Sunday, October 22, 2006

Gryffindor House, Hogwarts School and Harry Potter

Dwuane, Ian, me and Eskandar from Jamaica, US and Malaysia. Noticed the shirt which I wore? One of my last year's birthday presents
All dressed up in suit and gown for the matriculation dinner. Cantab is steep in its 800-year old tradition (since 1209), where students are officially members of the university after going through the matriculation dinner. In other words, you are a member of Cantab after you matriculate...o well.
Here is the piece of dialogue between the Praelector and I on the day of my matriculation (17th Oct):
Me: Hi. Good evening Sir, am here to matriculate.
PraE: Do you have the green form*?
Me: Here it is...
PraE: Okay**Paused to read through the green form**Very well, please sign on the register list over there **finger pointed at a table**
Me: Right. Here?
PraE: Yes, sign there please.
Me: **Silent while signing the registry**
PraE: I, representing the authority of the university, now pronounce you as a member of the University of Cambridge for life...**paused a while to interject a cheeky joke**..well, unless you do something very nasty to us..**eyes winked** Now, go and do your best and achieve what you have set to come here for...
Me: Thank you Sir! **And I left the room**
*Green Form= A surrogate to the invoice confirming that you have already paid the necessary fee to the college.
Basically the collegiate system here works like this: you are a member of a college (in my case, it's Wolfson College) and the colleges are the limbs to the entire university systems. However, the colleges are independent of the university's fundings. Apparently, some colleges like Trinity (where Lee Hsien Loong came from) and Peterhouse (the oldest college in Cambridge) are so rich and financially sufficient that they could sponsor the entire student population in the their colleges for 10 years or run the university without government funding for 4 years! That sounds outrageous but like Peterhouse, it seems they have a large wine cellar in their college with huge stocks of wine dated from the 1300s. You just imagine how much one bottle would fetch in today's market! Think about a warehouse filled with it!

No more fashion faux pas

So, you can't just say that you are a Cambridge graduate without saying which college you came from. In other words, tourist souvenirs, peripherals and novelties on the shops selling "University of Cambridge" do not actually bring the correct message or any at all, to the people who later give the items to others as souvenirs. Having said that, so it's easy to differentiate who are the students here and who are not. The students here would usually wear t-shirts or sweaters like "Wolfson College-University of Cambridge" or "Trinity College-University of Cambridge" unless they are into a club or society where none is based on a particular collegiate system. Then, it would be "Rowing Club-Cambridge University" or "Cambridge University Triathlon Society" etc. Confused? Haha...try to decipher the 800-year old tradition.

The Harry Potter-style matriculation dinner. Formal halls are similar to matriculation dinners too.
Speech by the Praelector, Professor Dumbledore! Hahaha...don't take me seriously! He's Dr Brian Cox, a very friendly English gentleman.

This is the dining hall at Trinity College which I visited today with the two other Malaysians, Ching Yin and Winson. Trinity College was where Lee Hsien Loong belonged to during his days in Cantab.

Take a peep of the matriculation dinner on a short video capture:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tikki Masala

Chicken Tikki Masala with rice, egg and ABC soup

I was cooking the chicken Tikki Masala for the first time. I took the first bite to savour it and it was absolutely superb. The taste was exactly what I imagined. Then an unexpected thing happened. I was suddenly thrown back into time. Suddenly my mind was stalled and I thought about my father. Yes, my father. Maybe you may ask, what has a chicken dish got to with your father?? Beats me... and then his images came running in my head. Flashbacks of him, my brother and I when we were small overwhelmed me. Alot of times, people say that children are closer to the mother than the father and like us too, it was no exception. Fathers were always a figure of discipline and with clear boundaries drawn around them. But then, it struck me when all these flashbacks came back...

