Tuesday, 29 January 2013

So much to do, so little time...

One of the toughest things for me to realize was how challenging AC is. I know that sounds comedic, especially coming from a girl who used to go to one of “those” international schools (where 90% of the student population was of East Asian descent) where not going to university was cultural suicide and a gap year was for the weak. I’d wake up at 7:30, start school at 8:15, finish school at 3:25, and have track or swim or rugby practice from 3:45 until 5:45. I’d get home at around 6:20, have dinner, go on the computer at 7, go to Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail (yes, in that order), then start my homework. And if I end up not having that much homework, I’d watch a season or two of Grey’s Anatomy or the Big Bang Theory or something like that.

English class was cancelled today, so my first class started at 10:45. I woke up at 8, spent 45 minutes at the gym, and made myself breakfast. I got to the Languages block for French class at 10:44, only to find that the teacher was not there (probably supervising orals or written tasks or some other horrendous assessment that the IB forces its students to do.) I spent the next 45 minutes working on my English homework (Crime and Punishment gets so much less credit from students than it deserves), after which I headed to Economics (where one of my classmates, Driss, was teased three times by the teacher) and, finally, Politics (John Stuart Mill, anybody?).

I finished lunch in 15 minutes (smoked mackerel with a side of, er, quartered tomatoes with balsamic dressing… I hate it when the balsamic vinaigrette touches my freaking mackerel!) and headed back to the house for a half-hour power nap. I’ve started taking these power naps because I have been far too sleep-deprived in the past few days. I went to Llantwit at 2:30, grocery shopped, and got back to the college by 3:15. Did some homework, shopped for Wellies (never buy cheap Wellies – they leak and mud gets into your socks and on your feet and it’s not pleasant.)

I know it might not sound like much – indeed, I haven’t been particularly productive today. But as my Chinese second-year, Donny, said, AC stretches you in different directions and that is infinitely more tiring than the traditional education systems from back home. In China, there was only one direction: straight forward, straight ahead with my academic studies and my futile (and quite embarrassing) attempts to showed that I was all worldly and shit by doing some random community service and going to orphanages even though I absolutely hate little kids (okay, a bit harsh there). Here, there are so many activities to choose from and things to do that there’s room for everybody to be themselves, and to pursue their own interests. I’m not studying or pretending to care – I actually care about the stuff that I do because I choose to do it. Back home, I would think to myself, If I don’t do this, then I am at a disadvantage in the game of college admissions! That is true for the environment over there. But here, the grass is actually greener (literally and metaphorically). There’s so much to do, and so little time. There are people to meet and food to eat (not really.)

Socializing is no longer a “waste of time”, because from each conversation and every interaction, I’ll learn something new about myself, the other person, or about life in general. The Skype IM-ing that I did back home has now been replaced by face-to-face discussions and potlucks in the student house. The problems that I have are no longer superficial – indeed, I feel as though I have no problems now. My classmates are all friends; there’s nobody I despise here. There’s so much more to the world than I would have ever imagined. So much to do, so little time…

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Where's the Beef?! -- Whole30, Day 0

I've been trying this "diet" called the Whole30 Daily. It's not so much a diet as it is a thirty-day transformation of your nutritional intake -- or that's what it's supposed to be, anyway. I've never been able to stick to a diet or any restrictions that I've put on myself in terms of food intake. I blame my lack of "self-discipline" on the amount of exercise (during the "peak" of 2012, I was exercising 3 hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and 2-2.5 hours on the other days.) It was a huge challenge to get accustomed to not exercising at all, really, and accepting the fact that the food here was going to be quite horrible (each student gets 2.37 pounds for all three meals of the day.) I decided to try Whole30 because I realized that a) I basically could have unlimited quantities of a lot of food and b) I get to try out recipes and such.

The bad thing is that the things that I am allowed to eat require quite intense preparation. That is, I have to take out my seasoning and my oil and my ingredients and my meat, heat a pan on the stove and make an omelette. And that's the easiest thing I can do. Which is a lot more difficult that just eating a candy bar, if you know what I mean.

I'm going to try it for another 30 days (the longest I've gone was for 7 days) and really do it right this time. These are my dietary guidelines:
  • No sugar
  • No legumes
  • No grains of any kind of any "pseudo-grains" (such as quinoa)
  • No dairy
Other than that, I can eat anything I want. I want to try not buying groceries for a week, though. I imagine it would save me a lot of time and effort. The only thing is that I would like to make another batch of rice pudding this weekend, so I'll think about it. But for now, one day at a time.

Here's the recipe for my omelette.

Beef and Spinach Omelette
Makes 1 serving.

