Food Paradise Awaits Westminster Students

A pizza with pieces of chicken that tasted like a rotten French fry” and “jacket potatoes that are as wonderful as a piece of cardboard”. 

These are some student thoughts on the dishes you’ll find in the University of Westminster Harrow Campus Canteen. As a campus canteen, perhaps the best and only good thing about it is that it’s easily accessible to students. While it offers many large tables for your groups of friends, the tables are pure grime and you won’t exit the place smelling any better either.

As soon as the lunch break starts, make a sprint for the canteen to avoid the horrendous queue. It’ll take you barely a minute to scope out the options of salads, soups and mains. While there are vegetarian options, expect to find the same vegetables and rice every single day.  For all of you carnivores out there, chicken and fish taste about the same as your beans and potatoes.

And if you want ketchup with your chips, that may or may not be available on any given day, don’t hold your breath… you’ll get one small packet, if you’re lucky. A second packet will cost you. Good luck finding a dry tray or a fork for that matter. The next time you dig your plastic spoon into a potato, use two, because they’ll break.

Should you need a bathroom break, hold it unless you want to take a hike to find it. If you want to evade their horrible options, you’re free to bring your own lunch, but pack up 20p to heat them up in the only microwave down the other side of the corridor.

The only saving grace is that they serve food for only 1 hour a day – yes, that is the only time you can find food in this campus canteen that caters to thousands of students. Other than that, a Costa in the corner of the canteen may save you from starving your way through higher education.

To our lovely canteen, we give you 1 bright star!

Sincerely,

Your starved students

A group work from class (Credits to Alexa, Petra, Jada, Elisa and Boryana)

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The life of a butchered name

…is my name – and boy, has it had a whirlwind of adventures in its 25 years of existence. It’s been tossed into a linguistic grinder , verbally chopped and phonetically dissected to create possibly the most interesting sounds ever. 

I will have gotten your lips moving by now in your own attempt. No worries though, you won’t be the first.

From Ding Dong to All Wrong  

First day of 3rd grade, Mrs. Wainwright called the roll as her eyes glanced around our circle of 15 to fit the names with the faces. Each time a person’s name was read, the whole class would say in unison “Hi…” Kevin or Alice or John.

It was finally my turn and it’s still somehow engrained in the back of my mind, her knitted brows and the perplexed expression on her face as she hesitantly uttered “Dong?“.

Zuh-ong“, I replied , to which her face wrinkled up even more so, before stretching out to smile : “How about we call you by an English name, yes? How’s Jen or Jenny?” (what my classmate told me a year later)

You must understand, I was 8 at the time, I had been studying French the 2 years before and hadn’t a word of English in my head besides “Hi”.  And so I did what a lost person would do, NOD.

Only a second later, I realized what a huge mistake I had made, as the whole class shouted “Hi Jenny!

From Jenny to Jo – to Yoyo ! 

I still and forever will have sour memories of that name “Jenny”. By the time I was equipped with enough English to fend for myself, the damage had been done. Throughout the next years, I gave in to the “Jenny” stipulation, by doing the worst, introducing myself by that name. 

By high school, I was back in the States again and it was the perfect turning point to sack the name and begin anew. I even added a “z” turning my name into Dzuong, hoping it would somehow smooth out  the concerned brows.

The already-formed cliques of rebellious teenagers couldn’t give a beeswax about what Dzuong is and so the butchering began. You had everything from the coarse “Ding Dong”, to the softer “Zong” and “Zu” , and even “Zuzu”.  And, of course my AP Physics teacher, who just insisted on calling me “Jo“, to which some caught on and called me “Yoyo” -yes, like the toy.

It was a linguistic nightmare, and yes, I’ve sank to low points where I wished my name was just a plain and readable one.

Growing out the nickname phase

The college days were much kinder to my name. The poor thing had suffered enough and was in a such a tattered state, that it was shocked to meet people genuinely interested in getting it right.

My first dance performance freshmen year, I remember almost tripping over my next step, hearing a stark “Go ZUH-ONG!!!!! ” amidst the crowd. That was it, another turning point – the perfect time to grow out of the nickname phase.

Vietnamese explained

In Vietnamese, there are 2 “D” s in the alphabet and no “Z” s:

You have:  Đ which is pronounced like an English D 

          and:  D which is pronounced like an English Z 

Hence, my name!

