Sunday, 28 February 2010

Spring is springing.

Have you ever really watched spring emerge from the cold damp depths of winter? I mean more than just noticing the blossoms have come out, but actually observing the progress of that blossom, from bud to bloom. I've been blessed enough over the past few weeks to see the process almost daily and observe the slow transformation, and it's quite remarkable.

When I arrived here, I couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't want to ride on the top level of a double decker bus (although I've since learnt that it can be a little nauseating with some drivers and roads...). Sitting at the front, high up above the world, it's the adult's equivalent of sitting on someone's shoulders and sniggering at everyone's bald spots.

But one of the fantastic things about sitting so high (13'11" from ground to top if anyone's interested) is what there is to see that's invisible from ground level. The top of bus shelters, covered in lichen, bird poo and water puddles, the bus stop sign also covered in, and the buds on the tree branches pressed against the windows.

Spring has long been one of my favourite seasons, and I consider myself quite honoured to be allowed to watch the progress of these buds. A few weeks ago, the branches were completely bare, now they're covered in green tipped lumps. Slowly the leaves are emerging, and soon the streets we travel on the 25 and 35 will be lined with beautiful green trees.

The beauty of this process inspired me to capture it on camera, so I went for a walk around the lake and now give to you a selection of photos not on facebook, in celebration of the last day of winter and the coming of spring.

Photos of the view from the bus are still to be taken, currently it's pretty wet outside, so all the windows in the bus are fogged up.

If you're wondering why I've put a watermark in, it's because I realised any photos I post on my blog are also put on picasa and therefore very easy for someone to use... if they happened to want a strange close up of a tree branch... I found really handy, easy to use, free watermarking software here.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The big 'what I've done so far' catch up post (part 1)

Part 1
Opening a Bank Account
World Cafe
Day Trip to Cambridge
Phone Calls to Australia
Seeing some Seals
Part 2
The Gym and other forms of exercise
Windsor Castle
The Supermarket
Weekend Trip to Bath

When my editor suggested I tell you all about what I've actually been doing over here, my first thought was "Well I'm sure someone reads my blog, although I'm not sure who, surely they'd be interested in what I've ACTUALLY been up to so far in my adventure in England-land, rather than my vague impressions and ramblings about nothing." So here it is, a comprehensive post about what I've seen and done so far. Of course, if no one reads this, it won't be wasted, as this blog also operates as my travel diary... As always, there are more photos available on facebook - I'll only put up a small selection here, but you should be able to see the facebook albums, even if you aren't a user. Let me know if there are any problems.

Opening a Bank Account
Living here for 12 months entitles me to open a bank account here. I wasn't sure who to go with, so I followed the age old device of joining whoever had the most famous name, who had a branch on campus. I expected a long and tedious process, but instead I just had to take a letter in, talk to the manager who opened the account and told me it was all sorted and I just had to wait to get my cards and pins. The most difficult part was getting my money from my Australian account to my British one... The process for me getting a form back to the bank went like this : bank faxes it to Mum who scans it in and emails it to me. I print it out, fill it in, scan it and email it to her who then passes it on to the bank. But it's all good, I now have money, can budget properly and don't need to worry about whether my Travelex card will be accepted because it doesn't have a chip... Hurrah!

World Cafe
Before arriving, I'd looked up what kinds of things were going on for international students, and found a group called World Cafe. It's run by a group called Friends International, who focus on building communities and family like groups up for people away from home. This is a Christian group, and each Friday they run themed evening - I've been to an international quiz night and a night of traditional dancing so far. There are also Bible studies for those interested in learning more, and occasional day trips. The majority of regular attendees are Chinese, but there has been great excitement at having Australians, Americans and New Zealanders attending. A few of us went along in the first week, and others have gone along after hearing about it from us. Apparently the coordinators have a lot of trouble getting the word out to western international students - they put it in our weekly email bulletin, but who reads that? I suspect there are cultural differences at play as well...

Day Trip to Cambridge
The Dean of Students office organises trips for the international students to see parts of England, and one of the trips I've been on with them was to Cambridge. We left UEA at about 9am and got there at about 10:30am. We went on a walking tour of the city, including into Emmanuel College,

the chapel of which is designed by Christopher Wren, who went on to design St Paul's Cathedral in London.

As part of this tour we also saw King's College Chapel, which was both magnificent and a little unchurch like.
The size of the building made it feel a little more like an elaborate banquetting hall than a place of worship. I understand it to be in the style of the time in which it was built, but have nevertheless decided that it does not feel 'churchy' enough to me. Please don't now start about stereotypes and church buildings and things. It is certainly a magnificent building, and I would love to hear Evensong there sometime.

