Friday, March 29, 2002

Simplying life in the Spring Sunshine... or not, as the case might be...

Well! Yet another gorgeous spring day-- truly a record for soggy old England indeed!

It's been a pretty low-key day today. Nothing spectacular. Tried to do some work on my Chinese Women essay but failed to motivate myself... so spent the day peacefully annotating Amy Tan's novels in prep for starting work on my huge-ass dissertation that's due in mid-June. Pretty much standard stuff-- mother-daughter relationships, cultural conflict and generational gaps. Interesting to me because it reflects so much of my relationship with my own mother. It's all a love-hate thing going on. I know she loves me but somehow, she can never express it in a way that didn't alienate or grate on me.

I grew up with no hugs, no periodic encouragement... only being over-fed, and being criticised very harshly "for your own good". Sometimes I think that I might have an easier time socialising and relating to people if I came from a more open, more rational family. But so do many people. I do think though, that in the particular case of the middle-class immigrant Chinese family, being an over-achiever with money, talent, looks, brains and status is valued more than the person. I was never told that my parents loved me for just who I am. I was only told that I could never measure up.

Sure, they showered me with material things-- birthday parties, extra-curricular lessons, expensive holidays abroad... but as I grew older, I guess I realised that what I wanted and needed more than anything in the world is their approval and their unconditional love... not love that says: 'I'll only love you if you do as I tell you to do', not love that says: 'I'll only approve of you if you do what I think is right for you.' When you grow up in an environment like that, with parents intent on keeping up with the Joneses, Laus, Pizofskis and everyone else down the road, when they keep comparing you to other people, somewhere along the line, you are going to get a pretty screwed up view of what a human being should be.

For the longest time, I was an elitist, just as my parents and their friends are elitists. I thought that by racking up achievement after achievement after achievement is sufficient to guarantee self-worth and the ability to hold my head up high in the world. But lately, I've been thinking that I might have been subscribing to a distorted, even wrong, view of how the world should be, and what a good, complete human being is.

Now, I'm not going to go on and on about being kind, considerate etc... All these are fine features to have as a human being. But damn-- it is HARD to achieve that sort of level of goodness... At the moment, I am just learning to let go, learning to accept myself... all over again. I thought I had it figured out, had it sussed out... but I guess I hadn't. So now, mired in my Quarter-Life-Crisis, I am having to start from scratch... it does give one food for thought because it just cancels out everything that has gone before and demands that you take a good hard look at yourself, take a good hard look at your life, and start weeding out everything that is not important in the long run. It's kinda like editing my essays... only so much more painful to toss out emotional baggage...

But being human, I suppose that this is part of life... I just hope I don't need to go through this too often... if this is what the quarter-life-crisis is like, I won't be holding my breath to encounter my midlife crisis...

Thursday, March 28, 2002

The Joys of a Day Off...

Today has been pretty much the first solidly good day I have had in absolutely ages.

First and foremost of all, I got to go out and catch some sunshine-- precious commodity in England for those in the know... and best of all: I got to take a pretty good walk running all over town for appointments and errands. It's good to get active!

But before that, I actually got some time to chat with the cleaner (who is a really nice lady who sticks up for the residents of my house when college decides to be mean to us and not provide basic things like a working cooker) and to a housemate of mine whom I don't see too often since he's always away doing the rounds at John Radcliffe hospital on his clinical classes.

I also got to tidy up some of my cupboards and shelves. Believe it or not, it can be pretty therapeutic pottering around doing a good clean-up. Vacumning is one of the best things to get all the stress out. Weeding out old clothes and things to donate to a charity shop is also pretty satisfying.

The tutorial went ok and it was pretty constructive. Thank god I don't have to restructure the essay again or do any extensive rewrites... and my tutor is confident that I can turn this draft into a piece of work to be proud of.

After that, I went for some Chai at Borders and ran into an acquaintance I hadn't seen for some time, and just chilled for an hour or so. And then, I rounded out the day by testing out my new DVD-- The Green Mile --while having dinner.

That film is really on the way to becoming one of my all-time favourite films. Not being a big fan of prison movies, there's something to be said for this one catching my fancy. Having said that, I am a pretty big fan of Tom Hanks and this one (aside from Sleepless in Seattle) has got to be one of his best films yet.