I don’t really blame people for getting it wrong though. It’s a tough nut to crack even for Vietnamese, especially children. They usually say “Dua” or “Zuh” instead, which means Melon. There’s another one to my nickname collection. And I haven’t even started on the accents, Duong in Vietnamese is written like this: Dương.

The farthest thing from being unique

Both my parents’ names begin with D. They were pressed in a weird, perfectionist way to name their first child with a D word as well. My mom described the moment of an angry nurse tapping a pen on the side of the bed: “Either you give me a name now, or I’ll name your child for you on the birth certificate, hurry up” (That’s just how you were treated back in those food ration days in Vietnam) 

Unfortunate for me, it was the decade of hundreds of Vietnamese graduates coming back from the former Soviet Union, and everyone was naming their daughters : Thùy Dương , which means Russian Willow.

And so, with seconds and a pissed-off nurse to go, I was hastily named Duong, along with probably the tens of thousands of babies born that year. Needless to say, virtually every Vietnamese class I’ve been in, there has been another Duong if not 4 more. Along with the diverse array up there, for the teacher’s convenience, I’ve also been called Duong A and Duong B, or Duong number 1 and Duong number 3.

I started a part-time job in a Vietnamese restaurant here in London the other day, and what do you reckon, there were 2 other “Duong”s. And yes, the nicknaming has commenced again. The manager insisted and you’ll have to come to the resto to find out what it is (shameless advertisement)

This post is getting way too narcissistic, but to end it off and just to set the record straight once and for all: My name is Duong (pronounced Zuh-Ong)./.

Fun fact: my first dog – a German shepherd – was named Dim, to carry on the D-family tradition.

The invasion of the poppies – Remembrance Day in London

Memorial alongside the Thames

Big Ben’s hands struck 11, its chimes cutting through the dead silent air of Westminster. It’s not uncommon to see thousands of people surrounding this London landmark, but very much so to witness the entire square fall silent in unison for 2 minutes. 

This morning, I stood amidst the sea of people, near to the foot of Big Ben, unaware of the fact that just 300 meters away, the Queen herself, was leading the procession of people, laying down a wreath to commemorate Remembrance Day 2012.

Remembrance or Armistice Day (Nov 11th) has been celebrated across many parts of the world since the end of the First World War and in the UK, serves as a day to commemorate servicemen and women killed in war since 1914. 

The Remembrance Poppy

The invasion of the poppies

It all started in mid-October, when I began to notice little red flowers, like the one above, popping up everywhere across London. They came in different forms and sizes: most of time, in paper, and clipped on people’s vests; other times,  plastered on the last car of the tube, on a flag in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and virtually on every single major public figure and reporter in the news.

These flowers, I would come to learn, are known as Remembrance Poppies. Americans first used the symbol in 1920 to commemorate their fallen soldiers during World War I.

While I have never heard of or seen the poppies used in the States, by sheer observance here in London, the flowers are significantly more popular in the UK (and according to Google, also Canada).

Poppy Appeal – Poppy Fascism? 

The poppies owe their popularity perhaps to the Royal British Legion, who sell the paper flowers each year in a campaign to support those who have served the British Armed Forces and their families – known as the Poppy Appeal.

In 2011, a popular news presenter by the name of Jon Snow coined the term “poppy fascism” – sparking a debate about how the poppy appeal had become a social judgment call. News presenters like Mr. Snow, particularly on BBC, are all encouraged to wear poppies running up to the Remembrance Day, and people raised speculations of how the presence or lack of a poppy measured a politician’s or a person’s level of patriotism.

Poppies were also encouraged in workplaces – to which Snow and other critics say represents almost an enforcement of a feeling that should be voluntary, hence the term “poppy fascism”. 

Poppy State of Mind

And yet, the thing about critics like this, in my opinion, is that once they’re thrown into the air, they become this unnecessarily cynical angle to a tradition that is supposedly very simple and not to mention, for a good cause.

 I experienced a good hour of squeezing my way through the hundreds and perhaps, beyond my vision, thousands of people in London, who headed out to Westminster, on a Sunday morning, proudly sporting their poppies, and red-toned accessories,their expressions sombre, and their eyes gazing distantly during the 2 minutes of silence.

For me, there’s no better proof of how much the Remembrance Day means to people here and how it has brought them together. 

———————

It was so crowded and most of those around were taller than me, so no good pictures of the parade of uniform servicemen and women, and of course, nowhere near to the Queen, but you can read and watch more HERE.

