By James Chow

Protected: My Trip to Edinburgh, Scotland – Top Places to Visit

It was totally unprepared! I bought my flight tickets on Friday and flew to Edinburgh on the next day haha.

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This is probably the first time that I went on a trip with Shuyi’s parents, so it was a little different… and special. I mean, usually people dress up and prepare for a long time before meeting their bf/gf’s parents right?

But Shuyi’s parents had to suffer my puffy, whole-night-no-sleep eyes, long and ungroomed hair etc. In fact, when I look back at the pictures of this trip, I think that my hair was an EPIC fail, having not cut it for almost two months. I expect to look back at these photos 20 years from now and be absolutely horrified by myself.

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Anyway Edinburgh is an enchanting, ancient city. As the capital city of Scotland, there are so many fascinating stories about the country’s history that could be relived in this city. I have a certain amount, but limited, knowledge of the country’s history, having read about the Scottish wars of independence and some of their famous monarchs.

However, with only three days in Edinburgh, we could experience only a small fraction of what the city had to offer!

Something that I would consider myself to have really missed is a ghost tour.

Apparently, Edinburgh is one of those few British cities that offer immensely spine-chilling ghost tours (given its long, brutal history), with participants claiming to have had ‘unexplainable’ experiences… Ghost

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Anyway, the City of Edinburgh is divided into the ‘new’ and ‘old’ city, and the latter is dominated by the majestic Edinburgh Castle.

Whenever I look at this castle I cannot help but marvel at the size of the ego of whichever king who built it LOL. I mean, right in the middle of the city there is a reasonably sized, steep hill… Not too big and not too small, perfect for a castle of a scary king lording over its subjects!

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Haha technically it’s not just a ‘hill’, but rather an extinct volcano! All the more intimidating! Haven’t we all learnt from the Dark Lord Sauron that building a fortress near a volcano is very bad ass? Devil

If this was Sauron’s castle, then we would all have been Orcs! On the first day we marched straight to the gates of Edinburgh Castle and entered without being killed. We had to pay the Dark Lord a tribute ticket of 14 pounds each but that was fine.

Behold the entrance:

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Certain parts of this castle were almost a millennium old, and the area within the fortress walls were huge – like a small town of its own!

In ancient times, I bet nobles and servants to the king would live in the fortress during peace times, and during war times civilians would be kept within the fortress walls while defending against a siege.

How would I know that? Because Orlando Bloom did that in Kingdom of Heaven and Theoden King of Rohan did that in Return of the King LOL.

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Imagine sieging a castle like this! You would need to bring your army and go around and climb the hill, trying to get to the entrance with your battle rams and stuff while being showered with arrows by archers and (later) cannons from the fortress!

You would have 25% of your army dead by the time you reach the entrance.

AND that’s not all! Building a fortress on high ground (such as a hill) gives you another tactical advantage and that is enemy range attacks from below suffer a 10% chance to simply – MISS!

I know all this from years of personal experience defending castles against sieges.

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No?

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Anyway I know all this is childish but I can’t help it. We haven’t got many castles in Malaysia (Kellie’s Castle?) and as I walked on the castle grounds I imagined what it would have been like around me back in the Medieval ages.

For instance, this path must have been trodden by heavy horses of knights and riders rushing up to the king’s hall to deliver some news of war or famine…

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This small hut must have been where a servant of a powerful lord lived with his deaf sister.

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And Archers would line up along these walls and rain death onto the enemy’s army below!

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…

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LOL anyway, back to reality. Here’s a fantastic view looking down to central Edinburgh from the heights of the castle.

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There were several exhibits and displays within the castle and to visit them all would probably take half a day or more (our ‘days’ were quite short as the winter sun started setting at around 3.45PM.)

One of the more interesting exhibits that we visited was the Prisons of War, where prisoners ranging from captured enemy soldiers to women accused of witchcraft had been held! Evil!

It’s interesting how the prisoners were made to sleep on these hammocks which look like those that you find on Pangkor Island beaches. Apparently this is to save space in the prison as the hammocks could be placed over above each other!

