Sometime in the beginning of Fall, ViralBoy invited me to go to Cambridge where he is currently in his last year of his PhD project because it was the beginning of term and all the different colleges were having their first formal dinner of the school year. I had already been in the City for a couple of weeks and was looking for some time out so I accepted the invitation readily. But then again, the fashion-anxious side of me got me all into a frenzy on that thursday afternoon before going because I spent pretty much the whole day looking for an appropriate dress to buy. I searched all the thrift stores, and finally ended up with two dresses from Oasis and Accessorize. Which I promptly returned when I got back from Cambridge. Honestly, £100 for a dress. *faint* It was just the rush though, of looking for a dress and buying it. But my bank account can’t afford it, and so back it goes.
Anyway, I took a train on Fri morning (guess who skipped stats?) and was in Cambridge by early Fri afternoon. The good doctor was still in his lab working on his gels so I walked around Cambridge by myself. I believe that was the weekend that they were holding elections for the Chancellor seat so all the different faculty members were walking into some kind of holding area, in their Cambridge robes, just to vote! It was eye opening. I’m going to guess that if any of the institutions that I have been a part of allowed their faculty to choose their board of directors, or the President of the college, no one would be wearing their robes. Those robes only come out once a year for graduation, if even. The number of faculty attending graduation is rather shameful.
And like most parts of London, there was an open air market in the square. This aspect of English life most closely resembles life back home for me, I think. All the various flea markets, open air markets with the stalls selling various produce. I was expecting them to close once the cold air set in, but the store owners are very resilient. I’m sure that there must be some form of licensing to regulate the stall owners like they do in Singapore but I never did see the license displayed anywhere so sometimes I feel a little weird-ed out to be buying food from them. Thankfully, I have the infamous Asian Iron Stomach and my stomach can take quite a bit of abuse. Sometimes I think that is possibly one of the reasons why Asians have a higher rate of stomach cancer than other racial groups!
One of the key differences between american universities and the UK universities is that the UK universities are divided up into different colleges. From what I can gather, that determines the tutorial groups that you are in, as well as your academic advisor. Most of the colleges will offer the same major but each college functions as its own unit. I know, it boggles my mind too. At first I thought maybe its an institutionalized form of a fraternity house. But according to the ViralBoy, he says that the college you are in can also determine which dormitories you end up in. And in the past, some of the colleges were single-sexed, and I think Clare college was the first one in Cambridge to be co-ed. I think college in the US has taken on the universal meaning of university. After 13 years of being there, I don’t call university uni, I call it college. It always causes some confusion at home because when we say college in Singapore, people automatically assume that you are talking about junior college. Culture headache anyone?
Oh, and get this; because every college is its own entity, they all have their own chapels and the biggest and most impressive of them all is the one in King’s College. Its the one where Henry VIII had his initials carved into chapel organ with those of Anne Boleyn! Talk about everlasting love *cough* Or perhaps an everlasting memory of the mistakes you’ve made in life!
Jokes aside, one of the favorite parts of the chapel, for me anyway, is the organ. Its massive. And gorgeous. And magnificent. I can alsmost imagine the gorgeous music that comes from it. I only wish I had enough time to stay one more night to attend evensong on Sunday. And just look at the amazing arches on the roof top. Its absolutely beautiful. It boggles my mind everytime I visit these old chapels and churches at how they managed to build such magnificent places with the technology that they had. Given the knowledge and the resources that we have now, one would think that we would be able to create beautiful buildings too. Instead, we are all focused on building the next tallest building, with, in my opinion, very little attention paid to the beauty of the building, and how it will change the landscape that it will belong to once it is built.
I know its been a couple of months since I was there, so this post is definitely a bit late. But I do remember it as being one of my favorite weekends here in the UK. The weather was beautiful, and I managed to meet up with a new friend. I discovered more about him that weekend, then in the months that we had spent together living in the same building. The formal dinner went well, and it was as “Harry Potter Style” as he had promised. The one thing I regret was not taking a picture of him in his Cambridge finery! Or even of the proceedings. There were a lot of guests there, but an equally impressive number of students who showed up for dinner in their robes. And prayers were said in Latin before the start of dinner. I don’t even think the nuns in my school say prayers before lunch. I think we used to have to stand at attention in the field after lunch for prayers before heading back to class. But it was a Hail Mary and said in English. It kind of almost made me wish I had learnt Latin in school.
One of the strangest sights I had the pleasure of seeing was that of a praying mantis on a clock. I’m not sure exactly what the significance of it was, other than that it was cool. Maybe its a statement relating to Kafka? ViralBoy also took me to the bar where the structure of DNA was worked out. Going there was as gratifying as trying to find the John Snow pub. Its paying tribute to the History of Science.