  1. My dad coming back at night with a birthday cake to celebrate my 4th birthday.
  2. Brought my brother and I to go walking at some rubber estates.
  3. Brought our bicycles to fix at the 4.5 mile Old Klang Road bicycle shop. When my brother did well in his SRP (now called PMR), he was rewarded a new BMX. We went to the shop to buy his new bicycle.
  4. Picked me up from school every evening with my mom when I was in primary school. And sometimes there was always yam with dried shrimps and cheecheongfun soya sauce tahpau-ed in the car for us to eat on our ride home just in case we were hungry.
  5. Picked my brother and I up from school, once in 1986 (I could still remember I was in 2 Teratai and Cik Siti was teaching us halfway) before the school ends because my ku-poh (grandaunt) passed away. It was my first time leaving school before the school time ends.
  6. Brought my brother and I to his bank and ate chicken rice at the bank's canteen and how I always wanted to add rice.
  7. While waiting for my mother to attend the evening mass, he would sometimes bring us to Taman Jaya to play see-saw. Sometimes we went for sup ayam or sup kambing in Old Town. Sometimes he brought us to Jaya Supermarket for shopping and in there, I would always hold on to my father's left hand side of the corduroy jeans "handle" while my brother was always on the right.
  8. Ate in Jalan Gasing's Chicken Rice in the evening after my mother came out from the evening mass on Saturday. I still remember I always ate the chicken skin and not the meat and do not mind eating the rice alone with nothing else.
  9. My brother and I always had our pyjamas brought into the car whenever we go out and we change into pyjamas before reaching our house so that we could go straight to bed after reaching home.
  10. Bought another Voltron and the Lion Castle when my mom and grandmother also bought another one from Hong Kong.
  11. Bought a big packet of large size prawns and he, my brother and I sat in the bathroom to peel off the shells.
  12. Brought my brother and I to Syabas to learn swimming. There was always a float on my arm.
  13. Always sing the tune of mile after mile with super Shell, one-way ticket to the moon and other tunes that I have forgotten.
  14. Wrote a cheque to Uncle Tai (the taukeh for my school bus) on a termly basis and pass it through Uncle Razak.
  15. Went to Cameron Highlands with the whole family and brought my grandmother along. I could still remember my grandmother was vomitting her way up there. But then she got used to it after a few more years when the roads were better and the availability of travel-sick pills.
  16. Bought bah kut teh and left it on the table during my odd hour studies for my STPM, in case I was hungry in the wee hours of the morning.
  17. Bought a packet of nasi lemak on Fridays because Fridays were the day of abstinence. And the packet of nasi lemak was always filled with sambal sotong, prawns, eggs, and kangkung.
  18. Fetched me to school on Saturdays for scout activities and stopped over at Jalan Gasing for wantan mee breakfast.
  19. He always wanted to go all the way out to help people and treated my friends even better than how my friends' parents would treat me.
  20. Caught me when I fell unconciously due to dengue fever.

The people in the world have dedicated a day for fathers and they called it a Father's Day. I always thought that fathers' day should be every day. But then, a thought without action is just as useless. Today, I experienced God's manisfestation of my father's love to me and what he means to me and I am really grateful to him for all that he has done for us. My brother and I never knew what he wanted us to be when we grew up simply because he has never pushed us in his way.

This morning, when I walked on the streets of Cambridge and saw some students with their parents because of the first batch of graduation, I saw how proud their parents were and these parents were all dressed up in suits taking pictures every where. I said to myself, "Wow, it's so wonderful to see all these parents being so happy for their children. This is probably their first time wearing such a beautiful suit until they wear them again when their children get married".

My friend asked how has Cambridge shaped me so far, I told her that it is not about the place where we study but the journey of going through Cambridge, the people's lives that we have touched and inspired and be the source of pride for those who loved us, just by entering here. She then asked how were my parents at home taking it when I am so far away suddenly. I told her, my parents could not be any happier to see their son being able to study here because they were very poor and could never have made it even to live comfortably last time, what more to continue studies and this is one way of carrying that torch for the family.

Unfinished Chicken Tikki Masala

My mind suddenly snapped back into conscious mode and I was staring blank at my chicken Tikki Masala. For the first time, I did not finish a dish that I cooked and which tasted so nice. I have to save it for tomorrow then. Then I realised my eyes were wet and red. Someone then came into the kitchen. I blew my nose. They looked at me and I said "Oh my gosh, this chicken is really spicy! I am gonna continue this tomorrow." And then I fled back into my room to write this blog....and tell everyone that I love my parents alot!

Snapshots of Life in Cambridge

Above is my trusty bicycle which I bought from a former student who happened to be my ex-uni mate. She did the same course and came with the same scholarship as I am.

The picture above is taken at Market Square, the place where you can find "apparently" cheaper stuff than the supermarkets. I have not gotten anything from this place yet because nothing interest me so far. But I may try the ostrich burger located in one of these stalls.

Another zoomed out shot of the Market Square overlooking the Great St Mary's Church. The Big Ben's clock-chime bell tune in London has the same tune as the Great St Mary's Church. The Big Ben apparently copied the tune from this church in 1859.

The demonstration was held in front of the Guildhall. As you could see in the print, it was about eradicating the poor and fair trade. This is not common here, but protests and demonstrations are allowed within the ambits of the law.

We had our first class eat-out at a curry house which serves authentic Bangladeshi curry flavours. I had the Jalfrezi fish since it was a day of abstainence from red meat.

The formal dining hall in New Hall, one of the 31 colleges of Cambridge. We had our MPhil dinner here with other CMI programme students. The picture above depicts the "smart casual" attire code, a far resemblance from the collar T and jeans approach which Malaysians would usually interpret what "smart casual" would be. New Hall is one of the 3 all-female colleges in the university and is one of the modern-looking colleges around. So, you won't get the Harry Potter looking dining hall in this one. Eventhough they have the state-of-the-art looking facilities, the college has a history as far back as 1965!

