Category Archives: friends

USA Trip: The big thank-you post

My three-week trip to the United States over July and August was one of the best times of my life. Here’s a (possibly incomplete) list of thanks to the people who made it so awesome:

Thanks to Tracy (@strayfarce), my lovely girlfriend, for showing me fun little things around New York, and being a brilliant partner on my hard-charging see-and-do-it-all tourist expeditions.

Thanks to the folks at Pier 96 for providing free kayaking – a great way to spend a summer day on the Hudson River. Joe Gage, gay porn director who introduced (and perceptively analysed) Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! at the IFC Center. The bartender at the Stoned Crow who stood us a free round of Brooklyn Lagers. The talented, funny and generally awesome Chris Serico (@ChrisSerico), for a fun night out in Manhattan. The staff at Ruby Foo’s, for putting banana and chocolate spring rolls back on the menu for one night only (only slightly due to badgering from my gf…). The staff of Pam Thai in Hell’s Kitchen, for their lovely food and unpretentious atmosphere. A.V. Club legend mbs/Matt Stechel (@matthewstechel), for making it in from Queens, recommending a great cinema and bar around Union Square, and for experiencing Dogtooth with us.

Thanks to Stefa (@MsStefaPie) for being a great host and all-round neat person. And also to her housemates – Jenn for being lovely and hospitable, and letting us use her as a taxi service, and Darryl for taking my half-nakedness in his stride (don’t ask). Jim of Jim’s Deli (Brighton, MA) for great breakfasts and fun banter. All the AVC/Twitter crew who attended the Boston party – Tony (@el_zilcho), Josh (@JoshLikeGermany), Jon (@JGoo220), Zack (@zhandlen), Joe (@Karatloz), and Phoebe (@phoebeheyman) – for being charming and funny and entertaining, and putting up with my terrible jokes. The bike rental people on Boston Common who rented us a tandem for the day.

Thanks to Becky (@SchoolhouseReck), and her family and in-laws, for making the Brit feel very welcome and treating him to dinner in Philadelphia, at a restaurant where chocolate was involved in as many dishes as possible (America!). Emily, the Australian girl from the hostel and huge Arcade Fire fan who ended up seeing them with me at the Mann Center – couldn’t have asked for a better gig companion. Sean and other randomers we met that night, for good company and guiding us round the city (Not sure if I should thank them or curse them for prompting me to get a cheesesteak from Geno’s). The shisha bar people who effectively reopened their premises late at night so we could have a smoke and a coffee – class act!

Thanks to the guy at Men’s Wearhouse in Manhattan who found me a full Calvin Klein linen suit at a knock-down price. The crew of my JetBlue flight to Chicago, who managed not to exit via escape slide clutching a couple of beers in response to lengthy delays and mounting passenger frustration. President Obama, for at least giving me a fun “why my flight was late” story. James at the hostel, for fun chat, updates on the run-up to Lollapalooza, and company while wandering round Millenium Park in the morning. The bartender at the Billy Goat Tavern, for being extremely quick with the refills. The two guys who brought Georgie the dog to the Clark Street Ale House so he could drink beer from a tumbler placed on the bar. The people at Cafecito for making delicious sandwiches (egg and chorizo for breakfast? Yes please! The Palomilla is also great as well).

Thanks to Gabby (@VAMPARS), Roneesh (@roneesh) and Lauren, for being the best guides to Dallas anyone could ask for. Karen (@kaellynn) and her friend Ace for putting me up in Austin and giving me a great tour of the city. The guy at Austin Art Glass for talking us through the glassblowing process we could see going on in the workshop at the back of the shop. The bats under the South Congress Ave bridge for putting on a good show for us. The Ginger Man in Dallas for a huge selection of beers. Buzzbrews in Dallas for the best coffee I’ve tasted while in the States.

Thanks to the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in NYC for an interesting panel discussion, and a packed-full exhibition of comics art from creators across the spectrum (including Maurice Sendak concept sketches for Where The Wild Things Are!) Justin (@littlealex_) for good conversation over a few drinks, and for coming to see Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World with us.

