Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as 'Andrew B'

Precisely What They Need

April 29th, 2010 · No Comments

After a five-week hiatus due to Easter break and an extended holiday in Rome (thank you, Eyjafjallajökull), I finally returned to the Thursday club. I was immediately greeted warmly and they made me feel like my presence was really missed. I was thrilled to catch up with Duane and company about their holidays, and of course I had a chance to brag about my beautiful (and free!) set-up overlooking the Vatican dome. Don’t be jealous or anything.

After reminiscing and catching up with my fellow volunteers, we split like usual into older and younger kids. Fellow student and experienced child-worker Katie and I were the only ones working with them, and considering how difficult the kids can be, I proceeded with trepidation. When we entered the auxiliary building, we found two kids lounging on newly purchased beanbag chairs, playing Wii. A few more kids started funnelling in and before we knew it, we had a full house. Fortunately, they were all superbly behaved! A teen named Thomas, Katie, and I found ourselves embroiled in a nail-biting game of giant Jenga, while the rest of the kids wrestled on the beanbags. After much suspense, I pulled the wrong block and demolished the structure. After a few more games, we decided to set the blocks up like dominoes in a giant figure eight. All in all, everyone had a great time.

Once all the kids left, Katie and I tidied up. While I washed dishes, I met a church member. Never in my life have I discussed the weather so vigorously. I’ve officially spent too much time in this country.

After joining the rest of the workers, I noticed everyone was in high spirits. The kids in both groups were exceptionally pleasant, so moral was high all around. While we chatted, I learned that the two of the kids I spent time with had severe behavioral disorders. One of them only attends half-days at school, spending the rest of the day away from his peers who he has a history of abusing. The other has an impressive police rap sheet, and he is only fourteen. I could hardly believe my ears, considering how well they behaved.

There are, I believe, two contributing factors to their improved demeanor. The first is the selfless dedication and hard work the volunteers show week after week. Every pleasant moment spent with the kids makes up for all the swearing, fighting, and disciplinary action. It is all part of the challenge that, in the grand scheme of things, improves both the lives of the children and the volunteers that help them grow.

The other factor is humungous beanbags. Everyone loves those.

On the ride back, Duane explained to me that Lakenham, the district New Hope Christian Centre is located, has a 24 percent illiteracy rate. To draw a comparison, all of Europe has a literacy rate of over 90 percent; the vast majority is over 97 percent. Lakenham is poor, uneducated, and dilapidated. The issues faced by many of the children are related directly to neglect by their parents, or in all but a few cases, parent. Volunteers keep returning because they give the kids something they seldom find at home: love and devotion.

Hours logged: 2.5

Total hours: 10

Tags: Andrew B

Another Interesting Night

March 19th, 2010 · No Comments

Yesterday I headed back down to New Hope Christian Centre for yet another night at the Thursday after-school club. My first experience was largely negative, while the second was much more fulfilling, so I didn’t know what to expect for attempt #3.

When I arrived, I caught up with Duane and company. They seemed legitimately sad that I won’t be around for the next few weeks over break (I’ll be in the US, Greece, and Italy!), which made me feel like I was really making a contribution to the organisation. One of the best aspects of volunteering is the warm, fuzzy feeling of accomplishment. I definitely felt that way, in spades. Go me.

I spoke to the social work student Katie and Duane’s wife Clare about the plans for the evening. Since some of the children requested more music, we took out the church’s electric keyboard. Unfortunately, none of us really knew how to play. I expected lots of banging on keys and loud, discordant noises, and believe me, I was not let down.

When the kids arrived, they jumped all over that keyboard like a fat kid on a dozen Dunkin Donuts. Josh, the resident big kid (read: bully) shouldered his way through the line of kids waiting to make ‘music’ and proceeded to bang his fists on the keys as hard as he could. It is an interesting phenomenon how one bad seed can change the dynamic of a group of kids so dramatically. He was acting like a jackass, so everybody else needed to follow suit. One of Josh’s lackeys and I had the following conversation:

Kid: “Hey, what’s your name?”

