Wednesday, November 23, 2011


So I went Eurotripping by bus (ala the movie) in August.
 And it was wunderful although it didn’t seem like that at the beginning. 

First this trip was on the cheeappp. 
Secondly, my initial plan was to go for a conference in Italy between the 7th-10th of September but I found the the earliest visa appointment date I could get on the Italian Consular website was Sept 5th (and being Nigerian, you need to add 2 weeks to the normal processing time). So I decided to seek the warm embrace of the Netherlands and hightail it to Italy from there. My classmates had gone there earlier in the year and said it was fun.

I chose to apply for the visa thru the Netherland Consular office in Edinburgh (opportunity for some sightseeing too). 
Your tour guide - Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse palace, Scottish guy in skirts playing bag pipe,  that doll collection  looks like something from a horror movie, Ebony and Ivory (my tour partner)
For all my troubles Netherlands gave me a miserly 3 weeks ending on the 3rd of Sept so no Italy Conference still :(.
You might wonder why i chose to bus it? Initialy i thought it was cheaper (it wasn't!) then I thought driving would enable me appreciate the changing scenery through 4 Western European countries. 
It was supposed to be 12 hr journey (did I hear you say backache??) leaving London Victoria at 8.30 to get to Amsterdam at 8.00pm. Well, we got to Amsterdam at 1.30am. How you wonder? A 5 hr delay in Brussels!! The coach broke down and we had to wait about 3.5 hrs for the replacement then add rain and rush-hour traffic. What was most amazing was that nobody shouted at the driver or complained (you know how we do it in Naija). It was all civilized and understanding. even those who were missing connecting flights. Passengers played with their phones, got up at intervals to stretch their legs, cheerfully gisting with the driver. smh.
My seat mate Tom, a handsome dutch-English budding actor kept me from tearing my hair as we compared cultures and foods.
By the time we arrived at Amstel Station, Amsterdam at 1.30am, the trains had stopped so I couldn’t get to Amsterdam central where my paid hotel accommodation was waiting. Well, I could have taken a taxi but remember I was on a vermicelli thin budget here.
So I sat it out on the comfy leather seats at the bus station
A few inches and that chair would have made a mighty fine bed!
I had 'great' company (not!) in the form of a stout Hungarian-Spanish drunk man Leon, who was trying to solicit me for sex (offered me 50 Euros). Alas he knew little English and I knew no Spanish so it made for an interesting conversation 
Leon: me like you. Gibberish, see money. Me give you. go hotel.
Ginger: You -me no no no –with vigorous hand gesticulations. 
I was miffed cos when I threw him off he went over to this old buxomy woman who can’t be a day under 55. And there I was thinking he was mesmerized by my hawtness, drunk or not.

Morning couldn’t come fast enough. I went to the ladies, cleaned up, changed to jeggings, brushed my teeth and wandered into the city for a mini sight seeing tour.
And I fell in love.
Amsterdam is such a pretty city. You know those ceramic dream like buildings you find on display shelves? It seems they are modeled on Amsterdam buildings. After boring old British houses I loved the rusticity of Amsterdam: the canals, the cruise boats, the bicycles!! Everyone and their mom rode bicycles. I really need to learn how to use that contraption. Its sexy and healthy exercise.
There was something 'Open Sesamish' about the opening and closing of this portion of road. It opens to allow boats pass. 
The Dutch were also a friendly lot. A lot of strangers saying hi and flashing genuine smiles. Within 2 hours of ambling about the streets I had made 4 acquitances who tried to convince me to extend my stay.
Then my phone battery went caput and I couldn’t take any pictures. What!! My new friends directed me to this Coffee shop Popeye to get a drink and get my phone charged. And my eyes really popped. Get a look at their list. Yep It was an authentic weed shop. Even the brownies could get you high.
Nevertheless it was a particularly cosy and friendly shop. I was even invited to share the peace pipe on the house. No can do!! I had this imagery of me being so high that I forget to go back to UK.
Take a look at that Price list and the colorful names for different hemp cultures
The ‘coffee shops’ finally explained why most people in this town were happy. They were all prolly walking in a weed haze.I would def visit Popeye again if I ever go to Amsterdam (not for the weed o!).
I didn't get to see the Redlight district.  I had asked the lovely lady at Popeye to gimme directions to the district which she did grinning from ear to ear - she found my embarrassment amusing cause I'd whispered the question into her ear. I must have missed my way cos I never found the street and I wasn’t ready to ask passersby.
I got to visit a Cheese shop. Went away with Goat cheese. Second pix is one of the ubiquitous tour boats littering the Canals
By 15.30pm I was at the station waiting for my train to Aachen, Germany which was 2.5 hrs away. Prof had invited me to see his much boasted of Aachen.
I was awed. Maybe it was cos I had this idea of a sterile military Nazi Germany. It was thus a surprise to find this picturesque town. You could also feel the energy and the affluence. Unlike Britain where it is now common to find boarded-up shops and buildings falling on their ears, I could not smell the recession here.
*I also saw Aachen’s red light district which compensated for Amsterdam.