The themes of salvation, humanity and redemption in the face of the ultimate roadblock (death) can either be sickeningly inappropriate or soppy even in non-prison-genre films, but The Green Mile manages to pull it off in style even within such a traditionally grim genre. Of course, it has the same director as The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont) so perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising that what appears to be a grim movie about death and imprisonment can actually become one of the most uplifting movies of all time. Even my mother-- who falls asleep watching anything on telly or at the cinema-- liked this movie when we first watched it on satellite tv last summer!

To me, this movie strikes a relevant chord inside my heart in the light of all that has been transpiring throughout this unfortunate year. Watching a story that so powerfully reaffirms the belief in goodness, atonement and paying one's dues to square off with God and karma just serves to highlight the fact that there's always something good that comes out of what seems to be infinitely bad or evil in a situation.

Somehow, it made me reflect and feel better about things so far even though I've been having a rough period culminating in where I am now-- one of the lowest points in my life so far with my a cappella group and integrity destroyed by a malicious ex-colleague, feeling unneeded and like a stumbling block to the catering committee I am supposed to be heading, being uncharacteristically inefficient and capable with the tasks and projects I've been involved in, having chicken pox pockmarks on my previously flawless complexion that is stubbornly refusing to fade, being so far away from all my best friends...

I am not a born optimist, and these problems aren't small to me but somehow, after watching the the film, it seems like I can believe that I will be able to ride out this rough year without incurring further damage by using it as an opportunity to learn to be a better human being than my peers at Oxford and other Ivy League type universities, many of whom are highly intelligent, hugely ambitious and vastly talented, but lack the requisite compassion or humanity to be a decent human being to those who aren't "in their league" in particular. Like John Coffey says in The Green Mile: "I's tired of people bein' ugly to each other. It's like shards of glass all in my head an' I's tired of it. It hurts."

Of course, I am aware that by accusing my peers of such behaviour, I am ironically indicting myself since I'm part of the same orbit as they are. But I guess that perhaps I might make a case for differentiating myself from them by the fact that I recognised that I do have, on occasion, had a tendency to act as they have-- all confident in my own self-importance but lacking in my own self-worth or making my sense of self-worth dependent on how far my gifts and talents elevate me from the "lesser mortals"-- something that I am not proud of even though it brings momentary gratification to the ego. And that's what it's all about with many Ivy Leaguers, I suppose: the stroking of the ego and the running down of others.

Perhaps I should count myself lucky for having such a bad year, and having so many bad times growing up-- each time I have a spell of bad times, it seems to help me grow. Or at least, it offers me a chance to suffer or to suffer and learn. And I guess the movie has help compound my decision to do the latter. At least, for this time round. It's hard to be grateful when you feel depressed, unneeded, unloved... but I am going to try my best and remember not to be an ugly person inside...






Misty mornings and Bleary eyes

Wow. I actually more-or-less finished the rewrite needed to prepare my second full draft of the sati essay at midnight last night. After a week of furious editing, aching seized-up back muscles and a sore tushie culminating in an all out 12-hour write-a-thon yesterday, I finally restructured the essay, added in the relevant details and generally pointed it in the right direction... I hope. Horror of horrors if, at my tutorial today, I am told to go back and restructure the whole thing... yet again.

I finally got an email summoning me to a tutorial by my other tutor who is supervising my other assessed essay on Chinese women and early 20th century China. Finally! Finally! Finally! This man (who, being a prominent postcolonial academic, shall not be named) has a tendency to go AWOL when you really need some guidance. So we will probably meet up next week to discuss the draft I had sent in. So, the whole editing process will have to begin all over again.

Well, at least it gives me something to do with such an open diary at the moment.

Oh hurrah! BBC Radio 4's weather report just announced that the mist going around this morning is going to clear up into another beautiful day! And it will stay beautiful and mild (16 degrees Celsius) over the next couple of days. This is great Easter weather... but then it always seems to be nice around Easter. Things go downhill after that. England seems to be the only country where summer can swing between freezing cold wind and sweltering, airless hot days... June can be cold and April warm. Go figure...

Well it'll certainly be too nice to stay inside all day trying to be virtuous and to start editing the other essay. I'm taking today off to run errands, go for tutorials, renew/return books to the library, go for some yummy chai and maybe loiter around Borders. Perhaps I'll even go back to bed after blogging!

On with the business of life...


Wednesday, March 27, 2002

What a beautiful day...

