By James Chow

Protected: My Trip to London, England – Top Places to Visit (P.1)

Yay! Visited London much earlier than expected!

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I’d always thought that I could only visit places like the UK or the US if I decided to do my masters degree over there or something… But nope! It seems that a cupid issue is sufficient cause. Smile

Since Shuyi continued her studies in the UK last October, I have always pondered the prospect of making use of this perfect excuse to make a trip to the land of our former colonial bosses. Haha, it worked!

In 1954, Tunku Abdul Rahman led a delegation to London to seek independence for Malaysia for  the first time, but failed. Now I think it was probably because London is just such a wondrous place to visit that our then Prime Minister-to-be and his friends, err… got distracted, a bit.

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LOL just kidding la! But anyways he made up with the ‘mistake’ with a second trip in 1956 and settled the independence deal. So no harm done. Smile

This is by far the longest flight that I have travelled on – 13.5 hours! It was horrible, as I have a problem sleeping on planes, buses, trains etc. Listened to music for an hour, read a book for 3 hours, rested for 3 hours… done everything I could, and there were still some 6 hours left!

6 hours! That’s like two friggin’ engineering lab sessions back-to-back… Sick smile

I made two friends Jonny and Paul on the plane. Jonny’s girlfriend is French so he had lots of very useful advice on tourists spots in Paris, and Paul had a deck of cards – a godsend to burn away time in the cabin!

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Back in Malaysia, I was told that our citizens’ immigration records to the British weren’t that good – thanks to irresponsible idiots abusing their social visit passes and illegally staying to work…Annoyed

And before my trip, LOADS of people warned me that a single 23-year-old Malaysian guy trying to enter the UK claiming for a ‘visit’ is sufficient reason for high suspicion. And the UK Border Agency (equivalent to our Immigration Dept) is apparently quite well known for sending people home straight away if they don’t feel that you’re trustworthy enough!

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I was kinda super nervous when queuing at the UK Border after my flight landed. I knew it was unlikely but what if I was refused entry? I mean, after enduring 13 tormenting hours of flight from KL, only to be sent on a 13-hour return journey?! It was unthinkable.

Fortunately, I was greeted by a very friendly Border Agency officer who smiled broadly and bade me a warm ‘good morning’. I’m sorry to say this but our own immigration officers back home wouldn’t even contract their precious facial muscles if their lives depended on it. And now this lady was smiling as though me visiting her country was the most honourable thing that had ever happened to her (of course it wasn’t).

She politely asked me if I came alone, and what was the nature of my visit. I answered everything frankly and courteously, and provided my landing card which included my cousin’s home address in London. The cheerful lady inquired a little more about where I intend visit and stuff and that was it! I was in!

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Although it wasn’t snowing, I had been constantly told by my mum and dad to wear more clothes and stuff cuz I was probably gonna freeze to death. I didn’t believe them. The temperature was around 1-4°C, which I thought was nothing since it was even hotter than my refrigerator – and I loved sticking my head into the freezer. Since I had not died in the freezer, I would not die in this weather too, I reasoned.

Wearing nothing more than the usual attire that I wear to Toastmasters meetings in MMU, I stepped out of the airport into the February weather.

I almost died.

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I discovered that the chilly late-winter weather was not to be compared with an LG refrigerator – refrigerators cannot accommodate my whole body, and freezers don’t blast ferocious winds to your face. I quickly retreated back into the airport, and put on the huge balloon-like jacket that I had brought but sworn not to use.

Since Shuyi stayed in Hertfordshire, which is approximately 40KM north of London, we took a coach from the airport. The coach’s company name is National Express, and the driver treated us with utmost politeness. Checking our tickets, helping us with the luggage and stuff… all done cheerfully and happily! The coach seats were also in perfect condition (almost brand new), with security pamphlets just like those on airplanes! There was also a very friendly and funny security briefing to the passengers (although there were only 4 on board including us), and the smiles and jolliness that the driver exhibited would probably be ignored as insanity on any express buses back in Malaysia.