Me: “Andrew. What’s yours?”

Kid: “Suck my willy, wanker!”

Me: “Pleasure meeting you too.”

I suggested to Duane that Josh and a few of his troublemaking friends be banned. So he kicked them out for a week, leaving a motley mix of impressionable children without a rabble-rousing big kid to lead them. To my surprise, most of them went from borderline sociopaths to reasonable teenagers with whom I managed to hold decent conversation. What a pleasant change.

We played cards for a while and had a pretty fun time. One of the boys informed me that my accent sounds like Duane’s, meaning I sound like a Texan. No one really knows what their voice truly sounds like to the ears of other people, but I’m pretty sure I don’t sound like a southerner. Learn something new every day, I suppose.  

Later on, the boys started getting rowdy again. Instead of trying to calm them down, which wouldn’t work, I decided to channel their hyperactivity into something entertaining for me and the other adults. I taught them how to ‘elephant fight’ by putting your hand over your face with your left hand, while crossing your right arm behind the left, and swinging it around like a maniacal pachyderm. Google Images does a better job explaining than words ever could:

During the debriefing session, Duane and Clare lead us in prayer. This is something they usually do, being a Christian group. Usually I sort of zone out during prayer, not at all interested in giving thanks to the good lord Jesus. This time I actually listened carefully to their words and was moved. They thanked the lord for the opportunity to help some children enjoy their probably difficult lives. They thanked Jesus for the human capacity to empathise, giving us the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of the kids and really help them. I thought their words were so moving, I even said Amen in the end.

Hours logged: 3

Total hours: 8.5

Tags: Andrew B

A Complete 180

March 13th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Not exactly knowing what to expect after last week’s experience, I headed over to New Hope Christian Centre for another few hours of rowdy 13 and 14 year-old boys and girls. When I arrived at 18:00, I helped Duane and crew set up for the night’s activities. Considering how all attempts at organized activity failed miserably last week, I thought to myself that it might be more effective to load up tranquilizer rifles instead of inflating balloons. But hey, I’m not in charge.

I had the option to help out with the younger and generally better behaved kids. But since the only two volunteers for the older ones were Clare and the 22-or-so year-old Katie, I thought my services might be better appreciated with them. We discussed my suggestion last week for an elected youth council of sorts. We decided to focus on group activities and bring the subject up next week.

Around 18:45 the kids started funnelling into the church. As usual, they were rowdy and loud, so I immediately started dreading a repeat of last week. Fortunately, many of the especially problematic children didn’t show up, leaving us with a manageably small group of fifteen or so. Some of the boys went outside to play manhunt with Duane, their favourite game. I stayed inside and taught three boys how to play the card game of the gods, Egyptian Rat Screw. I introduced the game as follows:

Me: “Hey do you guys want to learn a card game?”
Boys: “Nah, learning is boring.”
Me: “It involves slapping each other.”
Boys: “Teach me your ways, Sensei.”

OK, so the last part didn’t go precisely like that, but you get the idea. Needless to say, the boys loved the game and wanted to teach it to everybody. During the debriefing later, Duane asked how the older group went. Clare told him that “Andrew had them eating out of his hand.” Hearing that was pleasant, especially considering how helpless I felt the previous week.

Overall, the children were much better behaved this week. Violence was kept at a minimum and I was actually able to hold a reasonable conversation with some of them. I believe the more experienced volunteers are starting to see my potential and have been taking many of my suggestions to heart. I am honestly looking forward to next week’s Thursday club.