... apart from the fact that my unfinished revised essay draft is still sitting there taunting me like one of those kids who just know that you have to do what they say and you can't get back at them.

It was an equally beautiful day yesterday-- all sunshine and mild temperatures-- but I didn't get to go out because of my homework "road block". But today I have to: library books are a day overdue, the daffodils are out, the sun is merrily shining and the morning farmers' market at Gloucester Green that sells cheap produce is up...

The 2000 words still left can wait for the afternoon.

I need some fresh air...

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Goddamn us slow workers...

Well, another day of excrutiatingly slow wrangling with my essay is gone. The deadline is looming nearer, I haven't been out in the lovely sunshine today (no exercise and waistline getting infinitely terrible) and to cop it all off, I still have about 8 pages or so to write.

The essay has a coherent structure now (well, more or less) and so that's something. Amazing what sort of rubbish one can write though... well, ok, it wasn't rubbish but it was off the rails and needed major reworking. Frankly, this is the worst case of "surgery" I have EVER had to do on my essay. Normally only a third gets tossed out and the volume of words and pages need to be cut to fit the size prescribed by exam boards but this time HALF of it was gone... 3000 words, 10 pages-- all thrown out of the window...

And it doesn't help that I've been procrastinating all today.

One nice thing that I did do today is bake my first batch of American-style cookies-- big and flat, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside-- oatmeal, coconut and chocolate chip cookies all ready to be sent off to friends and tutors. The recipe was really big and although it said that it makes about 15-20 cookies, I got 26 big ones out of it!

I can just see the big smiles going round my housemates' faces...

Well, as usual, it's back to toiling on that damned essay again...
Your afternoon update...

Work seems to be moving ultra-slowly since I posted this morning's blog. I seem to be running a low-grade headache pretty much through this morning and keep spacing out. Man-- concentration levels are so low and I need to complete an edited and rewritten draft of this Sati essay by early Thursday so I can email it to my tutor and go for my tutorial with her in the late afternoon to discuss it.

The good news is that the essay is finally beginning to gel together structurally and thematically.

The bad news is that after all that careful editing, I have to rewrite just about half the essay (I cut it all down from 20 pages to 10 pages).

Hopefully, the more-or-less accurate essay draft will be done by the deadline (if not, the Friday at the latest).

I've been working on my other assessed essay on Chinese women's autobiography and the upheavals in early 20th century China to give myself a break and a bit of variety. It's interesting yet tedious work sorting out and editing one's own work. Some people even call it torture since throwing out thousands of words of work is pretty painful. The awful thing is that time will never dull the pain.

Writing academic essays and editing them will always be like giving birth to triplets simply because of looming deadlines and frequent blocks in ideas that pull you both ways-- on one hand, you're anxious to get it all done on time and know that you're screwed if you don't; on the other, you can't possibly write that fast sometimes because the ideas need to percolate properly and then, and only then, will you be able to form some sort of argument that won't land in the trash can.

Anyway, enough of that. Here's a bit of trivia for my dear readers:

My handle (Glovefox) is actually Foxglove reversed. I chose Foxglove because it's the name of a really cool lesbian character in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. Not that I am lesbian, of course. But she's a really strong woman and a nice person too... plus she's one of those female singer-songwriters like Aimee Mann, Carole King and the like... and I absolutely adore that sort of music. I reversed the name simply because it's easier to just type it in when you are registering for websites, email addys etc without having to go through half a dozen handles before you find one that isn't taken.

Well, back to the grind...

Morning Express



This just in:

Disoriented Women's Studies Graduate Student Rediscovers the Zen of Early Morning Writing

OXFORD, ENGLAND-- Regina Yau, sometime Rhodes Scholar, Neo-feminist and Adult Chicken Pox Survivor, rediscovers the joy of getting up relatively early in the morning and hurtling straight into her work and online shenanigans.

Previously overheard telling friends that "for some reason, the sound of my laptop being turned on and whirring away automatically pushes my Stress button", Ms Yau has made a new resolution to try and love her laptop for the lean, mean writing machine that it is rather than only thinking it good (occasionally) for watching DVDs on and surfing the net sending umpteen emails to various parties including friends, family, and the Rhodes Ball Catering Committee she heads.