Hertfordshire’s county coat-of-arms has two cute Rudolfs!

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After staying in Hatfield for two days and fully recovered from the exhaustion of having been deprived of any sleep for the past 36 hours, we headed to London. Actually the London-KL time difference wasn’t that bad. The good thing about living a student’s lifestyle, you know – sleeping at 5AM and waking up at 1PM – is that I was spared of any jet lag during the entire journey. (Coz 5AM in KL = 10PM in London = sleeping timeOpen-mouthed smile)

When we arrived in London, we first checked into the place that we would be staying for the next five days.

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Located in central London, our studio is just adjacent to Tottenham Court Road, and extremely close to the British Museum and the prestigious University College London.  It was a very nice and comfortable double room with its own bathroom and kitchen!

The kitchen was probably the best part of the deal.

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With a fridge, oven, electric kettle, microwave oven and stoves, we could open a mini-restaurant here! Did I mention that pots, frying pans, plates, glasses and all kitchen utensils and eating cutlery were also provided? Open-mouthed smile

My cousin David came to London from Oxford (the university! Surprised smile) on the same day so we arranged a meet up.

Here’s David, Shuyi, me and Christina – a ‘friend’ and colleague of David’s at Oxford.

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After lunch, we were brought on sort of a spontaneous tour along the River Thames. On the way we stopped by the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, both of which are located at the iconic Trafalgar Square.

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Strolling along the south bank of the River Thames, we reached the Shakespeare’s Globe, which is a faithful reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre built by William Shakespeare’s Playing Company back in the 16th century.

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The original Globe Theatre, which was burnt down by an accident with a live cannon while performing Shakespeare’s Henry VIII in 1613, was located just several hundred meters from the new, reconstructed one.

I think William Shakespeare’s awesomeness doesn’t strike us typical Malaysians much because not even one Shakespearean play was taught in our national schools’ English Literature syllabus. As I recall, the only Shakespeare’s work included in our syllabus was Sonnet 18, you know, the “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” thingy? That was the only one! Or did I not pay attention in class?

I think the ultra-conservative Malaysian government would probably ban even Sonnet 18 if they found out that scholars now are suggesting that Shakespeare’s Sonnets may carry a hint of homosexuality… but ahhh yes, they are probably currently too preoccupied fussing over a certain politician’s sexual orientation.

Anyway, next up is the Millennium bridge.

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Looks familiar? Yes it does. Because it is the bridge that was destroyed by the Death Eaters in the 6th Harry Potter movie.

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Walking on the bridge made me feel that I might be attacked by Lucius Malfoy and a bunch of smoke-trailing death eaters coercing me to join their cause, which I would be more than glad to comply. 🙂

Crossing the Thames on the Millennium bridge led us straight to St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of the most iconic structures of London.

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This cathedral was built in the 17th century but like many other really old cathedrals, several other St. Paul’s-es were built on the very same site and in this case, the first St. Paul’s was built back in the early 7th century – that’s a millennium before this one was built!

Awesomeness!

The next morning, we visited one of the most popular public places in London – Piccadilly Circus.

While there are absolutely no circus elephants and clowns in this area, Piccadilly Circus (‘circus’ meaning circle in Latin) is one of those places where locals lepak and tourists must drop by for a picture.

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Adjacent to Piccadilly Circus is Leicester Square, where you can get great deals on tickets for West End theatre performances! London’s West End, along with New York’s Broadway, is generally accepted to be world’s highest standard of commercial theatre!

It would be an absolute shame to visit London and not watch one of West End’s theatre performances. Featuring extremely talented performers singing and acting to the music from a live orchestra in a beautiful old theatre building… Yay!

There were so many performances but we chose a classic one. Smile

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Our tickets cost £64 in total, about RM300. But this was already a bargain ticket, which was cheaper than the original price. Original-priced tickets can go up to £78 per ticket!

Theatre performances do not change as regularly as films in cinemas do. For example, this Phantom of the Opera performance has been performing at Her Majesty’s Theatre for 24 years.