A group photo at the MPhil dinner. As you may notice, I was guilty of a fashion faux pas in this event because of my misinterpretation of "casual smart". I went there totally embarassed and am not proud of telling this in the blog actually. It was truly embarassing and you would know why I hid behind the well-dressed people when taking this picture. But it is always good to learn from mistakes. I will definitely dress up in my suit now if I see the next attire code to be "semi-formal" and a suit with gown when it's "formal".

This is Fr. Alban, the Franciscan priest who presides mass at the Fisher House. Fisher House is the Catholic Chaplaincy of the University of Cambridge. Fr Alban was a graduate from Oxon* and has a strong resemblance of Fr Aloysius Mowe when he gave his sermons.

*Oxon is the jargon for Oxford University; Cantab= Cambridge University. So, people in the UK recognise University of Cambridge as Cantab...rather than the former.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Big Shoe to Fit In Here...

It's been an entirely hectic week to begin with. It will not get any better from here. Sorry for the daunting introduction. But I am glad I had a great time in Japan and Malaysia before I came here. Had been running around to get a bank account opened, activating this and that card, registering courses and attending talks and briefings. Apparently one may be deceived by the neo-Gothic architecture of Cambridge with old facilities and stone walls, but everything here runs on a smart card system and you will be surprised how self-contained this university is and the equipment it owns. Everything here is done electronically and can be done from the internet, which means anywhere in the world . We don't really get handouts, so we just download them off the student webpage and print them out ourselves. It is a good way to control paper usage. Well, I guess this is what Sustainable Development is all about....

Briefing at site by an expert from Mott MacDonald

We had our class trip at Twyford Down, Stonehenge and Hyndhead. We made a brief stop at this old city of England called the Winchester City, on the second day of our trip. Winchester is a lovely English city and the scenery is just magnificent. Apparently, Winchester is where the elite group of Britain would send their kids to be educated and where all the top politicians would like to be associated with. Do google it and tell me if you find more information about it.

The Stonehenge

Don't misconstrue that I am enjoying (again) here just because you see me putting the photo of Stonehenge. Our field at Stonehenge was to look at how the road system in Stonehenge has affected the World Heritage site with the constant movement of vehicles and damaging environment surrounding it.

Group discussion for the Stonehenge road project

At the hotel, we were supposed to come up with our solutions to solve the national issue. We were only given a few maps, drawings and one hour to present our proposal. Yes, that's all. Obviously, we were not expected that at the end of the day, our proposals would be presented to the government for this long-standing national issue. However, it is really interesting to be looking at such a high-profile case study and have speakers who are good in this subject to talk to us about what exactly is happening to Stonehenge, and why are the people so unhappy about the roads there and how our studies could build opinions about the subject.

Winchester City

All I can say for certain is that things are really getting more interesting and exciting with lots of balancing between social, study and spiritual life here. Cambridge is surely going to stretch those limits even further, and really, it is not for the faint of heart and if you are not ready, it is quite a big shoe to fit in here....

I have published this blog and suddenly I remembered something which I really need to shout out to release some sort of a frustration after being whacked again and again by the same "calamity" and that is....

"I really hate the erratic weather here. I have been soaked on many occasions and it's always when I have to attend important functions. Just a few hours ago, I had to attend a formal hall* organised for all MPhil students in the CMI** programme, and I was all soaked. Terribly embarassing...."

*Formal hall= A formal dinner in the College's dining hall. Think Harry Potter...

**CMI= Cambridge-MIT Institute

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Beginning....

Taken from the slide projection. Composition of students according to countries

Today we had an induction of the masters programme. There are 35 of us from 18 countries. From the briefing, it looks like we are going to have a tough year ahead of us. As a start, we would be going to Stonehenge this weekend for a class trip to study about the relativity of landscape and road at the Stonehenge. Don't ask me about the details, we will only know more on that day.

This is the other Malaysian in the course, Eskandar Samsudin who did his Engineering degree in Imperial College before coming here
There are 3 Malaysians this year. It is a very good mix and the entire class possess impressive working backgrounds and portfolios. Most of us came from engineering backgrounds and have worked from 2 to many years. There was also a good mix of other working backgrounds like computer programming, mining, aviation, NGOs and etc. We even had a retired course director of a British university as our student. Impressive, impressive, impressive....that's all I could say.

Mori Hirotoshi, a bubbly chatter from Tsukuba, Tokyo who did his degree in Kyoto University before coming here for his Masters.