A close look at her Hewlett-Packard Omnibook XE3 reveals that, apart from the rather noisy whirring and buzzing sounds emitted by the hardworking hard disk, it is indeed a prime candidate for the "Writer-friendly Laptop" award. With its large screen, plenty of area to rest the heels of the hands on, and ever-decreasing instances of freezing up *knock on wood/touch wood* while multitasking (i.e. having Word up with an essay being worked on while Ms Yau is blogging away on the Internet and listening to her latest obscure modern folk singer CD and trying to arrange Carole King's 'It's too late' on Sibelius), it is certainly one of the more useful and constructive gadgets owned by Ms Yau apart from her Moulinex large-size food processor and Kenwood handmixer that combine to make the creation of pasta sauces, cakes, mashed potatoes and alcoholic smoothies convenient, easy and efficient.

"Yeah," says Ms Yau, "I used to be able to wake up at 3am and start working furiously throughout the day... and then that sort of tapered off as I became more like a normal student with normal working hours associated with the more hardworking of the breed (10-6pm). Unfortunately, imminent deadlines combined with an essay still being butchered-- oops, edited, I meant, edited-- has clouded my vision of bliss with my laptop.

"But now I see the light-- waking up earlier and launching straight into work combined with bouts of blogging to relieve the tension is definitely the way to go. This way I get to work and take out my frustration on the whole world in a non-violent, non-offensive way that might even do the public a service by provoking some form of amusement to help them get through bouts of work and procrastination knowing that there's someone else out there just like them!"

When asked why she was still blogging at 9.11am while her work lay untouched next to her, Ms Yau smiled beatifically. "I prefer to ease into my day by blogging and emailing-- it gets me into 'writing' mode."

Having said that, she proceeded to finish her latest blog and thoughts of trying to squeeze in an hour somewhere to try out the latest oatmeal chocolate chip cookie she found from www.Epicurious.com have begun to waft tantalisingly in her mind.

Monday, March 25, 2002

Still more procrastination...

... and here I am, playing hooky from the masses of paper sitting to my left in the guise of yet another essay draft marked all over with remarks, crossing-outs, and marks for reshuffling...

Lately, as I've informed all my closest friends, I've been trying to simplify and downshift my busy life and I must say that the process is greatly expediated by the fact that any large-scale or commitment-intensive project I take on this year have all foundered badly or ended abruptly because of circumstances beyond one woman's control. The hand of Whoever-is-up-there is definitely showing very baldly this year. And this time, I'm forced to take account of all the signs that it's time to slow down and live easier...

But does it actually get easier when you downshift your life?

The answer is "no, it doesn't"-- especially if you are one of those workaholic, hyper busy-bees like myself who thrive on high-pressure, overflowing, overbooked schedules that constantly stretch my sanity but keeps me in tiptop over-achiever shape simply because it helped me focus and make more relevant and economical use of my time.

Now, I suddenly find myself bereft of any and all big commitment projects outside my academic work and it feels as it I'm losing my balance. Kinda like how my aunt described getting up for the first time after giving birth to my cousin: you don't realise your method of balancing has shifted to accommodate the immense weight so you lose your balance because the weight isn't there anymore. And this loss of equilibrium (metaphorical in my case, of course) is really pitching me into a state of depression because my pent-up energy has nowhere to go while I sway and stagger about trying to realign everything to balance out... having only academic work to do isn't helping because it's just one thing to fill the many many hours freed up by the lack of any extra-curricular activities...

Friends all tell me that this is a temporary thing, that I'll get back in the saddle again once I find something else to fill my time but even though I know their right, I guess I'm still in that hazy nowhereland somewhere between self-awareness and self-denial about this. The result of which is that my attention tends to wander about, I tend to procrastinate even more than usual, and I just can't snap myself out of general apathy (which is contributing to an expanding waistline, but that's another story...)

Somehow, life can be weird like this-- you think that you are obviously doing something that is good for yourself but when you plunge ahead and do it, it doesn't feel so good... or maybe it's just me being weird =)
More reflections on mean people

Well, I guess that I'm still procrastinating on my work but what the hell... =)

Basically, I've been reflecting on the fact that the frustrating thing about mean people is actually the general rule of thumb that applies to dealing with them:

Don't retaliate or do anything because any behaviour of that sort on your part will sink yourself to their level.

Or as General Abrams puts it: 'Never get in fights with pigs... you get all dirty and they enjoy it!'