Other performances like Mamma Mia! at the Prince of Wales Theatre has been on show for 11 years, and The Mousetrap at St. Martin’s Theatre has been on performance for 58 years! Surprised smile I mean, actors can spend their whole careers in one theatre!

We spent the afternoon walking along the streets and taking a lot of pictures. I cannot possibly put up pictures of every single place that we’ve visited but Harrods definitely deserves a mention!

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Famous for once being the shopping place for the royal family, including the Queen, Harrods is also one of the few department stores in the world with a dress code.

Apparently, the royal family gradually stopped shopping at Harrods after Mohammad Al Fayed bought over the store in 1985. The royal family was also apparently furious at the owner after he accused the them of plotting a conspiracy that led to his son, Dodi Fayed’s death with Princess Diana in the infamous 1997 Paris car crash.

But enough history, this majestic structure itself deserves awe. Hehe although we didn’t bother to check out the price tags inside, at least we’ve been here!

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I reckoned that having lunch in Harrods was probably a bad idea since I do not have a queen’s salary. So we had our lunch at a restaurant across the street.

The thing about British restaurants is that they always have this very wide smile on their waitresses’ face and almost suspiciously polite service. I guess this is what happens when there is no service charge unlike certain countries where tips are automatically counted and do not need to be earned.

The food was nice!

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Even the prawn shell + other inedible rubbish could be made into another decorative dish!

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In the afternoon we visited one of the most exclusively cultural parts of London, nicknamed Albertopolis, in South Kensington. This place is home to three of the most famous museums in England – Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Science Museum – as well other world-famous institutions like the Royal College of Music, Imperial College London, and Royal Albert Hall.

Although the Natural History Museum is probably the most famous of the three museums, and I had been longing to check out its dinosaur fossil collection, we did not visit it on the second day because of its preposterously long queue!

It was kinda unfortunate that my visit to London coincided with their national school holidays. So these attractions were understandably jam-packed by kids from family outings and school field trips!

Regardless, we visited the V&A museum:

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Named after Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, the V&A is the largest museum of decorative arts and design in the world.

From colourful stained glass…

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to towering sculptures…

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to delicate glass ornaments…

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I am no artistic man, and I have no special talent in spotting the intricate specialties in artwork, you know, stuff that will make your designer friend go ‘wooooooooooooooow’ and start rambling about the excellent tone and perfect texture etc, but I can tell that this is rare stuff – stuff that you can’t afford in your house. Open-mouthed smile

Next, we proceeded to the Science Museum. My kind of stuff.

I’ve actually forgotten to take any photos inside the Science Museum. But I can clearly remember one of the exhibitions was a working example of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine! Dunno what it is? Check back your Theory of Computing history textbook. Nerd smile

One thing odd that I’ve noticed though, compare, say, the grand entrance of the V&A museum:

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… the ultra-majestic, palace-like entrance of the Natural History Museum:

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… the classical Pantheon-like entrance of the British Museum…

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aaaaaaand… the 7-eleven convenience-store-like, puny little entrance of the Science Museum:

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Notice that there is actually a blurry sign on top saying ‘Science Museum’… Come on lah! Confused smile While England is famous for its history and culture, the UK also has also produced the second greatest number of Nobel Prize Laureates in the world! Surely the Science Museum entrance deserves some renovation? Sad smile

Hehe anyways, we arrived at Her Majesty’s Theatre at night for the show.

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The exterior lighting makes the theatre building look either magnificently gothic or simply haunted-looking.

But the interior was pleasantly comfortable. There were three levels (or ‘circles’) in total and the stage was fantastically propped.

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Maybe it is because this was the first time I watched a West End theatre performance, but I cannot adequately express how much in love I was with the skill, professionalism and showmanship of the performers! (Sorry no pictures!)

This Phantom of the Opera performance was extremely faithful to the novel and the music from the live orchestra was absolutely breath-taking. After a combination of heavenly singing, fancy costumes, fiery torches, magical illusions, and a gigantic chandelier hurtling towards the stage from above our heads… *gasps* Many of the audience were teary-eyed during the final standing ovation.