We spoke in Japanese the entire lunch break! He must have felt so relieved to finally get a break from all things English. I know how it feels when it was all things Japanese for me too, when I was in Japan. We even talked about eating nato and geishas of Kyoto, can you believe it...hahahha! When we spoke in nihongo, some of my coursemates were surprised and thought that Malaysians speak Japanese too, like one of the other dialects....hahahaha. Well, I didn't bother to explain...;)


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Finally at Cambridge

First of all, I have arrived at Cambridge safe and sound. I have not experienced any jet lag so far, thanks to my cat naps in the plane. And talking about plane, my luggage did not arrive at the same time as me. It was probably stranded (or missing as I first thought) somewhere in Bangkok when I arrived at Heathrow Airport.

I understand the situation at the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok when I transited there. Come on, even their own newspaper wallop the airport, so what do you expect??!! I personally do not think they are ready for such a big airport yet. The systems are not up and the staff are not properly trained to handle the passengers and the volume. It sort of marred the image of a high-tech looking airport.

The staff are not well-communicated among themselves and confident in what they do and say. At one point when I asked for directions (because the airport was so big with no proper signages), I was led to the passport control area to stamp my passport instead. Smelling something fishy, luckily I enquired further at the passport control area and asked if I needed to stamp my passport for transit. The officer said no and I asked around again for directions. It was before 4 to 5 attempts before I got to where I was supposed to go. Phew....that was the first sign of problem at the airport. Of course, the worst for me was that my luggage was missing when I arrived at Heathrow!

At Heathrow, I filed a report of lost luggage and they told me that my luggage was probably one of the thousands that were stranded at Suvarnabhumi. I was thinking.... great news! How was I going to live the night without any warm clothings? But thank God, the luggage arrived by the evening at my place. It was a blessing in disguise per say. I remember my luggage came a day later in Japan too, because I opted for the delivery service. This time, it was an "accidental" delivery service to my doorstep. As sickening as I may want to avoid saying this, I guess the "ghost of Japan" is haunting me....hahahaha

Apart from this minor hiccup, I am really happy and excited to start my new academic life in Cambridge. I have expected a lot from this place and trust me when I say that this place has overwhelmed all of my expectations. Cambridge is just unbelievable in a sense that this education city itself is so self-contained and reputable in its own capacity that it is a tourist attraction on its own. Because of that, the city is lined with all the top brand shops that you can think of. Gap, Marks & Spencers, Topshop, Clark and blah blah blah ( publicity ok!!)When the bus arrived at Drummer Street ( the place where I needed to stop), I asked the bus driver twice if that was last stop at Drummer Street, and he said yes. I did not believe it because the place was inundated with tourists and packed with crowds! Maybe my earlier impression of Cambridge was a quiet city with ancient buildings and students relaxing around the lawn with a book on their hands. But yah, that was the image I had of Cambridge since I was a kid and now that I get to come here and study, it's really living the dream of my childhood life. Obviously I must really thank the British Govt and Shell for making all these happen.

Talking about living childhood dreams. I was told by the College reps that some tourists were so into this "studying in Cambridge" experience that they pay 100pounds for a night at one of the colleges just to satisfy their curiosities. Don't be surprised by this outrageous claim. There are such people who come here and stay, take loads of photos, go home and tell the whole world they have lived the life of a Cambridge student. I was like..."what the #$%#...." hahahhaa...macam-macam ada....

My room is a decent place, even though I get a number 4 ;) It has an attached basin in the room. I really can't make any comparison with the Japanese rooms that I once stayed, but if I really must give any, I would say that it is about 5.5 tatami mat size around the same size as the IUJ rooms, just that it does not have an ensuite bathroom. The absent of the bathroom means a bigger space to move around or some of you may want to hear this.....enough place to stay if you come over for a holiday. I've asked and they are ok with visitors, as long as you do not come here and make a big fuss of things. It's really a nice place to me when I say that.

Cambridge gives you a feel of what the famous people (who have studied here) experienced before. People like Hawkings, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are the respected figures of Cambridge. I am sure the rest of the world too. Even taking a stroll around the campus and knowing the background history of some places humbles us alot as a human person, suddenly when you are aware that Newton's Laws were founded in this and that place, or that Darwin's theory of evolution was conceived around the grounds of this or that college. It is awe-inspiring too.

The magnificent neo-Gothic and Gothic buildings of the colleges in Cambridge are really beautiful and splendid. It throws you into a "Harry Potter" scene just as you reach the colleges, especially the older ones. River Cam is also a lovely sight where you could just sit by the banks of the river to get inspirations.

Just today, I visited the University's Fitzwilliam Museum. It was just unbelievable. I never expected myself to stand in front of 3 Pablo Picasso drawings and 3 Leonardo Da Vinci sketches, looking at them. That was not all, there were also thousands of ancient sculptures, drawings and scrolls that are housed in this museum. I went to the British Museum in London before and I think that Fitzwilliam managed to capture my interest more. Yes, the Fitzwilliam is really a cool place. If not for their "no camera" restrictions, I would have taken all the photos and put it up here.