One little amusing thing was the 16th Century's royal version of an "I heart ___" tattoo:

"R A" - Regina Ann. King Henry VIII's dedication to his 2nd (of six) wife, Ann Boleyn. You wonder if he considered converting it into something else.

We had pizza, that was nice,

Saw the Chronopage (time eating clock), which was a little weird, but also quite funky. The grasshopper on top looks like something out of Jabberwocky.

After wandering around for a little while, seeing a Round Church

and other random parts of the city
we hopped on the bus and headed home. It was only five hours in Cambridge, but it struck me as being a very pretty city. I'll try to go back sometime in the spring or summer, when there's punting on the River Cam. It is quite touristy, and I still struggle to get my head around the fact that it's a university that's also a tourist destination.

More photos are in this album.

Phone Calls to Australia
I have rung a few people, which has been nice. And that's all I'll say on that topic. Oh, apart from advice for future travellers - get Skype credit if you use Skype, calls are super cheap.

Seeing some seals
The aforementioned World Cafe sometimes has day trips to different parts of the Norfolk area, and a group of us went along to Winterton to see the seals. They spend the winter there, and we had no idea if there would be any, many or none. After walking along the beach for a while

and admiring the North Sea

we saw some seals

They were quite cute, and frolicked around. There weren't very many (compared to other years apparently), but it was a nice walk, we saw seals, I chatted to new people and saw some British beach landscape. On the way back, we walked behind the sand dune, and the landscape was totally different. One side was the sandy dune, the other grassy fields with sheep.

The afternoon finished with afternoon tea at a nice country cottage of the parents of one of the World Cafe helpers. Yummy food. No photos, was too busy eating. :)

For more seal photos, click here.

And now I think it's time for a break. Take some time to have a cup of tea, and in a couple of days, I'll put up part two of this post... Hopefully I may beat Elly with the posting of this blog too...

Monday, 8 February 2010

My New Church

Well, it seems that I have found a church to settle at, a happy event indeed. Keep an eye for my discoveries while hunting in the new edition of the Tasmanian Anglican, in your local church this weekend (14th Feb).

It's a rather quieter service that Resonate, but in the end that seemed irrelevant. I was praying that God would show me where to go, and my thoughts kept returning to this church. I went a second time last night (after much deliberation over whether to go to a new service, or back there), and felt very much at home - there's a really good sense of genuine community, and the vibe is that of a big family, where comfort and support is more important that flashiness. Last night, I felt like I'd found home and as though I was just meant to be there.

The evening service is like a standard 10am service - follows prayer book orders of service, with communion about once a month. Not all the standy sitty recite bits in unison are done - just some of the standard responses to prayers and readings, although I suspect this probably changes week to week. The music is not as band-like as at Resonate - much more ... umm... acoustic, and a little older. Lots of 1990s Stuart Townend and Matt Redman, plus a few hymns and other assorted composers.

The preaching roster is made up of a few different people, plus extras who are giving it a go for the first time; last night a woman preached on the end of Ecclesiastes. It was a good sermon, very interesting. The next couple of weeks are looking at Song of Songs, followed by Mark.

After the service I got chatting to a few people in the tea queue (these Brits, they really do love their queues). There was much excitement as I filled out a yellow card - the official way of joining the church. Hehe. There is youth stuff going on. If I remember correctly 0(ish) to 14 year olds have a program during the morning service, and 14-18 year olds during the evening service.

I was a bit worried about what would happen this week after church - the week when I was new and knew nobody would be ok, because people would either talk or completely ignore the totally new face. But this time I knew a few people by face, but not enough just to jump in to a group and start a conversation. My back up plan was to just start introducing myself to people in a kind of backwards welcome thing. But as I should have trusted, God put people around to talk to me, so I was entertained for the entire period from end of service to go to Bible study time, and didn't have to stand awkwardly at all.

This church has an evening Bible study/social time for young adults, at someone's house across the road. They're working through Judges at the moment, and the two times I've been we've looked at the story of Gideon. This group was one of the reasons I felt quite at home at the church - it's a mix of students, young workers and others. It's a very comfortable group, much like any normal eclectic group of Christians. I think it's a mixture of some people from another church - the study leader is the assistant pastor elsewhere.

So overall it's a nice church. I went somewhere else in the morning, and liked it, but my mind just kept coming back to this one. The service is in the evening - a rarity for Norwich apparently, which suits me so much better. It's about 10 minutes away on the bus, and when I get a bike I'll be able to stay out later than about 11pm (last bus). The actual building is very pretty, I don't know when it was built, but it's tall and rather grand looking. It's Anglican (the only Anglican church I've visited... Except St Peter Mancroft where I heard Evensong), so it's familiar. The denomination wasn't a deciding factor, just happened that way.

