Friday, 13 August 2010

A Very Expensive Sticker

So today I made my second venture into London on account of sorting out my visa for China, this time only to pick it up and pay for it, much to my relief due to not wanting to spend too much time being made to feel like an inconvenience by the rather brusque assistants at the application centre. The visa itself cost £65, and when combined with my two train journeys into London came to just over £100. And what to I get for this expenditure of time and money? A small sticker in my passport telling officials that they can deport me if I'm still in their country 180 days after my arrival. I won't lie, I do like the look of my little sticker.. but apart from actually being allowed into China, I don't really get much out of it, and so having to spend so much money on it is rather irksome.

As I had no-one to accompany me on this trip into the capital, I found myself with an afternoon free to do what I please. After frantically scouring Oxford Street for an umbrella with which to shield myself from the deluge of rain and subsequently buying a cute little blue one with an owl print on it, I wandered round the streets wondering what to do with myself on this rare opportunity. I decided to visit somewhere that would almost certainly would have been met with instant dismissal by a lot people I can imagine visiting London with: the Tate Modern. Let it be known that I am not one of these pretentious artier-than-thou types; I was simply having a curious moment and fancied a visit to this most infamous of galleries to witness for myself the phenomenon of modern art.

I'm not sure whether modern art wants to be accessible or not; by the sight of the large flags bearing the words 'explore, discover, FREE' the place certainly did seem to want to make it clear to the public that all were welcome but I couldn't help but titter slightly upon reading the artist's dramatic and emotional interpretation of what seemed to me like a large red square with a purple line painted down one side. I browsed the galleries for a little longer and I'll admit that some of the exhibits were rather impressive: I enjoyed the stark photography of nude mothers holding their newborn babies and the twisted metal sculptures of headless bodies, but a lot of it did make me wonder why someone with so much artistic potential would choose a particular piece of theirs as their supposed magnum opus. Maybe I'm waiting for my third eye to be opened.

Feeling a little bemused by it all, I decided to start making my way home, but not wanting to go back the way I came, I opted to take a wander over the Millennium Bridge and find out what lay over the other side of a rather unhappy-looking Thames. As I ambled along in my own little world and tried to avoid the gaze of a tramp sitting in the middle of the pathway, I was caught by surprise by a foreign-sounding accent asking 'may I walk under your umbrella?' I took a brief glance at the young man, decided he looked harmless enough and held my umbrella out to allow him to walk beside me. As we chatted, I found out his name was Miraj and he was a student from Turkey who was currently learning English at LSE. We bade farewell after about a quarter of an hour when the rain had stopped and I had reached a tube station, but it struck me how interesting strangers can be and what a shame it is that in this country we so often dismiss others' company simply because it is easier to ignore them.

They say London is a place of new experiences, something I always found to be a little clich├ęd, but today has proved me otherwise and I am rather glad that I didn't shirk away from the rain and go home early as I could have done had I ignored my curiosity.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

A happy medium

I leave for my five-month trip to China in just under three weeks. As much as I try to pretend to myself that it doesn't, this thought makes me tremble slightly inside every time I am reminded of it. However this fear is somewhat balanced out by a sense of excitement about the experiences which lie before me. I have no idea what it will be like; saying that, given that my previous attempts to imagine how other things will turn out have been largely inaccurate, I won't bother trying and instead will try and prepare myself for any eventuality. Part of me feels ready to go but another part keeps reminding me of the things here that I will miss: my family, my friends, my boyfriend, my dog.. I think I just need to accept the fact that, as with many things in life, I will never feel entirely ready and in the end I will just have to take a leap of faith and hope that everything will be okay.

My primary concerns, however, are not whether I will make friends or the reams and reams of Chinese characters I will inevitably have to memorise- instead I'm currently more worried about the practicalities of it all such as sorting out my visa or my rather dire financial situation. I do feel that universities should publish a warning in their prospectuses telling would-be students of Chinese of the massive amount of organisation which goes into the year of the degree spent abroad- might have made me rethink my application!

I set up this blog as much as a diary for myself to read as for others to; hopefully in a few months I will look back on it and think 'what on earth was I worried about?' Although there is the strong possibility that I will also be thinking 'look at her back then, she had no idea what was coming' but if I don't try it, I'll never know!