Hours logged: 2.5
Total Hours: 5.5

Tags: Andrew B

“If You’re Gonna Fight, At Least Take it Outside”

March 5th, 2010 · 1 Comment

My paper topic is on special education, what better place to volunteer than a school with a renowned special ed. program. Unfortunately, as Anya noted a while back, lengthy background checks are required for working with children. So I went to plan B: contact every volunteering and community service organiser Google has to offer. After a long and annoying process of playing email tag and waiting around for hours in coffee shops for my contacts to arrive (they never did), I finally managed to cement a legitimate volunteering opportunity. Duane Elkins is a 30-something man born and raised in Texarkana, Texas. He moved to Norfolk about 10 years ago and married a local woman. As a result, Duane has by far the coolest accent in the history of accents. Take hokey southern and mix it with hokey Norfolk, and you get Duane. But I digress.

Duane and his wife Claire (pronounced “Cleh”) run an after-school program on Thursday for children in the Lakenham area out of a church. A group of volunteers spend time and play games with whoever decides to show up. The area is economically deprived and many parents do not pay their children adequate attention. Some of the parents have learning disabilities. Others are too busy working long hours. And of course, some are apathetic.

I took the #004 Anglian from the central bus station to Lakenham. The stop I needed was at a pub called, I kid you not, “The Cock.” Asking the bus driver to take me there was just as awkward as I expected it would be. When I arrived at the church at 18:00, I found Duane and he introduced me to the other volunteers. It was a motley crew of young, middle aged, and older folks all there free of charge, taking valuable time out of their busy schedules to give local children something to do and keep out of trouble.

Duane explained to me that all children are welcome regardless of age. Some of the kids have special needs; others just have nowhere else to go after school. There are no written rules anywhere. If a child is especially poor behaved, he is kicked out, “banned,” for a fortnight. The goal of the program is to teach the participants how to respect authority and each other while having lots of fun in the process. Some nights are successful and all around enjoyable while others are a nightmare. My first experience falls into the latter category.

The plan for the evening was to make paper mache for the young kids and teach the older ones a game called murder mystery. I chose to help out with the older crowd. Claire and a younger woman studying social work accompanied me. They explained to me that the older ones are sometimes very difficult to handle. Many of them have parents who never taught them the meaning of respect.

The kids were so badly behaved it was actually frightening. The moment they arrived they started going crazy, swearing, fighting each other, and throwing playing cards and tea bags around the room. It was impossible to control this group of 13 and 14 year-olds. The boys were violent and crude and the girls were just plain mean to each other. The whole situation was not at all how I imagined.

The worst part was the complete lack of authority from the adults. I felt helpless standing at the sidelines while the kids trashed the room and fought each other. At one point Claire yelled at two of the boys, “If you’re gonna fight, at least take it outside.” One of the combatants, 13 year-old redheaded Liam is a known drug dealer. A few weeks back, another kid, Ben, misbehaved and was chastised by Duane. Ben proceeded to call 999 and report that Duane was abusing him. The police, knowing better, ended up escorting Ben home while Duane shook his head in frustration. Last night, another child whose name escapes me kicked the chair legs out from a sweet little girl called Georgia, knocking her in tears to the floor. Duane banned him. The kid called him a “fucking faggot” and stormed out. We never managed to teach any games.

After all the kids went home, the volunteers met to debrief. During the meeting, we chowed down on birthday cake and discussed the evening. Apparently, this was the worst and least successful night in months. I guess I chose to right time to start. We brainstormed new ideas to keep the kids in check. Someone suggested a list of written rules up on the wall and a yellow and red card system for those who break them. I proposed an elected system of government, entirely managed by the children. They are clearly already in control, so why not give them some structure to work with?

Eight year-old Ashley, the severely ADHD son of a volunteer, noted that the lack of rules is what separates the group from school. His contributions were helpful and valid, so he was treated like an adult. Ashley embodies the essence of what the group is meant to be. He treated us with respect, so we reciprocated. I was surprised at his precociousness, despite his hyperactivity and young age. Ironically, the older kids pick on Ashley while they should be emulating him.

Around 21:00, the meeting was over and we cleaned everything up. I had a nice conversation with Ashley about WWE wrestling. Did you know that The Undertaker was still competing? He must be in his forties! Overall, my first night at the Thursday youth club was an interesting one, to say the least. I am looking forward to going back next week to a hopefully better behaved crowd.