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Many of the stuff on display here were real and actually used centuries ago.

There was a board detailing rations of food (and alcohol) that each prisoner was to be given, a small but detailed warship model built by (I presume) really bored prisoners, and even counterfeit money used to pay for extra food!

Imagine the freedom and time that these prisoners had in the dungeons that they could do all these things! If I were a prisoner I would probably start a food trading company and get rich!

Let me focus on what probably is the primary exhibit in Edinburgh Castle – the Royal Palace! Smile

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This, obviously, was the residence of many Scottish kings and queens of old. There was a lot of educational displays describing the various kings and queens of Scotland and their lineages.

Accordingly, I sought out King James I.

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Also inside the castle was the King’s Dining Hall and the Birth Chamber where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to yet another King James, but the Sixth.

King James IV was perhaps the most famous James’s of them all, having survived Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot, sponsored the King James translation of the Holy Bible, and united Scotland and England under one crown after ascending to the English throne, which eventually led to the formation of Great Britain as we know today.

This is all very interesting but perhaps the most fascinating part of the royal palace was the Crown Room!

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The Crown Room houses the very precious Scottish Crown Jewels – the Crown, Sceptre and Sword of State of Scotland! The Crown of Scotland was worn by several kings of Scotland and the Sceptre and Sword are gifts from Pope Alexander VI and Pope Julius II, respectively.

The Crown Room was extremely well guarded and the high-security transparent case that contained Crown Jewels looked like those in Mission Impossible movies. Ninja

Photography was naturally forbidden in the Crown Room and I dared not cross the guards! Haha therefore credits to the Edinburgh Castle website for the photo above.

After we were done with the castle we headed out to the street right outside Edinburgh Castle – the very famous, very beautiful, and very touristy… Royal Mile!

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The Royal Mile is about a mile long (of course), and connects the two historically important places in Edinburgh – Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.

I remember hearing from someone that Holyrood Abbey was where coronations of kings were held. Kings would be crowned in the Abbey and then parade up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle to be robed.

Today, Holyrood palace is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland, which makes sense – if I were the Queen, I would not want to seem so insecure as to live within the cannon-lined walls of Edinburgh Castle.

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Anyway, there were many attractions along the Royal Mile such as the The Writer’s Museum (featuring several famous Scottish writers), Witches’ Well (where over 300 women had been accused as witches and burned at the stake), and  the Scotch Whisky Experience. Scotland is famous for scotch whisky, and regulations make it compulsory that all whisky in the world bearing the name ‘Scotch’ must be distilled in Scotland. Interesting!

Besides all that, fantastic architectures and marble statues of famous Scottish people could also be found along the Mile.

Can’t possibly talk about all of them but one extremely popular attraction is Mary King’s Close. We wanted to visit this place on the first day but tickets for the guided tour were completely sold out! So we had to purchase the following day’s ticket.

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Mary King’s Close is one of the many ‘closes’ in the Edinburgh – streets with tenements or multi-storied apartments on both sides that were built several centuries ago for housing purposes.

Due to many people living close to each other, these closes were especially vulnerable to plagues, such as the bubonic plague which was responsible for the Black Death in Europe back in the 14th century.

Many, many people were infected in these closes and died during the plague. There are also rumours that people who got infected were eventually thrown into the closes and left to die. Later, the entire Mary King’s Close was allegedly sealed with walls (on all sides and above) and the rumour goes that the plague victims were simply walled in and left to die in their now dark, underground apartments.

New roads and buildings were constructed on top of the entire seven-stories of underground tenements sealed underneath its floors. Imagine being left underground in a sealed, abandoned building while people above you simply build new buildings on top and forget about you! Surprised smile

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All these myths and history give rise to a large amount of ghost stories, making Edinburgh an internationally famous destination for ghost and paranormal activity hunters.

In fact, I think several paranormal-hunting TV shows featured Mary King’s Close in their episodes!

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And so moving on we also found, in Edinburgh – the University of Edinburgh! Laughing out loud

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The University of Edinburgh is one of the universities that kindly offered me a place earlier this year. UoE is an ancient and highly reputable university in the world. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like studying here in this fascinating city had I accepted the offer.