*sigh* Revenge would be sooooo sweet though... at least you get to give as good as you get. I guess my frustration at not being able to hit back at the recalcitrant mean ex-colleague is showing. I have to keep reminding myself that on the bright side, being a Buddhist, I can indulge in the belief (well ok, I really believe this) that what goes around comes around and one day she'll get her comeuppance... and if it's not in this life, it's in her next life.

Anyway, that's as far as I'm going with "retaliating" against someone like her because I've decided to take the higher road and not demean myself as she has. Sounds bloody self-righteous and I would never have been able to do this when I was younger but with age comes wisdom (or apathy or cowardice-- take your pick)...

Ah well... back to the drawing block...

Bored with coursework...

Ok... I'm getting pretty bored with editing my essay on Sati-- oh the joys of slashing up and rearranging hours and hours of research and work as it stands...

It's actually quite a painful process seeing that I gone off the rails a bit when writing the first draft so now I've got to cut off about half of it and rewrite pretty much most of it. I've already gone through about a couple of edit drafts, each one getting shorter and more reworked than the last... cut and paste, cut and paste, cut and paste...

Thank God it's a pretty interesting (albeit gruesome) topic to research and write a paper on. Doing Women's Studies can get quite boring... I do freely admit that a lot of feminist theory tries to be very clever but end up being completely undigestible. Just like the radical bra-burners, these feminists are the ones who give the label 'feminist' a bad name. Sure it's important to challenge established structures of thinking, sure it's great to march up and down making spectacles to shock the Establishment into implementing a token effort on social change... but really, do we actually expect people (especially people alien or antagonistic to the Cause) to be sympathetic or accepting of anything less than what would impress them with no loopholes for them to get their misogynistic claws into (sorry-- couldn't resist the word...)?

Most people ask me what feminism or effective feminism means to me and I think that the answer is that feminism is about choices-- expanding, giving and creating choices for women... and fostering an environment where women would be free to make these choices without censure. Basic things such as the right to abortion, the right to birth control, the right to sexual pleasure, the right to equal opportunities at work and the right to have femininity accepted as equal to masculinity in the socio-cultural scheme of things...

And we can only do this if feminism was implemented on a practical level, rather than a solely theoretical one...

Doesn't really sound like a typical feminist rant but it's just some ideas I've been bandying around since I've began entering the ranks of feminists during my pre-university sociology class.

Feminism-- it's a verb, not a noun.
On why people are mean...

I just received some extremely mean emails yesterday from a (now) former colleague.. someone whom I greatly respected (note the past tense here) and whom I thought would make a good friend. However, to cut a long story short, suffice to say that she revealed herself to be a mean and spiteful person who thinks that she is above others and can just abandon ship AND practice twisted politics and blackmail and play the popularity game based on the fact that she's got the most musical talent which therefore licenses her to behave in the way she does... which is to make vindictive personal attacks based on whatever she is imagining. And all this despite my efforts to pull my own weight with responsibilities and help even out the workload with her... I actually CARED about her.

This is something I don't understand-- deliberate and calculated meanness and spitefulness in people who are too cowardly and/or crooked to give it to you straight, to speak their mind about problems when there are problems so that we can SOLVE them and continue with a good working relationship. Instead, such people often end up venting a lot of venom on the most convenient target they can find (usually whoever they want to get rid of in a group situation because they pose a threat) and just be vindictive in general. And the worst thing is that such people are actually charming and bubbly people-persons on the surface and are usually more popular than the victim.

Even though I grew up perpetually being bullied in school (elementary, middle and high GIRLS school at that!) for being different, I guess I still don't know how people can be so mean and sneaky in their dealings with other people. I guess it's because I myself don't have it in me to be mean or cruel deliberately. It takes a certain personality to be that... and what puzzles me even more is that such people are often very popular while a lot of the really nice people who are worth their weight in gold are not simply because they aren't cool or people-persons or a bit rough around the edges.

In fact, I'm currently completing my first year as a graduate at Oxford and I've noticed that the most intelligent and talented people are usually not the best human beings. And for me, if being mean and sneaky and vindictive is what it takes to be a cool, popular person... I'll pass... as I always have.

I'd rather work on being a good human being.

It's sad really... you know people are mean and spiteful because they are insecure and can't deal with issues in a mature and civil manner.