Time logged: 3 hours

Total time: 3 hours

Tags: Andrew B

Museumalgamation pt. 2

September 14th, 2009 · No Comments

And now, the thrilling conclusion to the epic saga that is Andrew’s London museum experience!

The British Museum

Because the British Museum is so darned enormous, I decided to stay within the comforting walls of the ancient Greece and Egypt exhibitions. Greece was fascination. As one of the few students in my major who actually enjoyed ancient philosophy, it was oh so cool to see the world in which some of the most important thinkers in history lived within. Part of the Parthenon was on display. The Parthenon! This building is the most significant symbol of democracy in existence. Throughout time, different civilizations used the structure for their own purposes. In the 6th Century, it was a church. During the Ottoman occupation, it was a mosque. It was unearthed by Lord Elgin in the early 1800s, and now resides, in part, in the British museum.

There is a major debate going on now about whether the Parthenon remains should remain in the UK or be transported back to Greece, its original location, where another segment of the structure is preserved and on display. I believe that it belongs back in Athens. After all, a puzzle missing half the pieces is much less decipherable than one only a quarter. The closer archeologists and historians can come to complete recreation of the Parthenon, the better. So get it out of London and back to Greece!

Egypt was as expected. Some statues. Some mosaic. Some mummies. I saw Cleopatra, which was cool. I’ve seen Egyptology exhibits in the Smithsonian and Egyptian art in the Met in New York. The British Museum didn’t offer me anything new and exciting, so I don’t have much else to say on the topic.

The National Gallery

As The Pitmen Painters made clear, art is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes the beholder’s eye just isn’t sharp or refined enough. When I look at the countless portraits, landscapes, and still lifes I don’t have the same emotional response connoisseurs of the arts seem to undergo. I cannot seem to get past the raw aesthetics of most paintings and appreciate their apparent value.

Take Van Gogh’s seminal Sunflowers, for instance. This work is so loved, so well known, and so damned valuable and I just don’t understand why. In fact, Van Gogh once said that this particular painting is his crowning achievement. To me, the barbarian, “Sunflowers” is a beautiful rendering of a vase full of sunflowers against a black background. Why on Earth a Japanese man paid almost $40,000,000 for a version of the painting is beyond me. Maybe one day I will have a Pitmen Painters-esque revelation and understand, but until that day I remain in the dark.

Sunflowers by Van Gogh


That isn’t to say there aren’t any paintings that did stir me. Cézanne’s An Old Woman With a Rosary is a portrait of just that, an elderly woman clutching what seems to be a broken rosary. To me, the work encapsulates all the bleakness and sorrow of the world within her dead, black eyes. It seems transport you into the mind of the woman and forces the viewer to feel her pain. She knows that her life is almost at an end, so she desperately hangs on to her religion for salvation. Perhaps she has lived a life of sin and is afraid of what awaits her beyond the grave. Maybe she is trying to force herself to accept Jesus and repent for her sins in order to avoid damnation. Cézanne’s rendering of the woman’s eyes affected me most – a sea of darkness in which no one can escape. There is no light or color, only horror, pain, and sadness.

Ok, so maybe I can appreciate painting. Thanks, Mr. Cézanne.

An Old Woman With a Rosary by Cézanne


Tate Modern

Whew. Just when I was starting to think, hey, maybe I can appreciate and understand the visual arts on a deeper level, modern art punched me in the gut. I’ve never taken an art history or appreciation class and simply don’t know what to look for. When I see something by an artist by, say, Cy Twombly, all I see is colors and shapes on a background. Considering my laudable capacity for music appreciation, struggling so much in an art gallery is remarkably frustrating. Paul McCarthy’s sexually explicit video art strikes me as a petty cry for attention through shock value.

from Natural History, Part I, Mushrooms by Cy Twombly


That said, I have always had an affinity for the surreal and absurd in literature, film, and especially philosophy. The Tate Modern has an excellent surrealism section showcasing artists like Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp. I found myself losing myself in the strange worlds of the artists’ creation. Dalí’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus pervaded my mind with a breed of thought only accessible through a surrealist lens. And then you have something like the Lobster Telephone that you can’t help but laugh at.

Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Dali


Lobster Telephone by Dalí


While the National Gallery was too concrete, much of the Tate Modern was just too abstract. Surrealism and Cézanne aside, my current capability to appreciate the visual arts is lacking. Art history majors, help me!

To conclude, I leave you with a photograph of a Paul McCarthy work that actually is safe for work, barely. I present to you Santa Clause with a Buttplug.



Tags: Andrew B

London Parks

September 14th, 2009 · No Comments

I love being outdoors. There aren’t many experiences in this life that beat lying out in the grass with friends eating, drinking, snogging (sorry, it had to be said). The abundance of green space in London is one of the city’s best features. About 25% of London’s geography is comprised of parks, meaning wherever I happen to find myself wandering aimlessly through the city, I always run into a park, large or small, without fail.

The reason why this makes me so happy is because I am from suburban Harrisburg, PA, where parks are in short supply. The few that we do have are in poor condition, as park upkeep is quite low on the municipal spending bill; there are bigger fish to fry, like violent crime and sub par education. The one park I do frequent, Veterans Park, is always crowded, lacking in shade, and overall not particularly pleasant. My friends and I arrive, play some volleyball or ultimate frisbee, and get the heck out because no one has any desire to stick around.

Then I come to London and see spaces like St. James Park, where me and four others spent a few hours doing my favorite thing, lounging. Comically, we were approached by a man wearing coin box demanding payment for the use of the public chairs. In an act of civil disobedience that Dr. King or Mr. Gandhi would be proud of, we elected to sit on the grass. Regent’s Park is enormous, reminiscent of Central Park back in the states. Its open green pastures and winding pathways make it the perfect locale for a romantic walk or a morning run. The smaller parks are nice as well, secluded little getaways from the hustle and bustle.

St. Jamess Park from http://www.freefoto.com/images/31/06/31_06_6---St-James-s-Park--London_web.jpg

St. James's Park from http://www.freefoto.com/images/31/06/31_06_6---St-James-s-Park--London_web.jpg

Regents Park from http://www.londonphoto.me.uk/image/regents%20park.jpg

Regent's Park from http://www.londonphoto.me.uk/image/regents%20park.jpg

Now that our time in London is waning, I regret that I haven’t spent more time in parks. I was, of course, too busy blogging.

Tags: Andrew B

Museumalgamation pt. 1

September 13th, 2009 · No Comments

In case my portmanteau skills are just too much to handle, this post is a combined reflection of my overall museum experience here in London. I am splitting it into two parts so Karl doesn’t fall asleep 1000 words into the post. Enjoy!

Cabinet War Rooms

I have never been one for history class, since the present and future have always been much more interesting to me than the past. I do appreciate how important it is to learn and understand the past because I believe that time is cyclical in nature (another topic for another time, probably a class on Nietzsche). My experience in the Cabinet War Rooms turned my opinions upside down. Never before have I been so enthralled by the events of yesteryear. The museum did a fantastic job of immersing me into what truly felt like World War II era Britain. Because the bunker was so impeccably preserved, it really felt like Prime Minister Churchill was actually working, chain smoking cigars a few rooms down from me while top-level officers made encrypted phone calls to top secret locations. The sense of urgency was palatable. Beginning in 1940, the Germans started working on Operation Sealion, a full-scale invasion of the UK. Looking into the rooms where crucial decisions were made gave me a real sense of anxiety. Will the invasion really happen? Will it be next week, or even later today? How can we prepare a country of millions against one of the most powerful forces in the world? All these questions were dealt with directly exactly where I was standing. It’s hard to fathom how much pressure was felt by Mr. Churchill at any given time throughout those six, unbearably tense years. Remarkable.

