10. Student Forever

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It’s full-blown exam season here at the LSE. Everyone is panicking, barricading themselves with books, kettles, coffee makers, and bags in the library. They have sharpened pencils and blade-thin papers to fend off the weak and zombies. The smell of weeks of undone laundry is in the air.

Ah, exam season.

As stressed out, frustrated, and sleep-deprived as these weeks have been, the next few weeks will be a spiral into worse and worse conditions. Despite these dark hours (or because of them), I can’t help but appreciate my last month of being a full student. These kinds of carefree, study-only days won’t come again. I will (hopefully) move onto to the next stage of life: building a career, starting a family, the adult-life complet.

What a wonderful life students have.

Besides student discounts and access to an assortment of beautiful study spaces (case-and-point: Senate House Library, see above), our only real job is to learn (Don’t worry, I’m not forgetting all those, including myself, who have to hold part time jobs. But really, working 2-3 days at a place is very different from 5 days a week).

How incredible is that?

To be able to set your own schedule, go as late as you want into the wee hours of the early mornings, or be up before dawn, to sleep through the afternoon hustle and bustle, or head out to the park for some sunshine and fresh air to reinvigorate your mind. To be able to explore cafes of all sizes and styles on study adventures. To be able to sit down with study buddies and proceed to ignore each other for hours. To be able to hang out with friends and get into deep conversations that challenge your intellect and stretch your imagination. To be able to make friends and meet new people from all walks of life, every day without trying all that hard, except to show up to classes and say hello to that guy sitting down on the first row. To be able to make mistakes and fail, without it affecting your life in a way that failure at your career would. To be able to hide away in a safe bubble of campus life when the world got too soul-crushing. To be able to bury yourself for days on end in books and be plugged into the collective knowledge of the human race.

There is no other time to be able to invest all your time and energy into stimulating your mind, expanding your horizons, and jumping right into anything.

Because when you leave this student stage, life will get in the way. A full-time job will mean you come home exhausted to the bone, and after having made dinner and cleaned up, you’ll have barely any energy to do much else except lie on the couch and mindlessly flip through uninteresting reality shows and reruns. With a family, an attention-seeking new human (or god forbid, two of them) will be your new centre. You will see the same colleagues day in and day out. If you are fortunate, you’ll introduce a new face into your life once or twice a year. You’ll barely remember to pick up a book and continue your informal education. You’ll have to be responsible for others.

Life will settle into a routine. You’ll be afraid to break it.

So as intimidating and stressful as this seems…

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It’s a chaos I welcome with open arms.

Well, welcome it with an unhealthy amount of this…

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I am still human after all.

And as much as I am learning to appreciate this phase of my life, it won’t stop me from complaining about the mountain of readings and the death chamber to come…

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Nonetheless, cheers, to these beautiful, chaotic, exhausting, carefree days, to the end of an era.

OK, back to the grind!

The Surprises All Around Me

In the most splendid, surprising manner, my 25th birthday was spent.

It was supposed to be a quiet dinner for four. School assignments, exams and work kept me too busy to host a party with all my friends.

The day started out normal, albeit with sunshine. I went to school to settle in for a day’s studying, but was unceremoniously interrupted half an hour into my study session by a friend who came with an offering of an adorable pot of pink blossoms. We jostled back and forth about Chinese politics, environment v. economy dichotomy, and the American empire over some amazingly authentic bubble tea. It was the kind of bubble tea that tasted like home.

Lunch flew by in flashes of green lawns, German birthday songs, sunlight on my face and pigeon dances. The day then came to a close in a blink of an eye, with me hitting the treadmill. By 9pm, it was time for that small dinner with four.

The day’s sporadic and unforeseen little sputters of magic began to boom into greater and larger fireworks. First, dinner for four turned into six as two more people from my programme joined in surprise.

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By 11pm, the delicious dijon mustard salad and homemade quiche were devoured and I was ready to take my second trip to the bathroom.

When I came back, all seven of my flatmates had joined in, holding in their hands three cakes, flowers, and a birthday card which I could not stop laughing at.

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They had all signed it with heartfelt and hilarious messages. I had tried hard to keep the happy tears from flooding my face, embarrassing myself and making it awkward for everyone.

And so it was, that a quiet, small dinner for four, turned into one of the most wonderful birthday experiences. While everyone cheerfully chirped away at each other, getting into light and deep conversations of their own, I looked around and couldn’t quite believe the astonishingly kind, open-minded, and inquisitive human beings whom have added so much colour and dimension to my life.