Well, on to brighter, better things. Here's the second instalment of my travelogue...

Brussels...

Dear Everybody,

Sorry I can't reply to each and every one of you personally (just have to do it slowly... probably at Cornelius's place I'll have a big net-surfing binge and write the individual letters.).

Anyway, my last day in Paris was way better compared to the other days simply because i met two british sisters from Newcastle and they took me out with them to walk up the Eiffel Tower at night and we had dinner together as well. Took us about half an hour to trudge up to the second level of the tower and we were bursting for breath by the time we reached the top but it was well worth it! I took some pictures and I hope they turn out okay. There's a picture I took of two of them to always remind me that I had a great last day in Paris because of them.

In the daytime, however, I went to two museums by myself. In the morning, I went to the Paris Medieval Museum to see 'The Lady and the Unicorn' tapestries and to satisfy my interest in all things medieval. It was quite funny because I bumped into this Medieval Art professor from the Uni of Maryland and he was lecturing to his wife about all the pieces of artwork and so I followed them as unobtrusively as possible to get a free 'guided tour'. Hehehehe... Then the highlight of my daytime travels was my trip to the Musee D'Orsay to see Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet and other Impressionist works... very very very impressive. I saw all my favourite Van Gogh pictures and I took some photos of them. While I was looking at them and savouring them, I wished that I had some travelling companion with me because there is so much I could discuss with the person and I would have spent a lot more time there if someone was with me simply because I would be able to discuss the art with them.

The only sore point of the day was when I wanted to eat at a restaurant reccomended for excellent French food (treating myself to some cuisin after days of just sandwiches and ice cream) and two of those I went to were closed... for the summer... so I had to content myself with sandwich and ice cream yet again... I was in a slightly foul mood by 2pm when I hadn't found somewhere nice to eat and my feet were sore too... oh well... I'll make sure I go out for dinner during my Paris stopover...

Today's trip to Brussels from Paris wasn't too bad. I actually got up in time despite getting to bed at 1am after the Eiffel Tower adventure and made it to the train station in good time. The only thing I am sore about is the fact that I forgot to book a night at the hostel for my Paris. oh well, will have to book it from Cornelius's place (that all right with you, Conny?) and it won't be too late then... And oh yes, the guy sitting next to me in the train kept on occupy half my seat so I pushed him and he got the message! ehhehehe...

Anyway, I went to the centre of Brussels at the Palace Square today for a bit of a wander after I got in and made all the arrangements to get money changed, book train to Cologne etc. I actually rather like Brussels more than Paris. The tourist officials are very friendly and go all the way to help you and the women are very friendly and always ready to help. The men are a different matter... especially the Turkish men who keep harassing me until this sweet old lady rounded on one of them on the train and told him off in French! Heheheehehe... After that I felt much better about my day that kept on being punctuated by harassment... the funny thing is, most of the girls (a mixture of Japanese and European) in my room are travelling alone as well and they say that they were never harassed in Brussels! Weird!

I mean, Brussels is excellent and I am going to spend either tomorrow or Monday doing the entire walking tour. I tried the waffles and some traditional pastries today and they were excellent. I had a really cheap dinner I put together myself from bread and cheese (which were excellent as well!). I will try mussels and chips with mayo (the national dish!) before I leave but that will be a splurge! Tonight I am going out with my Japanese roommates to see the Palais Royale at night. It is supposed to be beautifully lit up then! It's nice to have companionship even if they can't speak English all that well!

Anyway, I am going to Brugges tomorrow early in the morning... just hopping on a train and taking off... YAY! Hope my day in Brugge will be nice and harassment-free...

Take care of yourselves and don't worry about me... I am sensible enough not to go out at night without companions (I don't lack of female companions who are my roommates anyway) and I use my common sense most of the time...

Keep writing and letting me know your news... you'll get a big deluge of e-mails once I get to Cornelius's!

XXX and Love
Regina

Sunday, March 24, 2002

Old Beginnings



It would be practical to begin afresh with a brand new diary entry. However, I'd like to present a retrospective introduction comprising of e-mail diary entries that I have been in a habit of mass mailing to friends and family over the past couple of years.

I will begin with my e-mails to friends and family during summer 2000 when I backpacked across Western Europe alone-- a glimpse of what it's like to travel solo and in the rough as a young woman...

Paris...