Poppy wreaths at a memorial site alongside the Thames

 

US Elections Paint British News Red and Blue

Donkey and Elephant Caricature by Donkey Hotey ( http://donkeyhotey.wordpress.com/)
Donkey and Elephant Caricature by Donkey Hotey ( http://donkeyhotey.wordpress.com/)

4 years ago, at this exact time, I remember being in Massachusetts, huddling around a basement TV with half of the campus dorm, clutching our knees in anticipation, as the blues and reds began to spread across the CNN digital map. Never had I imagine, that by the next election, I’d be in London and that interestingly enough, that the spirit of the election would be no less evident in the British media. 

The US Election Night special on BBC just began 2 minutes ago, with a panel of mostly British political experts analyzing the every inch of the polls, British correspondents reporting in from all of the swing states, as well as Washington DC and Chicago. It’s overwhelming.

The US elections, to my surprise, have dominated the headlines, and running order of most popular TV, online and radio programs here on the other side of the Atlantic. Everything from BBC to the free Metro handouts, Obama and Romney’s faces have been plastered to the very front, angles taken to cover the elections as many as the stars in the American flag.

A love/hate relationship? 

For a country and a people who are stereotypically known as being cynical of Americans, constantly accusing their Anglophone counterparts of butchering their prized British English language, the UK, or at least, its media is particularly interested in its former colony’s Presidential elections.

I mean, to be honest, you’d be lucky to see a trace of the Tories or Liberal Dems of the UK in the States’ television. I came home to see my flatmate tuning into the BBC Special: US Election Day, on a live two-way with Washington DC.

She turned to me:

– “I really hope Obama wins
“Why would the UK be so interested in a presidential election an ocean away?”
It’s the US, the British may act like they hate Americans, but they couldn’t be more curious

Meanwhile, Jeremy Paxman on NewsNight (more or less the British equivalent to Larry King on Late Night) stressed that this election is “crucial”  and that whoever would be the next leader could affect the “entire West” . 

So while it may overall still seem that Brits have a hypocritical eye on the Americans (another whole post on my debate against that), the other eye is a highly keen and curious one.

My sense is that, it’s the US, one of the most influential countries in the world, economically the most powerful. Entertainment wise, Hollywood dominates the world. Considering its past relationship with the US, as much as the UK would like to stay aloof, it is still very much eager to be updated with the American lot.

Blue-draped morning too blue? 

4 years ago, as the last swing state turned blue, I thought I was going to go deaf from the screams and screech that a women’s college of 2,100 would render you. I remember looking out the window, to see a girl on a tree, another topless, and a conga line of blue-faced people chanting OBAMA.

Will it be a blue-draped morning again? I won’t get into too much about my political preference for the US , but let’s just say, having been 4 years in Massachusetts, on one of the most liberal campuses of the US, I know not one soul who is voting for Romney. My facebook feed is as blue as a blue jay gets.

Much of the media that I’ve tuned into in the UK have tried to cover both sides, but there is an overall slightly sharper edge on Obama, with more discussion into how the President has or has not lived up to his voters 4 years ago, even celebrity sound bites supporting him. Whether this is because Obama is an incumbent more known to the public or there is a preference towards him can be tossed into the air.

Nevertheless, for me, this election has become less the cause and more the campaign, proven the most expensive amid the US facing still an economic downturn, jobless graduates, the poor still worst off. As hip as Jay Z and Bruce Springsteen gracing the campaign trail, as wonderful for many as a blue-draped morning may be, this whole election has become a collective of expensive stunts and grandiose words uncertain of holding truth, and more importantly, action.

[UK] East End – London’s Street Art Hub

What is it that pops into your mind at the mention of : “London” ?

It might be the iconic Big Ben, the Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, the abundant museums, the Thames river, the immobile Queen’s guards, or the many red double-deckers that dot the streets.Quite shamefully, I have yet to truly discover any of these and after 6 weeks of being here, today was the first time, I actually caught a glimpse of Big Ben.

This past weekend, nevertheless, I finally embarked on a touristic attempt : taking a tour. This wasn’t your conventional double decker sight-seeing tour, but an aptly and appealingly named package called “The Alternative London Walking Tour . A 2- hour walk on a pay-what-you-like basis, this tour won’t bring you through the regal city centre  , but instead,  will weave you through the lesser-seen backstreets of London’s East End.