Oh and it's called Holy Trinity.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Five weeks. I think. Or is it six?

Time is flying. There's nothing I can do to slow it, despite my greatest efforts. Although right now I'd quite like to fast forward a few days so I can skip this whole 'sick' business and get onto fun things like seeing Windsor Castle. I have discovered my favourite cold and flu drug is not available here, and nothing else seems to be quite as effective (of the two I've tried so far...). I still have snot, this wouldn't be the case if I had my favourite vanilla flavoured meds. I should be going to see a local production of The Producers tonight, am hoping I stop feeling so rubbish in the next half hour or so.

Anyway, onto more pleasant things, like butterflies and meadows. I decided to sum up my life here by creating a few lists. Here they are:

Five Linguistic Differences between Australia and England. I cop some flack sometimes because I call things by strange names, but I will not bow to pressure and call a corgette 'zucchini'... oh is it the other way round? Darn.

1. Chook: chicken —> chook, seems fairly obvious to me, but apparently not.
2. Capsicum: is not a pepper, I have tried to explain that they are two different things, that we use the scientific name, but this is not an acceptable excuse.
3. Vacuum Cleaner: 'Hoover'. Say that in a sing-song English accent and you'll understand why I mock them for it.
4. Singlet: I ended up so confused at the end of this conversation I don't know what is called what, but I know I was referring to a girl's spagetti strap singlet.
5. Ummm. Just pretend I didn't mention the zucchini-corgette confusion earlier, and insert it here.

Top Four Memorable Smells of life in England (specific largely to UEA). Ironic considering I currently have a blocked nose.
1. Mud.
2. The bus - smelly people, airless, drunk people, food, wet clothing, standard bus smells, but combining to be unique on Norwich buses.
3. The kitchen's unmistakable odour of burnt toast, mixed frying meats and the label on the bottom of a saucepan that's slowly burning off.
4. The tube - so it's the same as Melbourne and Vienna, but that tang of hot grease, metal, people, foods is unmistakable.

Five unmistakable sounds
1. The fire alarm - a faulty alarm meant we had 4 alarms in 3 weeks (including two in one night), plus they test it every Friday morning. Never fails to make me jump and start panicking slightly.
2. Birdsong - before I left Australia I was sitting outside listening to all the birds thinking 'I'll miss this, I hope birds are just as vocal over there'. Never fear, they are.
3. Kamikaze Squirrels - they're utter nutters, just jump from branch to branch and one would be forgiven for thinking there was a small elephant stampede in the tree tops.
4. The kitchen door - "whoooooosh thud". Right next to my room, whenever anybody goes for a midnight snack.
5. The constant sounds of people - the cooling towers (I think) that never stop, the ever-present hum of distant traffic even when no sign of life is visible.

Some things UEA does better than UTAS
1. Admin. Isn't hard to beat UTAS really, but UEA does.
2. Location. While the university has lots of concrete, it is surrounded by woodlands and marsh, through which run lots of walking paths. Beautiful.
3. On site facilities - shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, laundromats. All signs of a far greater emphasis on living on campus.
4. Ethics - all coffee is fairtrade, and there's a large emphasis on being as environmentally friendly as possible.
5. Centrality - if you have any problem, go to the Dean of Students office and they will point you in the right direction. Usually down a short corridor behind the main desk. The university is fairly compact, and therefore there isn't too much running up and down big hills required.

Some things UTAS does better than UEA
1. The website - never thought I'd say it, but especially their equivalent of MyLo.
2. The library - how does a university operate without a reserve section???? Especially when there's a far greater focus on self-motivated learning.
3. Chips - the chips here are rubbish, worse than the Ref's the day before oil-filtering.
4. Exams - why does a uni need almost 6 weeks for exams? I still have no idea how it all works.
5. Timetables - Here classes go from O'Clock to O'Clock, which means lots of quick walking in between. The lecturers have more discretion about start and finish times, and will sometimes take only 50 minutes, but some will not give up a single minute of their allocated 60.

And that's it. Hope that gives you some ideas of my life on campus. Keep an eye on the Tasmanian Anglican for an article about my experiences looking for a church. I was going to write it here, but was asked to put it in the Anglican. I'm not sure if my article will go online, so keep an eye for the new edition from the first Sunday of March.

And my nose appears to have stopped running so much! Hoorah! Theatre here I come.