“You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

What extraordinary fortune and privilege, to be surrounded and shaped by such driven, generous, hilarious, and inspiring people. People whom I can call friends. People who care about me. People who are just as weird and silly as me. People who accept me, as loud and emotional and crazy as I am. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Thank you for the late night conversations. Thank you for the company on long walks. Thank you for ideas that sparked papers and kickass presentations. Thank you for lunches in the park and dinners that are never eaten alone. Thank you for the comfort and courage when the gloom seemed never-ending. Thank you for the laughters that took my breath away.

On days when the world is merciless and people are cruel, please remember that you are one-of-a-kind, beautiful in every sense of the word, and so incredibly accomplished and fiercely intelligent. That is how I see you now, and how I will remember you for years to come.

Let’s finish this year with a bang!

Love,

Jade

Dear Mom

I cannot even begin to understand what it is like to be a mother, not yet. But from my narrow, small world, this is what I do know.

Before I was even born, you’ve sacrificed, laboured, and changed for me. Is there anyone else in the entire world that would or could love me more than you? I cannot have wished for a greater, wiser, more loving mother. My life, from the biggest moments down the smallest threads, have your fingerprints all over it. You have influenced me beyond measure. You have been the single, most positive element in my life.

I remember the times you’ve patiently sat with me late into the night so I didn’t have to study alone. I remember the lunches you carefully packed for me, the delicious food of which did not only bring me great enjoyment, but my friends loved it too. I remember that one night, you were so tired from endless days of work and taking care of me, that halfway toward home you took a pause in a little park and cried because you had no other way of releasing the bone-crushing exhaustion. I remember you at every one of my ballet and accordion lessons. I remember your fatigued face, cooking dinner, holding up two jobs and finishing a Masters in a foreign country all so I can have a brighter future. I remember you at every one of my parent-teacher conferences. I remember you at every minor and major turn in my life. Mom, I remember it all. All these years, everything you’ve done, every action you’ve taken, you’ve had me and my well-being in mind. All I can say is, thank you. Thank you for everything and more. Thank you for showing me how to be strong. Thank you for teaching me to read, to be independent and to be a decent human being. Thank you, for teaching me to love.

I hope you look back on your life and see what a colossal impact you’ve made. I hope you see what a trail-blazer you’ve been to me. I hope I’ve made you proud. I hope you are filled with a sense of accomplishment, and joy beyond expression. I hope you know that no matter where I am in the world, no matter how impatient and unbearable I act toward you at times, no matter how many fights we get in, that I love you. My love for you cannot ever come close to yours for me. But still, with all my heart, I love you.

Happy 50th mom.

Here’s to the next 50.

Love,

Your daughter

09. Harry, is that you?

Oxford, one of the oldest universities on this island. Wikipedia (the all-mighty source for all facts–and fiction–) doesn’t even have an established foundation year for it. It could only offer up 1096 as the year with evidence of teaching there, whatever that means.

I first set foot in this university town by myself back in March 2011 when I was an exchange student at Sciences Po. It was one of three daytrips I made from my friend’s dorm room at LSE Holborn.

This time around, I went with an Oxford Alum. Oh the doors you open when you are a lifelong member of such an old, prestigious (almost legendary in its reputation in some parts of the world, ie. China) educational establishment.

My guide was a graduate of Balliol College, which, conveniently, stood on the main square/street of the university part of town. It was, naturally, our first stop.

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The entire time we were walking the grounds of Balliol, there was a nostalgic, joyful glint in my guide’s eyes. He was remembering everything. I, on the other hand, couldn’t close my mouth, gawking at the beautiful history of its buildings…

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its gardens…

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and its Harry-Potter like dining hall, which was where we had lunch. Although, we didn’t get the chance to sit at the head table where the professors would sit. The seats proved too popular for us to grab two. But I didn’t mind, I already felt like royalty. The food was delicious by student-meal standards. Oxfords are a well-fed bunch.

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The afternoon was spent strolling through Christ Church College’s meadow (they have meadows!) and walking past one of the most popular sports in action. A sport that incites intense competition between colleges and in the eternal Oxford-Cambridge dichotomy: rowing.

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The amount of equipment that some of these colleges possessed were incredible.

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But what’s most incredible was, of course, some of the men who rowed these. Think of the Winklevoss twins from The Social Network, tag on a pleasant British accent, and you’ve got yourself some of these athletes. Drooling was a big part of the day.

After a quick visit to one of the hauntingly beautiful chapels

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It was time to continue the Harry Potter hunt I never got to finish back in 2011. Somehow, we were able to smoothly walk past the porter at New College, and a few turns later, we came upon a holy site…

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I’m not going to lie, I had tears in my eyes. I excite easily. Also, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Professor (fake) Moody, Draco Malfoy and his gang, and Professor McGonagall all convened at this exact spot at one point in time. I think my tears of joy were justified.

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Yes, it warrants a second close-up.