Would I visit the castle everyday? Would I have learned to play bagpipes? Would I have seen the Loch Ness monster?

Ahh, anyhow I still love Bristol more. Smile

Other interesting things that we found around Edinburgh include this statue of Greyfriars Bobby, in memory of a world-famous dog with a very touching story.

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According to the story, Bobby’s owner, John Gray, died of Tuberculosis and his dog Bobby guarded his dear master’s grave until he died himself after fourteen years.

It is a fact that John Gray and Bobby the dog both did exist. In fact, their graves are right behind the row of shophouses in the background.

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The story’s authenticity, however, cannot be confirmed.

A few hundred metres down the road from Bobby’s statue is the Elephant House – the cafe made legendary by J.K. Rowling herself having frequently visited and sat for long periods of time at the start of her career, writing the first few books of the Harry Potter series.

I would have gone in and sat for a long period of time trying to get inspiration to write a blog post worthy J.K. Rowling on James-Chow.com, but the cafe was closed by the time we reached. Sad smile

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So in the evening we ascended Calton Hill, one of the most famous and picturesque hills in Edinburgh.

Calton Hill was used as a place of public execution in ancient times and even in later times still remains a place of great political significance.

But I couldn’t be bothered with history anymore and you wouldn’t too if such an incredible view were in front of you.

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There were several very important monuments on Calton Hill and the two that you see above are the Nelson Monument and the National Monument of Scotland, respectively.

The National Monument of Scotland has an interesting bit of story behind it and I’ll briefly tell it before I end this very long travel log (which I am lazy to split into parts).

The construction of the National Monument of Scotland was proposed back in 1822 and it was envisaged to be a grand and momentous project – to build a monument after the Parthenon in Athens!

Long story short, all the rich lords in the city supported the proposal by promising money for its construction, but after the construction had actually begun, the rich guys decided that they would rather keep their money in the bank and earn interest (I presume). Winking smile

And thus the construction could not be completed due to a lack of funds. A rumour was told that the neighbouring city of Glasgow offered to pay for the remaining costs, but Edinburgh – you know – being Edinburgh the capital city, was too proud to accept the offer.

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And so without money the monument construction is abandoned and the structure left as you see today! Sad smile Bad ending!

Moral of the story: When people offer you money (especially huge sums), swallow your pride, grab the cash and run.

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All in all, Edinburgh as a city is such a nice place to visit and I will definitely be back again! Smile

But in this trip:

I should have bought a Scottish kilt (the male ‘skirt’) as a souvenir.

I should have tried playing a Scottish bagpipe.

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and I really should have cut my hair. Flirt female

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By James Chow

Protected: Bath and Assignments

Just came back from Bath!

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Bath the ancient city. Not bath the body cleansing activity. Winking smile

Shuyi and her parents had arrived in London a few days ago and I greeted them at London Paddington. They stayed in London for several days before travelling north to St Albans where Shuyi’s graduation ceremony will be held. I would love to stay in London with them for the few days that they were there but unfortunately it is the middle of a term week and I can’t really skip a whole week’s classes.

But what I could do was skip a single day’s classes and visit Bath with them! Bath is so close to Bristol that it only took me 20 minutes and less than £3 to get there by train. It was quite a wonderful trip to be honest although I didn’t do much sightseeing in the city.

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It was REALLY cold in Bath yesterday (like 6-8 degrees Celcius) and I was severely underdressed. It had been quite warm in Bristol so I just set out to Bath with nothing more than jeans, shirt and a Zara overcoat that I had just bought on Oxford St. a few days ago.

I did not even bring my scarf or gloves and I almost died in the strong wind during the city tour that we participated. So halfway through the tour I left the group and ran into a nearby BHS store to grab a pair of gloves, a scarf and a woollen shirt to wear underneath.