What made me happiest was the sense of humor Churchill and crew managed to maintain throughout the war. Take the map room, a very sparse and serious quarters where some of the most important decisions of this country’s history were made. Right smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean away from all the action (and any landmass) was some bored officer’s caricatured sketch of Adolf Hitler. I wish I hadn’t forgotten my camera, because it was such a hysterical juxtaposition of absolute seriousness and absurd humor. In another important room was a huge clump of multicolored telephones that the officers endowed with the appellation “The Beauty Chorus.” Instances like these support my philosophy that there is humor to be found in every situation, but again, another topic for another time.

Cabinet War Rooms hidden entrance on right. From http://www.surbiton-probus.org.uk/images/Cabinet-War-Rooms.jpg


Cabinet War Rooms from http://www.ahoys.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/cabinet-war-rooms.jpg


Victoria and Albert Museum

The V&A is exactly the type of museum I can’t stand. Again, the past tends to bore me in the face of the present, and looking at minutia such as plates and vases from X number of years ago is about as exciting to me as, well, you get the idea. This museum was stuffed to the gills with the riff-raff of ancient civilizations. The layout didn’t help very much either. Each civilization has its own section, ranging from the vast, sprawling “17th Century Europe” section, to the disappointingly diminutive Korea exhibition, brought to you by Samsung.

After some mindless wandering, I decided that the best way to overcome my ennui was to immerse myself in a culture totally unfamiliar. I chose Japan on the basis that samurai are really cool, admittedly. After about an hour of exploration, I found myself to be pleasantly surprised. They had an interesting display of Noh garb. Noh is a form of Japanese drama popularized during the 14th Century. It is most interesting because of its parallels with Zen Buddhism. It complies with Zen’s principles of “restraint, understatement, economy of movement, and frugality of expression,” as noted by the exhibit. The minimalistic plays involved very little movement on the part of the actors, few if any props, and absolute austerity. In stark contrast to the scant nature of the acting, performers wore Noh masks. Each mask represents a different emotion. The following masks were on display (All images from www.nohmask.com, except for Okina, found at http://www.artsci.wustl.edu):

Hannya, a woman turned demon representing jealousy.



Waka-Onna, a young woman symbolizing beauty and nobility.



Shikami, expressing violence.



Uba, who represents a once beautiful woman.



Okina is most interesting. He is the oldest representation in the Noh repertoire. He symbolizes agricultural fertility, and is the only mask that actors don after entering the stage.



Overall, the Japan exhibit was the only one that piqued my interest. Noh is fascinating and is definitely worth further researching.

V&A Exterior


Stay tuned for part 2, featuring the British Museum, National Gallery, and more!

Tags: Andrew B

The Pitmen Painters and Existentialist Thought

September 11th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Philosophy post! Prepare for pretentiousness, big words, and most importantly, bullshit! I’m only kidding of course. Yesterday’s play, The Pitmen Painters raised some important questions about personal identity. In fact, the entire first act was dedicated to that theme. The miners are faced with an important challenge to their working class identities. When the wealthy heiress Helen Sutherland offers Oliver Kilbourne a weekly stipend for painting, he declines after much deliberation, hollering on about how a miner absolutely cannot be an artist. He is a pitman through and through and that will never change. His identity does not extend any further than his career.

Oliver is a perfect example of Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of mauvaise foi, translated as bad faith. Sartre realized that humans tend to define themselves as per a list of finite list of descriptors, such as profession, sexual orientation, actions committed in the past, etc. His most famous example is the infamous waiter. This particular waiter wakes up every morning and thinks about waiting tables. He goes to work and is in his element, focusing primarily on his job and considering everything else to be either peripheral or in some way related to working in a restaurant. He is more waiter than human. Sartre considers such a person to be lying to himself, because human identity absolutely cannot be isolated into one overarching trait.

