The Scottish National Museum, like many museums in the UK benefits greatly from the UK's colonial history. They are filled with items from across the globe, procured in many different ways, ranging from purchase to "discovery" to looting. As far as looting goes, regimental museums are among the worst culprits. As the regiments scattered across the globe to grow and steady the empire they found curios and souvenirs to bring home with them. Some were stolen, some were taken from the battlefield, and of course, some were purchased fairly. Most of these objects are relatively small or minor so returning them would be difficult or impossible because they aren't really traceable or not notable enough to be missed. The wrongs that happened in the past are still wrong but not currently able to be redressed. From what I have heard the worst offender is the British Museum which holds large quantities of objects of immeasurable cultural value. These objects, taken by explorers, archaeologists, or purchased by rich collectors are highly controversial. Yes, they are displayed prominently for all to see in their current home but many people for whom they are culturally significant or whose nation's wealth they represented are unable to visit.
As I mentioned in my previous post my two in person exams are very far apart. That means that although I took my first exam yesterday I'll have to wait more than a week and a half until I'm fully finished. In the meantime I've got a paper to write but I'll start with my exam experience.
Exams at the University of Edinburgh feel more formal than exams at GW. I accidentally arrived only 6 minutes early because of a walk I slightly underestimated (it was in a different building than the class meets in) and an unavoidable pit stop to the bathroom before I left. When I got there the proctor was already beginning instructions (I hadn't missed anything) and 95% of students were in their seat. At this university the exams are not given by the lecturers and their TA's but rather by people totally unaffiliated with the class.
They did try to answer questions for students that had them (going so far as to text the course organizer) but generally recommended that if you were unsure about the wording to a question you should answer a different one (there were 8 prompts from which to write two essays.) Seats are assigned. Being as late as I was I had the misfortune of having to walk almost completely to the front (the test was located was a long and somewhat ornate library) only to find they had directed me to the wrong row.
Eventually I found the desk with my name on it (they provided stickers with identifying information,) only to realize I had forgotten to leave my phone in my bag. I got that sorted out and got comfortable in my seat with plenty of time to spare and filled out the information on the exam booklet. Unlike at GW exams at the University of Edinburgh are graded in a totally anonymous manner; the identifying information we put on the essay booklet is sealed over with a tamper evident adhesive.
Well the semester, already shorter than a standard GW one, has flown by incredibly quickly. In just three weeks I'll be back on US soil, something I'm looking forward to just as much as I'll miss Scotland. In the meantime exam season is fast approaching. Unfortunately for me I scored the worst luck possible, my first exam is on December 9th (the first day possible) and my second and final exam is on the 21st(the last day possible.) I've also got a paper due in the middle but I am highly annoyed by the spread. I like a few days to prep in between my tests, not a few weeks.
I'd rather get everything out of the way in rapid succession than have to wait and struggle to stay in the zone. I'm also annoyed since my flight is at 06:00 on the 22nd and I was hoping to have a full day to pack and get my things in order but now I'll have to do it earlier. I'll get through it but I wish it could have been a little more convenient. If the test was a week earlier I may have even took a trip somewhere, something which I was prevented from doing by a poorly located mandatory discussion section (called a tutorial here.)
In the spirit of the forward thinking mood I've been in for the past few days I'm now going to list things that I'm looking forward to and things that I'm not looking forward to or will miss.
Things that I am looking forward to:
Since my last post was about Light Night it only seems fitting that I should follow it up with a post about the Christmas market which it kicked off. Edinburgh's Christmas market is amazing. Set up in a green space next to Princes Street and Edinburgh Waverley Railway Station it offers food, rides, and many many vendors. The atmosphere, especially after dark (the sun sets before 4 pm these days) is festive and amazing. Music echos around as people bustle about, stopping at stands to look at nutcrackers or hats for sale. It is regrettable that quite a few of the stands sell the same goods obviously from the same supplier but there is still a vast diversity of wares offered. There is also a variety in food offered, bratwurst is the most ubiquitous dish and sold almost everywhere. Other German dishes accompany it but are not sold by quite as many stands.
There are also quite a few crepe stands despite the crepe being French and not German. After 8pm they start IDing all the entrants because alcohol is served within the premises of the market. My younger brother, who with my parents was visiting me for thanksgiving, and I were stopped on our way back in after buying bratwurst just outside the market but being over 18 I had no problems and once I explained we weren't planning on drinking the guard merely told me that my brother would have to stick with me (I'm not sure how that changes anything but I'm sure glad he could reenter.) Its still feels strange to be old enough to get into age limited bars and pubs even though I'm only 20. As someone who doesn't drink I don't need to enter one often but when I do I just hope that whomever is guarding the door will accept my Wisconsin drivers license for what it is.