Shuyi’s parents visited to the Roman Baths after lunch. The Roman Baths is the main attraction in the city but Shuyi had already been there in her previous trip to Bath and didn’t want to pay another £12 to visit again. I opted not to visit the Baths and stayed out with her since I did not want her to be on her own and besides, the close proximity between Bristol and Bath means that I will almost certainly visit this city again.Smile

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We strolled around the city centre checking out random shops. Soon, we were both so cold that we decided to just sit in a Starbucks after lunch and spend the afternoon chatting in the warm, fireplace-lit room on the second floor of the coffee shop.

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When Shuyi’s parents were finished with the Baths we explored a scenic route along the riverside and I bought some books from an old bookstore before heading back to the train station. While waiting for our trains, we stood at the platforms opposite each other since I was heading to Bristol and them to London.

It was a pretty awesome trip and I wish I could have stayed in Bath a little longer. But then again, I will definitely be back in this city and for now I really need to concentrate on my scary pile of assignments.

Quick summary of my assignments:

I’ve just submitted my Macroeconomics assignment which consists of an essay and a bunch of questions. I’m not so sure about my answers to the questions but I am quite happy with my essay. The essay question was: ‘In October 2009, the Bank of England maintained the bank rate at 0.5%, leaving little or no room for further expansionary monetary policy. This places greater emphasis on fiscal policy as a means of stimulating aggregate demand’. Explain and discuss.

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I really love discussion essays rather than technical essays that require lots of calculations and then just stating the obvious. My research for this essay had taken a week and I spent two days writing it. My next assignment – International Financial Accounting – is due in less than two weeks, on the 28th.

The IFA assignment consists of two parts: preparing comprehensive financial statements, as well as writing an essay on IAS 38 Intangible Assets.

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For the financial statements part, I have completed the statements of comprehensive income and financial position but they don’t exactly match yet. I have also started extracting points from the IAS 38 document and preparing my essay structure. I’m doing this stuff mostly at home but I’ll be comparing my financial statements with my friends later when we have finished.

What I am more worried about is my Quantitative Methods assignment which is due on the 14th next month. I haven’t started this yet and don’t intend to do so anytime soon. From the assignment questions it looks like a lot of regressions and hypothesis testing and interpretative work are involved and this is the subject that I am currently least confident in.

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This assignment also carries 25 percent of our final assessment and if I screw this up, I screw up my chance of getting a distinction.

But no matter, none of my friends have started work on this and we have all pledged to discuss our answers when we are done. This is the most technical subject of the term and our lecturer isn’t making it any easier. So we students have to stick together and teach each other.

To tell the truth, I enjoy researching and doing my current assignments much more that I did doing my Bachelor’s Degree assignments. They both cause a lot of stress, yes, but I find that I care much more about getting a good mark now than I did a few years ago.

But who cares about that right now! There is a huge party coming up tonight and I’m not missing it for the world! Party smile Later!

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By James Chow

Protected: For the First Time I am Enjoying Classes

It’s 1/11/11 and it’s 11PM – I must write something on this blog!

Let’s see… It is Week 4 and all of my classes for the term have been going on for a while now. So let me write a bit about them.

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The first class of the term to begin was the accounting part of ECONM1007 Finance and Accounting, by Suzy Matthews, on Week 1. Just to make sense of the week numbers, the Management Simulation Exercise and Pre-sessional maths course were on Week 0.

The other – finance – part of the course is conducted by Matt Bamber, whose hilarious teaching style is in stark contrast to Mrs. Matthews’ more ordinary approach. The finance part of the course covers some basic management accounting (costing, absorption, budgeting, CVP analysis etc. to prepare for the advanced Strategic Management Accounting course in the next term) as well as finance topics like investment appraisal, capital structure, Portfolio Theory and CAPM.

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The accounting part of the course, on the other hand, cover basic accounting stuff like accounting principles, preparing financial statements and performing ratio analysis. Unlike the finance stuff, I had already known all these things (I prepared all the accounts and financial statements of my business in MMU) but I knew I had to pay close attention because they are pre-requisites to the much more in-depth ECONM2028 International Financial Accounting course later.

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The International Financial Accounting course is conducted by Prof. Sheila Ellwood, and she reminds me very much of Prof. McGonagall.