That should be all. Anyone I’ve left out, thank you so much, and if you want to be included, please let me know.


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Support Abby Davies campaigning in a cage for prisoner of conscience Mao Hengfeng


Abby Davies, who I know from uni, is living in a cage (with only three basic meals, a sleeping bag, and a toilet 6 metres away!) from the 9th to 11th of September to campaign for the release of Mao Hengfeng, a Chinese prisoner of conscience. Ms. Mao has been imprisoned and tortured numerous times for peacefully protesting against coerced abortion and other human rights abuses. At present, Mao Hengfeng is serving a two-and-a-half year jail sentence, which was officially given for property damage (destroying two table lamps). The sentence, however, is clearly politically motivated, and related to her continued attempts to defend her own and others human rights, and to her standing up to the Chinese authorities in opposition to forced abortions. Go to Abby’s website here, or join the Facebook group for more information about her situation, and what you can do to help, incluing a letter to the Chinese embassy in London asking them to…
• Provide a full, fair and transparent review of Mao’s case.
• Ensure that the conditions Mao is kept in comply with those set out in the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
• For all those in China, including Mao Hengfeng, to be able to exercise their right to lawfully petition authorities without fear of arbitrary retaliation by the authorities.

Best of luck, Abby!

 (Parts of this post stolen from the Facebook group, and from Sam Elliott. Cheers, Sam.)

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Politics and Alcohol

True story: on Friday I was standing in my friend Ed’s garden, hungover, watching him throw up a hastily consumed Pot Noodle (and noticing that, disgustingly, it looked the same coming out as it going in). On Saturday, almost exactly twenty four hours later, I was at a conference on East Asian relations in Leeds, listening to some very complex presentation on aspects of regionalism in East Asia. Yep, this is my life: a series of events so bizarre I’ve basically given up on any causal relation.

I went to Leicester to attend Ed’s goodbye party, before he goes to Germany to study for a term. A few drinks in the union bar, and then a long walk to a club in the city, we rocked out to various rock’n’roll hits from the 60s. After the antics of Thursday night, the Friday was pretty sedate, mostly spent at Ed’s house chilling out (and watching him fight a losing battle with instant noodle snacks). The day after, I was back at Leeds for the conference, which featured a few lecurers from my department, as well as visiting experts. The whole thing was very interesting, and finished off with a good question-and-answer session which prompted some fairly in-depth discussion among the guests. I hope I get another weekend combining intellectualism and inebriation soon enough.

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Respecting refugees, parading puppets, and a filmic Faversham

Today I went down to the Union to help out at the stall for the Leeds Uni Amnesty group‘s latest campaign, run with the Leeds Student Action for Refugees group. We were campaigning against the destitution of asylum seekers as part of government policy (for more info, see here), and did a pretty good job of getting signatures for the petition, selling cakes to raise money for a local asylum seeker support group, and raising awareness. Some of the artier members of the AI group had made custom designed T-shirts and giant puppets to attract attention, and at one point I put on one of the puppets. While I thought it added a certain something to my outfit, its tendency to list to one side put terrible strain on my back. Still, it’s not about me, is it?

During my stint on the stall, a guy came by who said he was going to be arguing for the motion “Should Britain close its borders?” at the debate on Thursday (also part of the events) and wanted to know if we could tell him how migrants enriched the country. I nicknamed him “Private Joker” because he was an enlistee in the military jacket fad that has swept the country, and because his views were pretty laughable. After he told me that Wikipedia didn’t have an answer to his question (Zounds!), I asked him if he got all his political positions from Wikipedia. His answer was an admirably honest “yes”. All in all, it’s a pity I’ll be out of Leeds on Thursday. Seeing him in the debate would be … interesting, to say the least.

In the evening there was an screening at a relaxed watering hole just off campus of Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things. If you haven’t seen it, you should – it’s great as a thriller, a love story, and an exploration of a side of modern Western societies that doesn’t usually get seen.