Oliver is in bad faith, at least throughout act one. There really isn’t much more to his shallow existence beyond his job as a pitman. He considers Helen to be part of “Them,” the upper class of Britain who might as well belong to a different nation. The two classes are worlds apart. Oliver and crew can’t even fathom pursuing a career in something as lofty as painting, a profession stereotypically associated with those who actually have time to paint, namely the upper class.

I apologize, but some technical jargon is necessary at this juncture. A key concept in existentialism is undefined nature of humanity. There are two important ideas to be understood here: facticity and transcendence. Facticity is past actions or social roles, or what most people attempt to use as fodder for definition. If I killed a man last week, the murder is part of my facticity. Transcendence is what a person is yet to become, an infinitely open space to be filled with future facticity. Sartre famously writes in the god-awfully long Being and Nothingness, “I am what I am not and I am not what I am.” Read that one a few times. To be what one is not is not as contradictory as it seems. The nothingness represents the freedom all people possess to make choices and live dignified lives. Do not become too deeply ingrained in your past; it does not define you.

The Ashington Group initially disagree with everything Sartre said. A pitman you’re born a pitman you’ll die, and you’ll never be anything more. As the men become more and more well known in the art world, they insist on remaining “non-professional” artists and keep their dismal jobs down in the mines. I believe that the group, especially Oliver, conquer their bad faith. They finally realize the crucial balance of facticity and transcendence. Their art remains based on working-class life and pitman culture, but they learn to embrace the future instead of gluing themselves to their past.

Tags: Andrew B

Andrew’s Frustrating Tale of the British Library

September 10th, 2009 · No Comments

It occurred to me last night that I have a major lack of research done for my paper. I know that I’m not the only one. As far as I know, only a handful of people have actually paid a visit to the library and gotten their reader card. In case you are one of those folks who haven’t yet gone, this post is directed to you. Military time is used for added European flavor. Read it and know what not to do at the British library.

0900: Leave bright and early with high hopes for a prestigious library.

0902: Return to the Arran House to retrieve my forgotten passport.

0917: Finally arrive at my destination. Almost get hit by a bus crossing the street.

0919: Ask the receptionist where the heck I need to go in the behemoth of a building to get a library card. He responds, simply, “Go upstairs.”

0929: After ten minutes of confused wandering, return back to receptionist for a slightly more specific destination. Feel really stupid after he points to the big sign saying “READER CARD REGISTRATION.”

0931: Proceed to registration area. Sloppily hand receptionist the gazillion documents and forms of identification that I was told to bring. Before I even say a word he asks if I’m American. Typical.

0932: Fill out electronic application. Didn’t run into any problems, for once. Hooray.

0950: Finally called up to complete application process. Clerk is morbidly obese, and flirty.

0951: Turns out all I needed was a passport, a driver’s license, and my Dickinson ID. Feel embarrassed again for bringing so much stuff.

0953: Get picture taken for library card. Clerk compliments me on the picture. I think she was just being nice.

0954: Run into Audrey. Go America.

1000: Sit down at a computer that is clearly not working. Young lady next to me asks if I’m American. Move to another desk on the opposite side of the room.

1015: Successfully locate and compile six or so books that seem pertinent to my topic. Go to enquiries counter to pick up books. Am told to wait 70 minutes for processing. Why 70? Why not 60, or 71 for that matter? Only God knows.

1130: After a delicious visit to Pret a Manger, return to library with revitalized high hopes.

1133: Turns out I didn’t actually request anything and that the last hour was a complete waste of time. Clerk chastises me for not asking for help. Yeah, well, he’s old and has bad teeth. So there.

1145: Receive help from a younger librarian who is familiar with the orthodontist’s office. Am told to wait another 70 minutes.

1330: After getting lost in The Guardian and totally losing track of time, sprint back to library. What if 70 minutes is exceeded? I bet they make you wait 70 more minutes as a penalty.