I think that the atmosphere of the Christmas Market is far superior to the content of the market itself. Despite the cold temperatures (its hovering about freezing these days but the wind never stops) hundreds of people flock to the market to eat, shop, and have fun. The lights are beautiful in the dark November night. The heavenly smells waft around and bait you into buying the overpriced food (I'm not insulting the quality, it was one very good bratwurst, just saying it could definitely be cheaper.) Some of the goods are high quality, others not so much, almost everything is expensive. My mom found an "Edinburgh" glass candle holder that she liked until I realized that they all featured a typo and the word Edinburgh was missing its H.
Edinburgh takes its Christmas very seriously. So seriously in fact that "Edinburgh's Christmas 2017" as they have branded it runs from November 18th until January Sixth. It seems like a long time but without thanksgiving to get in the middle and make things weird it works. The Christmas Market, which has a reputation for being spectacular was set up over the course of the week and opened this weekend. Today, Saturday the 19th, marked "Light Night," the official kick off of the Christmas season. Complete with multiple music stages, dancers, cheer leaders, amusement park rides, and fireworks, it was a bit of a spectacle to behold.
At exactly five pm (this being Scotland the sun sets just before four this time of year) the brief but impressive firework show coincided with the first lighting of a dome of lights and the festivities were kicked off. Afterwards we(my parents are in town for a week to visit me and make sure I'm actually eating) wandered past the little stalls set up in the streets and toured a very impressive collection of ice sculptures. Sometime last week I was told that part of the market would "smell just like Austria" but, being tired after a long day on our feet we have not located that section yet. The prices for everything for sale were predictably high but the atmosphere was enjoyable and I'm excited to go back and explore more.
One major difference between DC and Edinburgh is the security for street events. Obviously given all that Europe has suffered lately they're working on tightening security at popular events but it still felt very light next to DC. Whereas most police officers in the UK don't carry a firearm (neither they nor the people they serve want to change this) some heavily armed officers were present at the Market.
Today's blog has to do with a topic very near and dear to my heart, food. Food here is, of course, not dissimilar from food at home but there are some marked differences. Before I dive in it is important to remember that America has regional culinary differences and all of this is from my point of view, having grown up in Wisconsin.
One thing I think all Americans can get behind me on is my confusion when I first encountered a can of "Squirty Cream." Squirty cream is, as the name implies, cream that squirts, in other words its canned whipped cream like reddi-whip. After talking to my flat mate and another classmate I learned that canned whipped cream is much more rare over here than at home and usually (In her experience,) when a British family wants whipped cream they buy heavy whipping cream and whip it themselves.
One major difference is that they have a wider variety of pickled goods here. The traditional pickle as Americans know them are almost impossible to find at most grocery store and usually the closest you can get is the sweet gherkin. Pickle relish in the American sense is nonexistent. There are many relishes for sale but they are generally made of pickled carrots and other veggies with no pickled cucumbers included. I did manage to stumble upon a singular container of American style pickle relish after months of hunting (as you might be able to tell I put more thought into pickles than I need to) and it was clearly branded as being "New York Style" and shipped over from the states.
"Remember, remember, the Fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot"
The fifth of November in the UK is a day of festivities and celebration dating back to the 17th century. On November fifth, 1605 Guy Fawkes was discovered guarding a load of powder that was to be used to blow up the British Parliament. Today that celebration is marked in a rather surprising manner, Bonfire Night. On bonfire night citizens across the UK celebrate the failure of the gunpowder plot by burning scarecrow effigies of Guy Fawkes and shooting off fireworks.
Edinburgh, being a city, wasn't host to a large number of bonfires as far as I could gather but it sure did enjoy its fireworks. The largest show in Edinburgh was hosted at the Meadowbanks Sports center while other localities hosted smaller shows and individuals ran around lighting off rockets wherever they saw fit.
To take in this spectacle I participated in a common ritual, avoiding the fees of the Meadowbanks Show by finding a vantage point above it. To do so I climbed the Salisbury Crag. Many others also climbed to get a good vantage point with some opting to go all the way to the top of Arthur seat. Personally I felt that Arthur's seat was too distant from the action and that the Crag would get in the way so I opted for the shorter crag.