A round of hyperventilation, several minutes of wide-eyed fan-girl bedazzlement, and dozens of thank-you’s and omg-I-love-you’s later, I was dragged out reluctantly.

As we walked down the corridor that also featured several times in Harry Potter, I was told that one of the dares Oxfords would cast upon their fellow college-mates was to walk around the entire corridor at nightfall, when everything would be thrown into darkness with only weak moonlight as the source of light.

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You can’t see it in the photo but there stands some truly horror-inspiring stone statues along the wall. They look as if they are crawling out of the stones to take your soul, or eat you alive. Whatever terror your imagination likes to conjure up.

Suffice to say that only the brave and perhaps the very foolish would complete the task.

One of the last stop before we hopped onto the Oxford Tube back to London was the locally-famed pub where, chalkboard has it, a certain ex-President of America once did not do something…

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A final walk through the central square that housed the Bodleian Library, where coincidentally, a wedding reception was taking place (hence we found out wedding receptions of a measurable size could be held here), under the bridge of sighs, through a cobbled winding road that was made eerie by dusk, and it was time for a quick dinner, a dash in the evening rain, and back on the home-bound coach.

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Gorgeous, ancient, awe-inspiring university, I will be back for more someday, armed with my student visitor library card and HP-hunting GPS wand (Christ Church, I’m looking at you).

08. The Royal Imaginations of George IV

Now that Lent term has officially ended and all students are in limbo between end of classes and exam revision period, I decided to take a day trip to see my favourite place of all: the sea.

Naturally, Brighton was selected.

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Our first steps off the two-hour coach from Victoria Station led us straight to the waters. My anticipation for the smell of salty blue, the sound of lapping waves, and the sight of glassy reflections falling off the horizon could no longer be contained.

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It was exactly as I remembered it. Majestic. Calming. Breathtaking.

After gawking at the Channel for a good half an hour and clumsily trudging on the stony beaches of this city, like this heart-meltingly bundle of joy…

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The weather made a turn for the worst.

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As we made our way through the snaking streets filled with boutique shops decorated with the upmost attention and care, hail hit us. It was the perfect time to be inside the other main Brighton attraction: the Royal Pavilion.

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George IV spared no expenses bringing his imagination to life in this labyrinth of a pleasure palace. History has it that he hosted many lavish, grand parties in its spaces, hence the nickname “pleasure palace”.

The décor was very Indian, but walking through past the reception area, and all became so, so shockingly Chinese.

It became a Chinese wonderland, a middle kingdom emporium, constructed out of the imaginings of a king who had never been to China. Chinese figurines nodded at you as you walked down the first hallway past the Jade-coloured reception area. The walls were covered with bamboo shoots and illusions of bamboo that were actually made out of metal. There would be more of these as you ventured deeper into the pavilion, including bamboo railings, handles, door posts, and much, much more.

One of the most shocking spaces was the central dining space. Enter it and your eyes will be immediately drawn to the ceiling, where a thousand-ton chandelier dangled precariously above the long dining table. A mighty, fearsome dragon sat at the top of its crystals. You would soon realize, as the audio guide played in your ear, that there would be hundreds of dragons to encounter as you walked through the dozens of rooms of the pavilion. Dragons of all shapes and sizes, but mainly ones with a snake-long body and wings. Sometimes, their foreheads would even be adorned with a horn. (Note here that traditional Chinese dragons have no wings or horns, just a snake-like body and four claws)

Another major feature of the dining space and the pavilion are the portraits of Chinese people and life in China. The ones in the dining room were larger than life, literally. As you make your way through the space and into the gigantic kitchen then swerve back into the dinning room, before you exit it completely, on your right hand side, there would be a painting of a man dressed in imperial Chinese-style clothing, but with an unmistakably Caucasian face, peering at you.

Onward you would march after that little curiosity, through teal-filled sitting rooms and dark bedrooms, to arrive at the other splendid, over-the-top, imagination-come-to-life room: the red carpeted ballroom. You would either sit by the couched bench along the wall or on the carpet in the centre of the room and just gawk at the inner fantasies of George IV. Ultimately, the Royal Pavilion was intensely interesting not for its Chinese-styled depictions, but rather how China was seen in the eyes of a future king. It rests as the physical manifestation of a king-to-be’s fantasies of the Far East, a man who dreamt of being the Emperor of China.

Regency exoticism embodied.

Curious thing, even though Brighton is known for being a seaside town, there are barely any view of the sea from the pavilion. I guess George didn’t care much for it. Queen Victoria, who inherited the pavilion, was most unsatisfied with this aspect of the palace.

After this most exotic of experiences, it was back to the sea to watch the precious sunset.