  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 150g / 5oz ground beef
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Sesame oil (to taste)
  • Spinach (prepared)
  1. Sprinkle an adequate amount of salt and pepper into the beaten eggs, beating them some more until the salt and pepper are distributed well.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl to cover the entirety of the pan, and crumble the ground beef into the skillet. Cook until evenly browned.
  3. Pour the eggs over the beef and swirl so that the egg covers the entire circular bottom of the pan. Wait until the edges begin to set, and sprinkle the cumin all over the egg. Drizzle sesame oil in according to your taste preferences.
  4. When the egg is mostly set around the edges and is beginning to firm up, add a small handful of spinach on one half of the omelette. Let it wilt a little bit. When the egg has mostly settled, check for doneness by lifting up the edge of the omelette. If it has reached a brown color, it is cooked. Fold the omelette in half and serve immediately.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Homesickness, except not really.

It probably doesn’t make much sense to talk about Hong Kong when only two posts ago I was in Hong Kong. I haven’t talked to my parents (or anybody from back home, really) in a week and a half. I suppose that doesn’t sound like much, but being stressed with things that “actually matter” (such as schoolwork… that’s all I can think of at the moment) and not being around those you love is quite a tough environment to be in. The irony is that this stuff has started mattering less and less to me as I spend more and more time at AC. University and seeking higher education are admirable pursuits and I do believe that everybody should aim to earn a university degree.

However, I question the heavy emphasis that has been put on going to a reputable university by my parents. It’s a shame that the only way my relatives (and perhaps even family friends) judge my value is by evaluating which university I attended (those “casual” conversations I have with adults about what college I’m planning on going to, in which they pretend to believe that I have the “potential” of going there when in reality, they’re eyeing me up and down and thinking how is a girl like that supposed to get into a school like this?). Apparently my worth is also going to be measured by the job that I’ll be at. I feel that it is my obligation to make my parents proud; I am one of their biggest investments in life (if not the biggest.) Evidently, they want to be able to say that their daughter went to Harvard/Yale/Oxford/Columbia/Cambridge and is currently pursuing a medical/law/engineering/business degree and/or writing her doctorate thesis on a groundbreaking discovery that will change the course of history.

I jest, I jest. Ultimately, I believe my parents want to be able to say that I have a solid job with a stable (and preferably high) income and am very well-off, living in a metropolitan city and making what they deem to be “good use” of my time.

And here is where my problem arises: Suppose I don’t want to have a “career”. It sounds absolutely ludicrous, but it’s true. I recently stumbled upon a catalogue for the University of Cambridge advertising their department of Modern and Medieval Languages. I would love to pursue a degree in that field (whatever “that field” might be), especially this one where it’s integrated with Middle Eastern Studies – I would choose to study French and Arabic, and hopefully unofficially attend German classes because I have wanted to learn German for a very, very long time. I suppose my ambition to get into that college of Cambridge is sufficient for pleasing my parents in terms of my educational pursuits.
My friend at AC, Clement (born to very liberal Quebecois parents), told me the life story of one of his friends. His friend essentially travelled until he had no money, and when he had no money, set down his things and started working wherever he could find a job. Obviously, in these difficult times, job hunting should be a profession in itself. But I’m not talking about applying to Goldman Sachs or Bloomberg. I’m talking about seeking a humble waitressing job, or becoming a Starbucks barista (they are so underpaid, especially in NYC), or driving buses (I suppose I’ll have to get a driver’s license first). But then, what would my parents say about that? During social gatherings, what are they going to say when someone asks what my job is?

Perhaps I’m becoming too concerned about what people say about me. I’m not so concerned about myself as I am about my parents. I understand that as long as I’m not living off of their income by the time I graduate from college, I’ll be good to go.

Another challenge I would face is to learn how to live frugally. I’ve decided to start doing this at AC… though it’s going to be incredibly difficult. A quick list of things I have decided to get rid of:
  • ·            My duvet covers and bedsheet linen things (I have no idea what they’re called)
  • ·            My faux leather jacket (it’s breaking anyway)
  • ·            My hats (I look absolutely ridiculous in those slouchy knit-hats anyway)

…unfortunately, that’s about all I can think of at the moment. I don’t know how to live frugally – I’ve never had to do it and believe me when I say that if I am limited in terms of food, I start eating everything in sight. My weight has steadily increased over the past six months, but I suppose that’s something I’m willing to sacrifice for the AC experience. Ironically, I feel that my parents don’t understand that it is indeed a huge sacrifice for me to give up sports (especially swimming), which turned out to be such huge forces in my life.

Essentially, AC has made me re-evaluate all the expectations and standards I had set for myself. I don’t know what fruit this term is going to bear, but I really do hope it’ll be sweet.

Here's a picture of the wonderful snow that has descended upon Wales to make you happier.