October 11th, 2016

kiri win

IT IS TOO EARLY.

It is 11.06am and I am in the Law Faculty, attempting to prepare questions and answers for the viva, but failing quite miserably because it is too damn early and I simply cannot focus before 2pm. The reason I am here so early is because my showerhead apparently needed to be replaced, and the plumber was scheduled to do so at 9am today. This means that I got up at 7.45am to shower and get out of the room before the plumber arrived - and so I am barely functioning right now.

Life is so hard, isn't it?

Anyway, I had a pain au chocolat and a flat white at Fitzbillies while finally finishing Deborah Levy's Swimming Home. I was really excited to read this because the first sentence captivated me when I looked through it at Waterstones. It is a textbook example of an attention-grabbing first sentence, full of intrigue and impeccably-written. Before this, I read a piece by Levy in the New York Times about going on vacation with her boyfriend and how the experience left her disenchanted about the relationship. I thought it was very well-written and so I sought out her books.

Swimming Home is very well-written too; there's really nothing at all to fault on that front. But something about it left me quite cold. I felt a sense of detachment between me and the characters and the story that never went away; something about the characters seemed so unreal as to be somewhat ethereal, such that I could never quite suspend disbelief and imagine for the time that I read the book that these were real people - which is precisely the function (one of many) of a novel. It just wasn't absorbing, and although the book is really short (150 pages, maybe) it felt rather laborious to read.

I think this was perhaps accentuated by the fact that I'd just finished Brideshead Revisited which was deeply absorbing and engrossing, with characters that are believable, and Waugh's writing certainly suspended all disbelief and made the characters real. I'm reminded once more of the importance of reading classics. Although I tend not to like things that are popular, rolling my eyes at every The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird reference that's meant to demonstrate a literary inclination (nevermind that I actually like these books), there is a reason classics are classics. And so I shall read Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse next which I bought in London on Sunday as part of a 2 for GBP5 deal (the other book is a collection of essays by Graham Greene).

I want to say a few things about this shop where I bought the books. It's a CD/record/DVD store somewhere in Cambridge Circus. I was on the bus to Chinatown to cut my hair, and as I looked out of the window, I saw this massive store with music and movie posters plastered all over its display windows. I got off a stop early to look around the store as I was looking for posters to decorate my room with. I didn't find any posters, but I did relive those moments in my teenaged years, browsing through CDs arranged alphabetically in the 'rock/alternative' section of CD stores such as Tower Records and HMV, feeling excited when I found what I was looking for. Before Sunday, it'd been ages since I last stepped foot in a CD store. Not only do I buy my music from iTunes, but my computer doesn't even have a disc drive.

Ironically, I ended up looking intently at the books in the store. It was clear that books are merely secondary to the business because there was no discernible theme to the books on sale; they were just kind of random. And so I bought two books for 5 pounds, which made me very happy.

I really am not reading enough. This has to be rectified.

I am hungry so I shall go downstairs and eat a sandwich. I'll write another entry sometime later today.
kiri win

On Socialising

At the LSE, I was introduced to the art of making small talk. Being thrown into a foreign city, in a class full of international students with not much in common save for the fact that we were all in the same LLM class tends to force even introverts like me out of their shells and find ways to keep a conversation going. Of course, I picked up some components of this particular skill while working as a lawyer; it is impossible not to find oneself in a situation in which small talk is required, much less not know how to do it. But it was really at the LSE that I received an induction on this skill; a large portion of it was honed by my survival instinct.

After a year in Cambridge, I have more or less perfected it. In fact, I think the past two weeks have been a crash course in perfecting the skill of the small talk. Meeting all these new people, most of whom I don't even see around much, 99% of whom I probably won't talk to again, and being put in these social situations in which conversations need to be had; and since they're rather facile situations, calling them 'conversations' may be overstating it a little bit. They are small talk. I ask questions about the other person's background, his/her country, what he/she is studying, his/her research; sometimes he/her asks me such questions too. Do they care about the answers? Do I care? Does it matter? The point is to keep talking, and if the small talk dries up, find a way to excuse yourself and join another group.

In all honesty, I find this completely exhausting. Tonight, I was tasked to organise some pre-formal activity with another PhD student, P, who is really nice. On the way back from an utterly unproductive day at the faculty, I stopped by Sainsbury's to buy some appetisers (some cheese and nuts). I texted P at maybe 5 asking if I could go to the pre-formal drinks in jeans, and he was like, 'What!? You're not going to formal?!'

I wasn't aware that I could book in because it's a family formal, i.e. a formal specifically for existing students who have a group of freshers to look after. I'm not a college parent and so I thought it wasn't open to me. P tried to get me to speak to the Buttery, ask for an extra space; and while I appreciated his effort, I couldn't really be arsed. I spent maybe 30-40 minutes at pre-formal; it started at 6.30pm, and I was late, and so I was there at 6.37pm. By the time I'd finished setting up the food, it was maybe 6.45pm.