Dear Everybody,

Here I am sitting at a computer terminal in Paris at Place de Republique trying to figure out how the French keyboard works after a very LONG day. In fact, you might say that its been two long days for me. Not used to having to type so slowly and if there are some typing errors, they are a) not intentional and b) not a sign that I am losing my touch and my faculties either. If this is the French keyboard layout, I do not even want to know what the German or Italian keyboard looks like but cèest la vie, as the French say...

The Eurostar arrived pretty much on time and on the way to Paris, I sat next to this chatty teenager who has just finished his GCSEs (that's high school to you Americans and Canadians)and we passed a very agreeable journey discussing all the stereotypes we and other people carry around with us about other cultures. Quite amusing actually...

I got the hang of the Paris subway system pretty quickly... it's just as dank and dirty as dear old London underground except there are more stops and the French can be much ruder than Londoners. People generally turn out all right if you approch them with broken French. Some of them think it's amusing and they go all the way to help you even if their English is minimal. In fqct, I found my way to my youth hotel all right thanks to a nice lady who dug out her map and used copious amounts of sign language. The hostel is ok. Nothing spectacular but it is the cheapest hostel in Paris (only 91FF per night including sheets, breakfast and showers shared with 6 other girls in a private bedroom). The noise is galling at night but thank God for my trusty earplugs and eyepatch.

By the time I got into Paris and sorted everything out, I didn't have much of the afternoon left so I hightailed it to Notre Dame Cathedral where I joined the horrendous lines of tourists (plenty of Americans and Chinese) trying to tiptoe around the cathedral while obeying the absolute silence rule but dismally failing. Well, I didn't fail because there was no one with me so I had no one to talk to but the hordes of Americans were severely shushed every 10 or so minutes (no offence to Michqel, Dr Scouten and Christy...). The nice thing about it was that it was free to enter (except for the treasures which I paid a student's fare of 10FF to enter to see... they have an exceptionally beautiful bronze sculpture of the Madonna and Child there). After that I wandered round the back to take pictures of the flying buttresses from the back and I walked along the seine river for a bit and sat down watching the sun set and the hordes of tourist guide boats swarm past. It was surprisingly quiet though and the seine bridges offered excellent views of the Notre Dame. The weather was absolutely boiling though so I got myself some soft ice cream... mmm... For dinner I had that ice cream and a plain baguette bought from a boulangerie (that's the bakery for all of you who don't understand French). Not a very balanced meal but it was cheap and filling and I wasn't in the mood for anything more substantial.

Today was a real nightmare of sorts. I had planned to go to the Louvre and go to the national bank of France to cash a traveller's checque from there before entering the museum. I got up bright and early, expecting to have done my banking in a jiffy and then beat the crowds to the Louvre... as usual, sod's/murphy's law was in full swing:

1) Took me eons to try and figure out the map and the tourist office was'nt open till 10am... so I was walking around trying to read the map and asking like 5 people (2 of which could'nt speak English) who all gave me different direction... then, when I got to the bank, I was told that they only take travellers' cheques in US dollars, not British pound sterling... just great! Well, having wasted nearly all of my morning, I decided to head to the Louvre and only go to American Express in the evening. Got there and boy was there a line: it stretched for 4 blocks... I swear to God it did! Okay, took me another 45 minutes of waiting in line before I could get in. It cost me 45FF for the ticket and I was determined to make the most out of it. So off I went for the next 4 hours running around most of the sections like a headless chicken, only pausing to take a picture of the Mona Lisa (it pays to be petite: you can squeeze to the front and the rest of the crowd are none the worse for it) and some Da Vinci and Flemish artists' paintings and sculptures. The Louvre's collection is astounding and I was very impressed by the huge paintings and the roman sculptures. The Mesopotamian stone statues were the highlight of the visit cos they made my jaw drop...

Tomorrow I will be going to see a medieval art museum and an impressionist museum and to eat snails before i set off for Brussels. Decided to forgo the champs elysee and eiffel tower cos I've had seen them properly the last time. Maybe I'll see them during my stopover in paris on my way back to England. So far I've leqrned two lessons: cash my checques the moment I arrive and join the line when I'm obviously early.

Have to stop here cos my hour is running out. Write soon everybody (especially mum and dad, Christy, Dr Scouten, Michael and Suzanne!) Take care and I'll write in a few days once i'm settled in at brussels.

Love
Regina