And on the way home, a giant rat scampered across my path. Bit of an incongruous ending, but there you go.

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It’s the little things we do, when you go out in the night

No, no, no. Never again. No nay never, no never, no more. I am never drinking again – until the next time, obviously.

A housemate’s birthday is always a big occasion, and Saturday was J’s 21st. A bunch of J and S’s friends came up from their hometown, and with most of my housemates elsewhere, hosting duties were down to me. What with their having started drinking early on, I was very well-lubricated by the time we went out to the Elbow Room. Make that completely smashed. I was dancing like a loon amongst all the trendy types on the dancefloor, getting odd looks and the occasional thumbs-up. I knew what a fool I was making of myself, but I didn’t care. Self-awareness mixed with joyous abandon – it’s a good combination, and the way I’d like to live all of my life. Shame I have to get terrifically drunk to do it.

Arriving back at the house a little after everyone else, I found my room turned upside down and my safe gone. It was a practical joke by one of our guests, who kept dropping me subtle hints for the rest of the night about whose room he’d left the safe in. This made me laugh in the morning. We weren’t exactly in Da Vinci Code territory – I was having trouble understanding simple sentences, let alone coded messages.

The following afternoon, we braved the outside world to go to the pub and watch the football. I don’t really support any team, but I can watch a football match and appreciate it. The trouble is, I do it in a rather detached way, which coupled with my hungover state meant I was the only person in a crowd of cheering Manchester United fans sitting down, clapping my hands at the goal and drawling “Fantastic. Jolly good show. Super-duper.”

I have a feeling that they somehow had me pegged as a casual fan.

Unfortunately, today classes begin again and I have my nose to the grindstone once more. Expect more adventures to the furthest edges of my sanity Japanese grammatical forms, as 2007 rumbles on.

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Oh noes! How did I miss this?!

My friend Sam is off on his travels overland from Paris to Osaka, and has set up a blog to chronicle his epic adventures. Also blogging the journey are his travelling companions Raph and Johnson. Each of the three are worth a read, and the journey itself sounds absolutely amazing – the kind of thing I wish I had done a few years ago, if I had the initiative, the funds and like-minded friends to accompany me. Right now, in the middle of a degree and the financial obligations that entails, the best I can do is track their progress through the magic of teh interwebs. Hell, already the Foreign Legion is sounding a decent post-graduate career choice…

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On the merits (or otherwise) of the arse-kicking approach to education

So, as a final goodwill gesture before term finishes, I agreed to be interviewed by some first-year students in class. The deal was to talk in Japanese about our years abroad. I made a pretty good fist of it, although since I got back from Japan my speaking ability has gone way downhill from simple lack of practice. Also present was Ilkka, from the infamous year abroad briefing (which has now assumed legendary proportions among people who were there), and a few others.

The session concluded with some advice from us to the new generation about the year abroad and the semester leading up to it. Among some questions from the floor (about how to recognise Yakuza, as well as more quotidian concerns), one student asked me how many students made it from our first year to the year abroad. I answered truthfully: “About half the class.” Then I wondered why he looked so shocked. In fact, all of us advised the first-years to work harder, in no uncertain terms.

Tough love? Sure, but I felt good doing it. For one, it was funny as hell to watch their expressions when Ilkka told them “You can’t just expect the Japanese language to magically pour into your head. Do the work, or you’ll fail.” But also, I think this kind of “motivation” (read: arse-kicking) was what is missing from the staff this year. In my first year, our year abroad director was a sarcastic, cynical Australian academic named Dr. Weste, who left at the end of last year. His sardonic asides during lessons and frequent threats of dire consequences if we didn’t do the work did a lot to help shake me out of a rut and do better.

I’m of the opinion that everyone secretly likes the Dr. Cox-type character – someone who will mock, belittle and scare you into working harder, but genuinely does it in your own best interests. Not only will it motivate you, it shows someone cares far more than a diffident, impersonal response.

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Filed under arse-kicking, education, friends, thoughts, university