It was good. Damn good. This you have to take it from me. Winking smile

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This entry is getting way too long for a regular blog entry, so I’m splitting it into two parts. Part two of this travel log can be found here.

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By James Chow

Protected: End of Semester Rambling Post

It is the end of my last ever long semester in my undergraduate life!

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As I have stated earlier, I am now in the midst of doing my final year project, which is basically my undergraduate thesis, and have been camping in our lab for the past 14 weeks.

Naturally, given the comfortable environment of our lab, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in campus. Smile

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Speaking of my final year project, it came to me as a dismaying shock when I realized, after calculating my estimated CGPA, that I can achieve my goal of graduating with 3.50 ONLY IF I scored A’s in ALL FOUR SUBJECTS taken this semester, AND the 3-subject-equivalent Final Year Subject.

If you look at it carefully, that is almost an impossible task. Scoring A’s for final year subjects are never easy, but scoring an A for a final year project is almost unheard off. My FYP supervisor, for instance, has told me that he has never given a student an ‘A’ before. Sad smile

So How???

Anyway, moving on to happier topics… Remember Prof. Riekert? He’s here to visit us again!

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The kind professor from Stuttgart Media University has come to pay our faculty another annual visit (as part of his job as external examiner for our major), and wanted to meet up with us, the Cameron Highlands trip group, again!

We have some really ambitious plans to visit the professor some time in the future in Germany! Let’s see when this can become reality!

In the meantime, I am stuck with my final year project, which, although interesting, is also extremely stressful.

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Just given my part 1 presentation a couple of weeks ago, hopefully my supervisor and moderator liked it! This presentation accounts for 20% of the entire project’s marks, and is CRITICAL that I get as high as possible if I am aiming for the impossible goal of getting an ‘A’.

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Ahaha, another piece of news… I am going to the UK for 2 weeks at the end of this month! Smile Yay!

Updates after I come back.

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By James Chow

Protected: MMU Toastmasters Mid-term Progress Review

It’s been exactly six-months since I’ve been appointed president of our beloved club, so it’s time for a mid-term review of the progress that we’ve been making so far.

(Note: For those who do not know what Toastmasters is, we are a worldwide network of public speaking clubs. We do not make toasts.)

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At the beginning of the term, we saw three key areas of improvement and set out three specific goals to be achieved by the end of the 1-year term:

1)  The club has never achieved any awards beyond the Distinguished Club award which was achieved back in 2006. Our goal this year is to, for the first time, achieve the President’s Distinguished Club award – the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a club by Toastmasters International. This award recognizes educational and managerial standards achieved by the club.

2) Members are key to the club’s educational capacity and the membership was at unhealthy levels. Our goal is to triple the number of active and paying members in the club by the end of the year.

3) Members were losing enthusiasm from overly procedure-bound meetings and there was a lack of bonding among committees and ordinary members. Our goal is to achieve a sense of deep fellowship and bonding among members and promote livelier and more enjoyable meetings.

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So while the first two goals are quantitative and specific, the third goal is qualitative and subjective. But it doesn’t matter, this is what the new committee believe is necessary for the club.

Assessment:

1) The club has achieved 6 of the 9 goals necessary to achieve the President’s Distinguished Club award. That’s more than half way there! Open-mouthed smile

2) Membership growth is 80% as of this month, which is still quite far from the targeted 200%. Sad smile

3) I think the energy among members is much higher now. YAY! I love it that certain members like to joke around during meetings and that certainly improves participation from the other (more passive) members. Members also start to actively compete for speech slots, which is always a good sign! And…. It’s great that the regular post-meeting mamak supper culture that I tried to cultivate earlier this term is turning out fantastic! Members and committee members bonded well during these casual sessions.

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In addition to that, we are having great collaborative meetings with Shell, Dell and DHL Toastmasters clubs, who are always helpful and supportive!

Six more months to go… And we’re there! Smile

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