Here boasts one of the most vibrant and diverse street art scenes in the world

It serves as an urban canvas for famous artists like Banksy and Ben Eine. The tour guide (pictured above), a graffiti artist himself, leads our group of 15 through street branches and alleyways off of Brick Lane – the prominent vein of East End.

You might think of street art as the hiphop culture-inspired type of modern graffiti. In Vietnam, I know that many consider it vandalism and the farthest thing from being art. But London’s East End, opening its wall (legally) to the imagination of many, offers so much more than just graffiti and perhaps, even redefines the concept of graffiti altogether. Its walls are plastered with everything from detailed fine-art masterpieces to massive stick figures, using every artistic influences you could possibly think of: spray-paint  cubism, stencil art, …mere scribbles! It is an urban gallery and for me personally, as visually engaging and even at times more exciting than a stroll through an actual museum.

Our artist tour guide noted something very fascinating to me, and that is, East End is an open gallery, in every sense of the word. It’s open to interpretation, it’s open to the simplest to the wildest of ideas, and it’s even open to modification. Once you set your art onto the streets, it’s for the world to ponder on, love, hate and even change.

This neighborhood, the guide shares, owns its bustling and multi-faceted nature to a history dotted with different waves of immigration.The French Huguenots first came in 1650, commencing a lively textile and crafts industry in the area. 200 years later, the industry would be inherited shortly by the Irish and then prominently by Ashkenazi Jews. The end of the World War II era saw the British government opening up its immigration policy as a revival tactic, through which Brick Lane became home to generations of Bangladeshis until now.

Fun fact: Brick Lane is curry capital of the UK, with a total of 52 curry shops on a single street.

The Brick Lane Jamme Masjid mosque on the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane is perhaps the most concrete proof of the area’s diverse history, being the only building in the world that has, in its history, been a protestant church, a Wesleyan chapel, a Methodist chapel, a synagogue and now a mosque.

A multi-cultural centre of communities developing and struggling through their settlements in the UK, the streets here in East End, by the 80s amd 90s, had become a space of expression, where generations of people addressed their feelings, discontent or the social challenges they face in society – with the most obvious being issues of racism and discrimination. From being an outlet of social stress, it now has been branded as an artistic venue – where street artists from all over the world, inspired by their urban environments, come to play.

It was an overall visual treat and a tour that, more or less, revealed the backside of London’s portrait – a side less common to the world, you could say. On a side note, it did take place on one of the coldest days I have experienced in London of yet and we had to give up 2/3 of the way after walking  in the painstakingly rainy and humid cold for over an hour.  I’ll save  more on the tour in our next attempt in the spring and also the amazing vintage markets and gastronomical variety in the area for another post. For now, I leave you with some snapshots of East End’s colorful street art. Enjoy!

[UK] Eat your heart out!

***This post contains some notions and photos that may be offensive and downright gross to some. Please be advised!

I mean, really, if you wanted to, you could literally “eat your heart out”.

A cake exhibition of the same name in London this weekend enticed me by the word “cake” alone, but that was well before I knew that along with the “heart”, i could add to the delectable batch, anything from fingers, brains, feces, and oh of course, the occasional STD warts.

Grossed out? Continue to read, you should not – because this is the farthest thing done to the notion of “cakes” from what you could ever possibly fathom: A bakery showcase inspired by human diseases! The above picture is only the beginning, and yes, it’s all EDIBLE. If you can stomach this, then let’s get anatomical *_*!!!

This is definitely where you should be if one lazy Saturday morning, you suddenly have the appetite for some prostate cancer truffles or just fancy a sip of urine sample and quick breakfast with blood marmalade drizzled on toast. The gruesome showcase, in its second year here in London, is the fruit of Miss Cakehead (aka Emma Thomas) – a PR manager known across UK for her provocative food creations.

To top it off, the showcase unraveled in the Pathology Museum of St.Bart’s Hospital – possibly the last place on earth to work up an appetite, considering the endless jars of actual, donated body parts around you. Aptly situated for the theme, you could say, but definitely not the candy my eyes were hoping for.