Prof. Ellwood is neither old nor strict, but the way she spoke and carried out her lectures reminds me constantly of the Hogwarts Transfiguration professor. A lot of people say that her lectures are boring but I was hooked from the very first.

Compared to Finance & Accounting, this is an in-depth course in accounting based on the IFRS.

From the Conceptual Framework to recognising intangible assets to group accounting, I can foresee that this course is going to be tremendously useful my future.

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I can’t really say that I am ‘passionate’ about accounting (really, who is?) but I find the subject really intuitive and challenging in a fun way.

It’s tough working through financial statements for hours and hours but when you finally arrive at a set of financial statements that perfectly match… oooh the feeling is unbelievable. 🙂

Plus, I used to occasionally read up financial statements of companies of interest to me and now learning this stuff formally makes so much sense. I’ve been having that ‘oh, I knew that!’ feeling quite a lot during lectures.

I guess knowing how useful this stuff would be in the future, whether in business or investment, makes me highly motivated to learn and put them to practice.

I love accounting because of its usefulness as the language of business, but I have always loved economics for what it is – economics!

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Our Macroeconomics course began on Friday week 2 and is taught by Dr. Luis Correia, whose storytelling made the class so darn interesting! I swear I have never been so interested in the contents of a lecture before! (In the interest of full disclosure, sadly, I have never been fully interested in pretty much any of my undergraduate lectures. 🙁

Much of his lessons were conducted through stories. Why do governments do certain things and how do the people and market respond, and their effects. There is no better way to teach this than using anecdotes.

Over the weeks we discussed stuff like the demand of goods and money, determination of interest rate, market equilibriums, as well as models like the IS-LM and AS-AD. I loved every one of them and this has become the course that I look forward to attending the most every week.

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I was particularly interested in a lecture which focused solely on the 2007 financial crisis and the macroeconomics behind it. I was almost sitting at the edge of my seat the whole time.

I have been reading up quite a lot of books and articles about the financial crisis even in my undergrad years. I daresay I know a few things about it and I even asked Dr Correia in his office a few days ago if there was going to be a dissertation on the financial crisis. He told me that he recalled having seen one and recommended that I approach a certain Dr. Nigel Duck. Hmm… Will probably do that next month. 🙂

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Economics is interesting because this shit makes sense and is related to our day-to-day lives. From saving to investment to government spending to GDP – we see and talk about these things everyday without fully understanding them. I will try my best to be a little bit more informed from now on.

The second part of the course which focuses on Microeconomics will begin later this term and will be taught by Professor Paul Grout. Can’t wait!

I’m afraid I don’t share my enthusiasm for economics and accounting with econometrics.

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The Quantitative Methods course is taught by Prof. Raul Crespo and focuses on econometrics and statistical methods.

I understand that econometrics is the means by which economists empirically prove what they say. Economics is a social science – a science – all thanks to econometrics, without which economics would be nothing more than a branch of philosophy.

But unfortunately, the QM course is quickly becoming the most boring one this term!

Simply put, if economics focuses on theory, econometrics would be a tool. And learning a tool is like most of the courses in engineering – an endless sea of math and equations and weird symbols.

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To make matters worse, Dr Crespo isn’t exactly the most eloquent of lecturers, but he does have a sense of humour. 🙂

A number of students sitting at the front seem to like him and pay solid attention. But for some of us sitting in the middle and the back, I’ve seen many heads nod and students leaving halfway.

I always try my best to listen and understand and make notes. I sometimes wonder to myself “dude you’ve survived an engineering degree and you’re scared of this?” but seriously this math stuff and our lecturer are a pretty bad combination. I think this will be the subject that I will need to work on the hardest this term.

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So there you have it! I have briefly described the four subjects that I am taking this term. Compared to those in my previous degree, they are all tremendously interesting (yes, even QM!) and I pretty much look forward to the lectures despite the weather which has turned quite cold.

I still hate waking up early in the morning though. Climbing up Park St. with an empty stomach in the cold weather, while hearing the clock tower ring nine o’clock is the most panicky feeling ever.

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