Sight seeing
Buildings: Something old, something new. The roundish structure  is a public bath
Street view: Germans love dining out. Note the time 8.30pm
More street views: the multi-people statue is supposed to depict  people involved in bribery, you can see the exchange of gifts :), Pix 2 is a picturesque bus stop.
 Prof wanted to take me to the Carolus theme park for spas, a newly opened theme park, and an animal park. You can guess the one I was really excited about.
St Francis of Assisi (Patron Saint of Vets), Kangaroo, Flamingo, Zebras, Scottish Highland Cow. No pictures pls!
Did I mention German efficiency? Buses arrive at bus stops at least 2 mins before scheduled time then wait. Hello Britain. I also noticed that passengers could get in through the bus’ side entrance. You only go through the front if you need to get a ticket. I’m sure you can see the loophole in that. But there was a strong deterrent: 40 Euros fine if you get caught.
Students get to buy a transport ticket (200 Euros) at the beginning of the school year which covers all train journeys and bus trips within most major cities in Germany. What a bargain! When I think of how much I have spent on transport in the UK…smh.

I went shopping by myself on Monday. I got Printen for my friends, (a biscuit Aachen is famous for). A shopping decision I regret cause the biscuits taste errmmmm funny. Prof says it’s an acquired taste..well he should have warned me. I was so embarrassed I didn’t give it to the friends I bought it for cause I felt they will judge my poor taste. Sigh.

I did wish I had lotsa money to shop with. Ah well, another time.
Home again home again jiggety jog, this time by Eurostar (train). 2hrs and I was back in London. Never again Eurolines!!
Durham market place

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rate your University Experience

So sometime in July I volunteered to work as a student rep during my school's Open day. An event set aside by a University to showcase its facilities to prospective students, while for the potential student, it is an opportunity to have a feel of the school's academic environment and general ambience.

I had been watching all the preparatory activities with a cynical eye. First cos it reminded me that my days in Durham university were numbered (by July I was done with my final exams), secondly it reminded me again that universities in the West have become education factories and thirdly I was waiting to see the white-wash my university will get up to (remember how the roads and sidewalks get whitewashed in Nigeria when a dignitary/governor/president visits?) lol.

I had only had a virtual open day before I arrived at Durham. To be honest the concept of open day was lost to me. It isn't a common event with Nigerian Universities (I hadn't visited UI prior to penning it down in my JAMB form). I only knew it was a top university and that most of my friends from secondary school were heading there. I also knew I didn't want to attend a university in the East (well, the only one I would have deigned to attend was UNN and I would probably have been married by now or so my eldest Sis moans.). 

Anyway somehow in a moment of madness, I squealed my love for my DU on the application form and was invited to join the Open day team. Our job was to welcome parents and students, hand them goodie bags and maps, give directions to seminar venues, answer questions about our own experience and praise the school to high heavens. 

On the D-day, the only whitewash was the weather. It was a bright warm summer day, and DU practically beamed a welcome. Quite opposite to our usual dreary weather. 
Parents and kids came in droves. I noticed how parents of African origin made a beeline for me immediately they walked into the hall. Some families came with the family dog. One mom was a bit taken aback when i asked what course the dog was planning to take, then she caught the joke and started laughing.
One elderly woman with her grand daughter in tow, told me she was an alumnus, so also her daughter and her husband and now their child - her grand daughter. I thought it was sweet.
I remember one dad asking me what the entertainment was like in Durham. Are the pubs alright? Do you have clubs, parties, sports facilities or is it all about academics. lol. I cod just imagine a Nigerian dad asking that....not.
Not everyone liked what we had on offer. Some parents criticised our library ..that it was old fashioned...'Durham still uses books??!' "So so and so university's library is practically virtual. no need for old and musty-smelling books" o__O. 
A number weren't impressed by our historic castles and colleges. My beloved college (originally built in 1846) was called 'olde worlde' by a sneering  father. No vex.

I came away from the open day with a deeper appreciation. Open days are very vital for a school. any school. Students are the life-blood of schools not the other way round. Schools NEED their BRAINS, their BRAWN and their MONEY. Hence they need to attract the best who will contribute to new knowledge, new records in sports and become credible ambassadors. They also need their money to help run the school. And this is what motivates the school to keep improving and exceeding expectations. 

I also left with an appreciation of the importance of parents attending open days with their kids. When you send your child away to a school - be it boarding school or University, it is important for you to have a feel of what their future learning environment will be like; the classes, the chairs, the accommodation, the toilets, the fun/sports facilities. I believe the challenge of parents and students visiting keeps the school on its toes.

Lastly, it is an opportunity for the staff of the university and current students (eg. Me) to re-evaluate why they chose this particular school. You can only truly convince another person to share your zest for your university if you truly believe it. Well, unless you are a good liar salesperson.
I was actually surprised at the positively passionate answers I gave to questions like 'what do you like about Durham University', 'what has been your experience as an international student', 'Was it value for your money' cause it wasn't practised.
I read somewhere that Universities have 3 principal, direct functions: In the 1st place they teach; 2ndly they accumulate great stores of acquired and systematized knowledge in the form of books and collections; 3rdly they investigate or in other words they seek to push out a little beyond the present limits of knowledge and learning year after year, day after day, some new truth. They are teachers, storehouses and searchers for truth.