Once you can get past the squeamish effects of the 2nd or 3rd cupcake adorned with moles, chlamydia, and genital warts, you truly start to appreciate the craftsmanship behind some of these creations – sugar spinning body parts and the most grotesque of diseases into an artform. Beyond the shock of it all, it’s an event aimed to provoke and educate. I would sum the message up as : “You are what you eat“. If eating some chocolate cigarette butts and a blackened lung doesn’t get you to think twice about your next drag,  then well, I guess…you have a pretty tough stomach 😀

And perhaps the most curious bit of all, did I try any?  Because I think to myself everyday, “yummm, syphilis cupcakes!!“, lol. Well, I don’t really have a sweet tooth and I do have a knack for eating with my eyes, so I wasn’t exactly free of all reservations. I did, however, give in to curiosity in the end. All creations were being sold with funds going to charity supporting the treatment and research into the portrayed diseases. You had an anatomical chocolate cake selling at £350 but considering our modest student pockets, we opted for the £3 “fecal samples” and the £2 “kidney” macaron.

Let me just say: sh*t has never tasted so good *_*!

Here are a couple of snaps from the exhibition, I would advise you to not press your nose against this one.

Blood Marmalade – Drizzle as desired!
Chocolate cigarette butts and ash and lung cancer cookie
STD cupcakes – come and get ’em!
mmm…made from white and milk chocolate…<3
Venus vs. Mars : The Pathology of a Breast Cupcake and Prostate Cancer Truffles
Human anatomy chocolate cake, the head alone is £350
Elisa, Marie, and Wendy with Chocolate Fecal Samples and Kidney Macaron

*NOTE: I just found out that an exhibition of the same concept took place in London in early October, but with meat and it was to promote Resident Evil – it was called the Human Flesh Meat Market , Sweeney Todd much? so you can decide if it’s too gruesome before checking it out here! Enjoy!

[UK] 4th week in London – Of Blogging and British Weather

A spin of my earlier blogs on this site and you will have learned a bit or so about the nature of my blogging habits – frequently sporadic (total irony, that pairing of words) and full of rants. With each new adventure, each turning around life’s little corners, I promised myself that I would record it to justice, somehow stretch the excitement and memories of those experiences well beyond the boundaries of my own mind. And of course, life got in the way or more so my laziness, and vulnerability to useless distractions.

Would London be any different? It does certainly promise higher prospects considering I’m being monitored by my course on personal blog updates. And yes, I haven’t blogged for 9 days, I promise I’ll make up for it. But beyond the mandatory nature of it all, I simply hope to live up to my desire of capturing this one year, as often as possible. That said, being in a journalism course renders you more aware of what you’re writing and you can’t help but think that everything you’re professing, click-clacking away on the keyboard is being more scrutinized. And so, the already procrastination-ridden me, adding the increased self-consciousness levels do not make it exactly as easy and carefree to “Publish Post” as it had been before. It’s all part of the learning process and a challenge that I gladly welcome and accept.

I also blame it all on the weather – the “bloody” capricious state of the British weather- yes it’s the scapegoat for my laziness ^^ and my helpless need to mutter “I’m exhausted” every 20′ either in my head or out loud . But honestly, make up your mind already, will ya? You were practically radiating sunshine, warmth and glory just now, and a breeze and two minutes later, you turn into this little monster, spewing out   cold gushes of wind and depressing rain, casting this eery, shadow of gloominess on us all.

You could tell that at least on one occasion, I’ve sprinted out in a t-shirt and jeans, fully ready to embrace a sun-filled day, only to come home at the end of the day, trembling, with enough water in my shoes to house 2 goldfish.No news in that, another rant about British weather, I know. Only 50 people had convinced me before I even left Vietnam that I should expect all of this and yet, there I was, still naive enough to reckon against the engrained spirit of the British weather.

It’s exciting nevertheless, this struggle to prepare for 4 seasons each and every morning, as I stick my hand out the window, trying to more and less predict the unpredictable. I’ve so far overdressed the past two days and found myself akin to being smothered out of breath in a bear suit sitting on the tube with my down feather, puffy jacket. The umbrella has become a regular resident of my bag, as has the scarf. All of my shoes have failed on me, in my amazing ability to step into every puddle I past by *_*.  So, my next quest will be purchasing a good pair of wellingtons or wellies – rain boots, if you will. And yes, a total face-palmer this one, but I will actually follow up on weather forecasts *Duh!*

4th week running! No part-time job yet , have yet to but will get to writing about car boot and Cambridge visit. Gotta get through with the initial big assignments first this week. Wish me luck!