The pier was open for business, but due to the low-season, only the arcade was really open. It was perfectly fine with us though, since the main attraction is always in season.

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We got a chance to walk around amongst the eerily quiet playgrounds, food stalls and amusement rides. In the end, we stood by the railing and just inhaled it all. Orange, yellow, blue, grey, and red glittered across the glassy surface of the sea, reflected off the gold and mirrors of the carrousels and roller coasters, and into our smiling faces.

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Thanks Brighton, you were intriguing, walkable and quaint. You were definitely a well-needed trip for me. Sometimes, one just needs to get away from stuffy London town for some breathing space.

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07. The Sound of Rain

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One of the many things I have a love-hate relationship with is the rain.

On days when I have am running around outside like a headless chicken, aka. errand days, rain is the most unwelcome of all.

But on days when I do nothing more than curl up under the duvet, with my laptop propped up on my tummy and my head held slightly above sleep by the efforts of two pillows, the rain is happy company.

The heavier the better.

For one thing, it doesn’t make me feel exorbitantly guilty for wasting sunshine.

More than that though, is the sound raindrops make while tapping on my window. If I was back in my Vancouver room, the soothing noise would also be echoing overhead on the rooftop. It would be surround-sound, perfect for a lazy, cozy day in.

I would look out at the grey and dreariness, and feel protected. I’d feel even more cuddled, not just by the softness of my covers but also by the room, the house. It’s like they were giving me a hug, offering themselves up as a secure, big umbrella to keep the rain at bay.

But this is all just a very poetic way of saying that rain gives me the excuse to be lazy and in bed, which coincidentally, is my favourite way of spending a day.

Living in one of the wettest cities in the world could mean a match made in a heaven since I love rainy days or one made in hell, since I might just turn into a lazy blob of inactivity.

Study Spot: Teapot Review

I go out a lot.

So I thought, instead of simply having them take all my money, I’d squeeze some purpose out of these pleasure trips. I’m starting a new series of posts where I review random places, cafes, restaurants, study spots, etc., I’ve been checking out.

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Name: teapod
Location: 31 Shad Thames, SE1 2YR
Purpose for the trip: hunting for a new study place

Experience:

The entrance caused a slight confusion, it is located between two false doors that are locked and up a small ramp. But the initial surprise quickly faded as Norah Jones met the sweet smell of caffeine. More than a dozen containers of every-flavoured teas sits dutifully on the shelves behind the waitress as I ordered my white Americano. Pay. Sit. Order’s Up. They bring it to you.

Four other small square tables of customers, the speaker right over head, and the noise level was just a little too above ambient to bare. As much as I like the songs drifting off of the playlist, I plugged my earbuds in for some less distracting Spotify sounds.

The menu holds a wide variety of drinks ranging from tea of every colour, black, green, red, green, herbal and even blue, to the usual assortment of coffees, plus smoothies (with real fruits!) and iced drinks. Little “LC” (Low-Caffine) and “CF” (Caffine-Free) signs tell you just how much caffeine you are feeding into your body.

Flip the menu over and you get a nice selection of breakfast and light lunches. If you like meat with your first meal of the day, perhaps this isn’t the place for you. They offer pancakes, bagels, tea and toast! (exclamation mark included), oats and yogurts with dancing honey, strawberry, and bananas. Midday delights promise potatoes, salmon and cream cheese. Lots and lots of cream cheese. If you want to be soup-ed up, they have daily specials (for that day, it was pea & ham, or leek & potato, healthy stuff). But if you want a little something different, why not try their curry stew. Sounds like a palette adventure!

Of course, no cafe or tea house can exist without sweets! Brownies are a must and so are muffins and cakes of all kinds. Here, they promise to be all “home-made”. Big shoes to fill.

I started out with my usual white Americano. But two hours in, and I was ready for my midday snack and tea. So I asked to be served up with rosepedal green tea, although I’m going to have to come back and try the beautifully named “Jasmine Dragon Pearls” (green) and “Light Spring Darjeeling” (black), not to mention the “Pure Rose Buds” herbal tea. Tea! Give me tea!

Now probably the most important aspect of any cafe, especially for a student like myself, is the wifi. How strong is the force? Very. The wifi is fast and glitch-free. Just ask one of the three waitresses/waiters for the password and you are ready for a few hours of inside the black hole that is the Internet.

Service: Average, smiles once in a while.

Noise Level: Earbuds needed.

Would I come back? Yes. It’s close to home. It’s affordable. It’s not too crowded. It’s warm. And it has tea. Lots and lots of tea.

Final Verdict: 3/5

Best for: Tea-drinkers, wifi-users, afternoon chatters, and if you have the noise-defiant earbuds like I do it’s a good place to spend an afternoon reading or studying away.

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