It's halloweekend, the spookiest time of the year for college students. The spookiness has nothing to do with ghouls, goblins, spooky skeletons or overplayed memes but rather the fact that halloweekend always coincidences with midterm season. That is why, instead of venturing out and enjoying the cool October breeze this weekend found me seated on my swivel chair feet propped up on the bed, laptop on lap. Midterm tests do not seem to be a thing at the University of Edinburgh but midterm essays certainly are. Whereas last week it was a book review this week it was a 3000 word essay on the impact of porcelain on global connections. It was with no small degree of irony that I sat sipping tea out of a mug made in china while hammering out paragraphs linking the spread of colonial beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate) to the spread of porcelain imported from China.
The city feels a bit different this week, maybe it's just me projecting because of the lead up to Halloween but their seems to be an air of anticipation. It would be wrong to say there is nothing out of the ordinary. This afternoon I opened my window to get some fresh air and was greeted by the sound of drums, echoing across the park from some unknown location not too distant. I would have set out to locate it but unfortunately my essay was not yet complete. The drums lasted for a while but eventually faded away. I'll attribute them to a parade my flat mate said she encountered by chance while out walking.
None of us knew it was coming, nor did we know there would be a firework show tonight but sometime after 8 there was. The fireworks were going off above the castle from the perspective of my flat and eventually I decided to photograph it but as soon as I started to move into position it was too late. Part of me wishes I had known this was coming but I'm sure I would still have been too swamped by this essay to try to attend.
In pretty sharp contrast to the way my classes at GW were headed with longer and longer papers I have run into a surprising obstacle, maximum word limits. I've always been a little long winded and I know it, but the fact that professors only gave a minimum page requirement or said x number of pages gave me some free space to maneuver. Of course I wouldn't just fill the paper with hot air, everything I would write would be relevant or it would end up cut out during my revisions, but I still had a tendency to end up with a few extra paragraphs if I wasn't too pressed for time.
A good example of this my final paper for my Nationalism in Eurasia class freshman year which was supposed to be 20 pages but ended up with 23 (or 24? I forget) of writing and an additional two for the bibliography. 20 was an outlier but most of my final papers have been listed somewhere in the 10 to 15 range (I think 12 might be the most common but I don't keep records.) In a different case 3 of my classmates and I accidentally wrote a 53 page paper on social security over night although it was only supposed to be 20 to 30. Luckily none of my professors have punished me for my excessive length(or even asked me to control it the next time) but that's where Edinburgh is a bit different.
At the University of Edinburgh papers are a bit shorter. 1500 and 3000 words seems to be the standard. That translates to about 4.5 and 9 pages of size 12 Times New Roman (double spaced of course.) Now that doesn't sound too bad, I've had one class with very short papers before, but the sheer quantity of information they expect us to condense into that limit is what alarms me. Condensing a 500 page book into 1500 words is just daunting. Even that wouldn't be much to complain about except for the penalty for excess words is what adds the pressure.
Edinburgh is a truly international city. As you walk its most touristy streets you're almost as likely to hear any number of languages as you are English, something that plays with your mind occasionally. The university itself is no exception, drawing students from across Europe and the rest of the world. Of particular note is the large population of Americans (which, of course, I am part of.) We are so numerous that some of my tutorials (which is the equivalent of a discussion section at GW) are 30 or 40% American. This means that in addition to witnessing myself I've had plenty of other people to watch and learn what mistakes we make. Here, in no particular order are some common mistakes I've observed.
1. Not looking the right way before crossing the street: Now this is something I'm certainly guilty of. Having spent all but a week of my life prior to my arrival here in a country where we drive on the right side of the road it has been hard to get accustomed to looking for cars driving on the left. I've never had any close calls because I've made a habit of playing it extra safe but it definitely takes me substantially longer to make sure that it is safe to cross now than at home.
2. Political rants: America's a lot crazy right now so it's easy to hop into a rant about it. In many situations your take might be welcome but in class these rants tend to drag the conversation off topic. I could probably rant about president Trump and his policies for the entire 50 minutes of the class period but that doesn't advance the discussion. In fact, every question I've heard referencing America could have been answered without diving into current politics but instead were designed to evoke longer more stable trends. Basically, keep you opinion, be ready to discuss it because there will be people interested in knowing your take, but be certain that's really what is being looked for before you start talking.