Durham University satisfied on all three 100%. 
I feel most Nigerian Universities nowadays would satisfy 90% of the first stipulation. 40% of the second and 5% of the third.   

What has been your University experience?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Much Ado about Reality TV

Happy November, People!

So this past month I’ve become an avid TV viewer, from Nickjnr to PressTV to Reality TV.... the bane of the new millennium. Seriously, how do we justify this watching of other people’s intimate life...boring other people if we consider the likes of 'The only way is Essex' and 'Made in Chelsea'. There’s something voyeuristic about it. and I don’t think its healthy.

Anyway let me bore y'all with my observations of some of them. Pls chime in with your observations too.

CNN/BBC: Its amusing to note that the news is all about ‘what’s happening in Libya, Syria, Africa meanwhile your own backyard is on fire. Yeah I ‘m talking about BBC and CNN downplaying the Anti-capitalist youth movements in America and the UK, the brutality and use of excessive force by the police while screaming about happenings on the other side of the world. Talk of Two facedness. It seems Ukraine and Italy civilians have also joined the protest in their respective countries. On an aside, Nigerian youths how far? 

NTA (Nigeria's national TV): Sigh. I don't know where to start. The news is as stale as the audio,  background, presenters ....except Ifeanyi Okafor. I miss the hay days of Yinka Craig, Sienne Razaq, Hauwa etc.

X-factor: I love music. I love the concept of discovering new talent. Susan Boyle was my inspiration for 2009. But, when I see teenage/barely out of their teens Xfactor hopefuls whining on and on with kohl streaking down their face about 'how this is what they’ve dreamt of all their life'….I feel like slapping the taste outta of their ambition-less mouths.

I know viewers think he is the joke for 2011, but I like Johnny Robinson. He has an amazing voice and is funny to boot. Frankie on the other hand needs a comb…I can’t tell you how much I hate his hair. And the tight jeans. And the make up. That he is still there while Sophie Habibas (sue me, i know the spelling is wrong) is out indicates the demography of X factor voters: Dumb females who need the police to confiscate their hand sets for texting under hormonal influence!

 Still on X-factor – I think the US Xfactor Judges are a more credible bunch than the UK. I dont know what Simon was thinking when he picked that diva bunch (Gary and Louis included). Kelly you are my girl and I totally agree that what Louis and Tulisa did to MishaB was uncool (Heck MishaB has now been branded a bully by the internet which is unfair in a competition which can be won or lost based on the voting public's fickle perception); but you going into super diva mode and abandoning your charges didn't help either.

Kiddie's TV: I watched several episodes of Ben 10 for the first and last time. My conclusion: Ben 10 is over rated and totally inappropriate for 2-8yr olds who alarmingly are the most enthusiastic about it.

I like Nick Jnr programmes…my favourites are Olivia(she's such a fashionista) and Peppa Pig. I hum Peppa pig’s theme song in my head sometimes. I don’t mind Fireman Sam too. I love the fact that one of the characters Mike Molly or something has an inter-racial marriage. We’ve come a long way!

Big Brother: Who agrees with me that BB has lost its raison d’etre? The producers are determined to milk it for all its worth though and they keep adding annoying twists. Eg if you've been watching BB UK, you'll agree with me that bringing Jem, Faye’s sister into the house just ruined the game for Faye and Aaron which was unfair. I mean I understand the protective big sister bit, but Jem should have understood there was a prize to be won and kept her meddling opinions to herself. 

I love Two and a half men. More like I used to love Two and a half men till they ousted Tiger blood Charlie and replaced him with Lamb blood Ashton. Dear Ashton! What Demi Moore sees in that young man I don’t know. Maybe I am mistaken. Hope so.

The Bachelor: The females who parade themselves in The Bachelor have set back the campaign of feminists by 50 years. How can someone’s sole ambition be 'to be patted and fondled and picked out like a prize cow in a farmer’s market'?

The Bachelor has also confirmed the belief of 'rent a bride consultants' like Patti Stinger; that rich men love their women blonde, biddable, giggly and pretty... just like Carrianne. For those who thought Layla should have been picked, when she told Gavin that she has a mind of her own she sealed her fate.
And as for the homely Latvian girl (she was booted off earlier) who confessed to Gavin that she's been keeping her virginity for 'The One'..Wowsa!! Darling, virginity is not considered a price by the English. When the Bachelor is an Arab Sheikh, apply again.

But despite my dislike for all that The Bachelor stood for, when Gavin choose Carrianne in the end, despite her rumored bad behavior and that dreadful squeaky voice etc I was forced to accept that when a man falls in lust/love, he is blind to all faults....mostly. I had initially thought Gavin was being too wishy washy, but looking back now, if i am to believe his confession of love to Carianne was not scripted by the Producers, then its likely Gavin had chosen her from the beginning and the eliminations only helped him confirm his choice, do you get me? Or maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic.

Who is sick of TV?


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