I found myself checking my watch at 7.05pm and feeling rather dismayed that it wasn't time for people to leave yet.

When people finally left at 7.20pm, I felt a sense of relief, and I happily sat down on a couch, ate the cheese that I bought with leftover crackers from yesterday (really yummy stuff, by the way; Marks & Spencer is great) while finishing my wine. It was the happiest I felt throughout the whole event.

Of course, I do enjoy talking to people sometimes. I talked to this particular South African student who learned Mandarin for a couple of years and it was interesting hearing about it. But other times, the small talk is laborious and not very interesting. And there are also times when someone you met two weeks ago whom you thought was cool doesn't seem at all interested in anything that you have to say, and it's painfully obvious that he's making the effort to form words and sentences and directing them at you because you are next to him. It is thus unsurprising that he excuses himself shortly afterwards. (Perhaps this is the strongest testament to the fact that he's gay? Really hot, but gay.)

The bright side is, Freshers' Week is almost over. There will be less of these social events then, I hope. I am going to formal on Friday but that was mostly at Arthur's behest. I even dragged Raffael and his friend from Germany along because I did not want to deal with the double whammy of Dominic and Gross Guy + new girlfriend all by myself (maybe with Arthur as shield). I invited John and Raffael initially but John has to teach salsa. At least Raffael will be there!

*

There is something really elusive about the friendships that I have made here, especially in college. I think my closest friends right now are John and Raffael. I get along with a few people from college, but we don't hang out. I don't take the initiative and neither do they; and I definitely don't talk about anything personal with them. It feels like we all lead such separate lives even as we are literally living in close proximity to each other.

Or maybe it is simply I who is on the outside looking in.

It's not a problem though. I've always had a small group of close friends rather than a large group of good friends (or even large group of close friends, I guess). This is therefore unsurprising, and it doesn't bother me. It simply reinforces the preciousness of the meaningful friendships that I have made, both here and throughout my life. That's all.

*

On a lighter note, Monday afternoon was quite interesting. I did a video interview for QLTS School about my success at the QLTS assessments. The film guy came to the college to pick me up and we filmed it at a really nice house just outside of the city centre in a place whose name I presently can't recall. I was given 14 (13? 15? can't remember) questions to answer beforehand; I received these questions months ago, but in my typical fashion, I only came up with some answers the night before.

Anyway, I basically answered the questions while looking into the video camera. It was really fucking weird at first. I was all stiff and probably awkward. After a couple of questions, though, I relaxed a little, and the film guy told me to do the first few questions again because I was more relaxed and it made a huge difference.

Still, I think it's gonna turn out really awkward and I would prefer not to watch it. It's really hard saying more or less the same thing over and over; maybe it would've been easier if I'd memorised my answers, but I was kind of making things up on the spot, which was probably a stupid thing to do because I'm so bad at it. I also kept fubbing words, more than I usually do, collapsing discrete syllabi into one mumbled...sound.

But I did my best and the film guy (who actually does actual directing) was quite encouraging. I had a good time talking with the film guy actually. It was kind of making small talk which was necessary because it was just me and him for two hours, but it was interesting. I like movies and it was fun hearing about the film industry. So yeah, it was an interesting afternoon.

I didn't do it for nothing though. I am meant to receive 100 pounds in Amazon vouchers, I think. I'll email the relevant personnel soon and ask about this.

*

On an even lighter note, Matt asked how I was yesterday, and then he said that he'd been feeling sick for the past few days but he was better. Then he asked if I was off to a meeting, clearly noticing (in a factual manner) the corporate outfit that I had on for the video interview. There is a new guy at the cafe and the new guy made my coffee yesterday. I knew this because the latte art was non-existent and the coffee was too hot. Matt never made it too hot, and his art is always at least pretty.

Today, I had breakfast and coffee there after leaving the room at 8.50am to avoid running into the plumber. Matt made my coffee and I knew this because he did a version of the swan that I posted a few days ago. The lines were not as precise, but there was a heart in the place of the swan's head. He put down the coffee and I noticed it, and I said, 'Oh that's nice' at the same time he noticed my phone cover and said, 'That's a cool cover. Banksy.'

Then it got a bit awkward and he walked off. It was also too bloody early in the morning and I was not functioning at all.

Anyway, it was nice that he made me the swan again. I hope that the new guy's presence will not translate to Matt cutting back on his hours, selfish as this is. He is clearly very good at his job because he does these little things that make me feel special even if I am not, and for this reason, it makes going to Fitzbillies even more pleasant than it already is.

*

I'm going to read a new book and go to bed. I am never waking up so early again without morning exercise; it just doesn't work for me. I was just so incredibly unproductive that I feel like I wasted my day. Sigh.