1333: No penalty for tardiness! Unfortunately, only one book out of six are available. Silently curse the British library system.

1420: Fortunately, the one book is informative. Proceed to copy machine room for much green button pressing pleasure.

1421: 20 pence per page?! That’s highway robbery! Makes me miss Dickinson for its free printing services. Oh, wait…

1430: Ingenious idea for new search terms! Find a book in database called Swingtime in Tottenham. Perfect for a paper on the London Jazz scene! Much rejoicing, followed by grumbling due to yet another 70 minute wait.

1520: After another visit to Pret and a thorough reading of Wired, proceed back to library feeling giddy.

1524: Swingtime in Tottenham is a children’s book. With pictures.

1525-1533: Seethe with anger.

1534: Leave library. See Andrew Ford from the science program across the room on the way out. Go America.

1550: Return to Arran House, thoroughly unfulfilled and sore.

The Moral of the story: For the love of God, no matter how unfriendly or scary the librarians might seem, ASK FOR DIRECTIONS!

Tags: Andrew B

Immodesty and Retribution

September 9th, 2009 · No Comments

It takes a lot to make me feel emotionally uncomfortable. I pride myself on my open mindedness especially in the face of different, unfamiliar cultures, ideologies, and religions. For instance, besides some minor worrying about potential offensiveness of our silly attempt at head covering, I didn’t feel the least bit anxious at the Sikh gurdwara in the same way some fellow students did. I venerated our unprepared, yet clearly impassioned tour guide on his ability to speak from his heart. I deeply respect anyone capable of complete devotion to his or her beliefs.

I was uncomfortable in the Mandir. The temple itself was beautiful beyond words. The grandiose structure stuck out in bland Neasden like a Ganesh in the room. (Get it? ‘Cuz Ganesh is an elephant? Sorry). Incredibly intricate masonry and woodcarving adorned the Mandir inside and out. It looked like it belonged on the list of Wonders of the World.

Images from www.mandir.org (since I forgot my camera, of course)

From www.mandir.org (since I forgot my camera, of course)

So yes, the mandir was gorgeous. Truly beautiful beyond words. What bothered me was the overbearing sense of pride conveyed by our guide. I lost count of how many times he mentioned that 2,800 tons of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tons of pure Italian marble were hand carved in India by the greatest craftsmen on the planet. “It is a masterpiece of exotic design and workmanship that rises above London’s skyline…replete with luminescent white pinnacles and glittering marble pillars, it stands as a beacon for Hindus, both young and old throughout the world” (www.mandir.org).   In the featured exhibition on Hinduism inside the temple, the writers claim that Hinduism is “the most tolerant, most resilient, most peace-loving of all religions.” In addition, the BAPS (Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha) faith has grown worldwide, without a hue of hypocrisy or an fever of fanaticism.” These are some very bold statements for a religion based upon the principle of ego-free modesty. Nirmãn, the fifth prime principle of Swãminãrãyan sadhus (monks) preach a life “untouched by pride or anger.” Modesty wasn’t exactly the most clearly conveyed quality of the Neasden mandir.

That was the negative. Now for the positives. For all the outright bragging done by our guide and the self-revering scripture on display in the exhibition, BAPS has redeemed its apparent immodesty through acts of charity and respect. Disaster relief is their forte. According to www.bapscharities.org, BAPS members donated their invaluable services to reparation efforts of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the 2004 South Asia tsunami, the September 11th attacks in New York, and just about every natural disaster that has ever occurred in India. They also provide rehabilitation clinics to those with addiction problems, ecological ventures such as tree planting and recycling campaigns, and perhaps most importantly, teaching literacy skills to those in regions with poor educational institutions.

Despite my initial discomfort of the grand Neasden BAPS mandir, learning of their selfless acts was cathartic. Verbal modesty is overrated in the face of philanthropic action. So go ahead, Mr. Mandir Tour Guide, tell me about the Italian marble one more time…

Tags: Andrew B