to stay in Tulsa because of me and then our relationship fall apart. We talked about the idea of me going abroad and joining him, but that wasn't something I could see myself reasonably doing. I accepted the fact that he was going to leave, and we decided to stay together throughout the process. We had a strong relationship, and I really wanted him to be happy. There was nobody else for me.

We were together for about a year before he left in August, 2009. I remember the last time he came to visit Tulsa, our last hug and kiss, and most of all, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that hit when I saw him drive away for the last time. I remember when he called me right before he boarded the plane, and of course the tears that followed. I remember realizing that there would be no more 'goodnight' or 'i love you' text messages, no more holding hands on road trips, and when I went to hang out with his friends, he just wouldn't be there.

The first few months really weren't that bad. We skyped a lot, wrote letters, and occasionally he'd call me on the phone to surprise me. We did everything to make it work, and it did. My sorority sisters comforted me when I cried, and his fraternity brothers helped put me at ease and hung out with me all the time, joking about him and reminding me how wonderful he was.

But that December, I panicked. 

Near the end of finals, I was in a car wreck that totaled my car and really shook me up. I remember being so scared in a bad part of town with no way to get out and strangers talking to me. I was crying everywhere and the only person I wanted was seven time zones away. All of a sudden, I was angry at him. I felt abandoned, and even though neither of us could have predicted this, my overreaction to the situation had a lasting effect on my feelings for him. When I realized that he wasn't there, that he couldn't be there, that he'd never be able to comfort me the way I needed him to-that's when it got real. I was finally lonely.

I'm not what you'd call a 'consistently reasonable' person. I blamed study abroad for all of this, even though I knew how silly it was.  My boyfriend had been talked into leaving me for a whole year, and it messed up my life. I didn't know how to feel when we talked anymore, but suddenly it seemed like the distance between us was so much more than a few thousand miles.

And then, a new guy came into the picture.

I started talking to a second guy, who had been a friend of mine for a few months, and as we got to be better friends, we discussed my current boyfriend and how I had felt about missing him and how unfair the situation at hand was. After all, I was 21 years old. Should I really wait around for a guy when our future together was so uncertain? I could rationalize it any way I wanted to, but in the end, no matter how much I cared for my beau abroad, there was now somebody at home who cared about me too. So I broke it off with my boyfriend, and eventually started dating my new friend.

I won't say it was easy to get over my ex, but it was nice to have someone again. Maybe that's all I really needed. Even though my boy in Germany had bought a ticket for me to visit him, I turned it down. I couldn't get on that plane out of crippling fear. It was easier just to stay home.

As the next school year started, my new boyfriend and I went through a rough spot, breaking up and getting back together. We had a different dynamic than my ex and I, but we made it work somehow. But the nail in the coffin of our relationship finally came when he told me he was applying for an internship in Scotland.

What. The. Hell? Is this deja vu? Didn't I already send one guy to another country? And now this?

Being the intelligent and charismatic guy he is, of course he got it. There was never a doubt in my mind that the Karmic gods would shit on my life by sending another guy abroad after I'd broken up with one guy for being abroad.

So my Scotland man and I set a date to end our relationship. We finished out the fall semester together, but each day was bittersweet knowing that our happiness was fleeting. The morning I had to watch him drive away that one last time, I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach all over again. I remember feeling how unfair it was to have to go through this twice, and even if I was proud of the boyfriends I had 'sent' abroad and genuinely wanted the best for them, Study Abroad had cheated me again.

When I came back from winter break, I felt different. I didn't want a boyfriend anymore, but rather joked that if there was anyone out there who was unsure about studying abroad, they should date me for a few months and they'd definitely leave. I felt like it was time for a change, time for me to do things for myself and not sit around watching other people do fun things. It was time for me to live my life. I was a senior in college (set to graduate in December), and in a few months, my closest friends would be gone. This time around, it was about me and my friends, but mostly me. Carpe diem, mo' fo's.

I had heard of the Arts Management internship with Diorama Arts Center in London for years now. I discussed it with my friend Jenny (who had gone last year) on our way to class each week, and she gave me her honest opinion. When my adviser emailed everyone in our major about the summer position, I decided to go for it.

Why not? What did I have to lose? Worst case scenario? I wouldn't get it and I'd have to do something else. Best case scenario? I'd have to confront my fear of independence and get the experience of a lifetime.

Obviously, I got the internship. I texted my ex-boyfriend, with whom I had reconnected and become good friends,  and he seemed excited. I know he had mixed emotions about it, and for good reason. But since he worked in the study abroad office, I was glad to have a friend there to help ease my worries and guide me through the process.

So even though I had been twice scorned by the study abroad process, I agreed to put myself out there, confront all of my fears, and just go for it. This is the absolute last thing I ever saw myself doing, but here I am. It's my time, and I'll never get an opportunity like this ever again. It might be the scariest thing I ever do, but in the end I know it will be worth it. I've stopped thinking that anything in my life will ever make sense, but this is just the way it is. I decided to do this, and I'm doing it. I'm not taking the easy way out and staying home anymore. We'll see what happens.

So 6 days, and 1 (very large) Long Island Tea from now, I'll be on that plane. Wish me luck!