Samantha’s Humble Tour and the English Dream Trip — Week One: Thursday

I’ve always found it difficult to achieve a good balance between experiencing and documenting all the crazy and wonderful things in my life, and I’m well-aware of the massive backlog I’ve acquired over the last few months of work and life explosions. But right now, the PhD thesis has been submitted, the university semester is over, the final essays have been marked and returned, the Shakespeare conferences and talks and film introductions have been given, the contents of my Belfast life have been donated or stored safely at a good friend’s, the house has been successfully vacated, the 30 or so insect bites along my legs and ankles (my souvenir from Paris two weeks ago) have healed reasonably well, and I am here in London with my trusty carry-on, ready to embark on five (!!) weeks of work-free, deadline-free, and laptop-free adventures. (Okay, maybe not entirely work-free, since I’ll probably do a bit of novelling and other writing, but these are super funfunfun things!)

So I thought I might take this opportunity to document the next five weeks of Samantha’s Humble Tour (as opposed to the traditional Grand Tour). A good chunk of it will be what I’ve called my “English Dream Trip”, and, since I’ve decided not to rent a car, I’ll be spending a lot of time on trains. The “English Dream Trip” attempts to cover as many of the places I’ve always wanted to go but never managed. When I first accepted the PhD scholarship at Queen’s University Belfast, I had every intention of going on trips to other parts of the UK and beyond every fortnight or month–and it never happened, because I developed an unprecedented case of workaholism for both the PhD and Tea For Three Studios, and I was also committed to sing in a cathedral choir every Sunday.

But no more! The English Dream Trip is indeed happening (even if I’m planning it as I go), and I will indeed document it and share the uber shinies with my iPhone-only photos! I also thought I’d share the cost of everything, since it might be helpful for anyone else preparing their own English (or perhaps Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish) Dream Trips, and because I want to show that a lot of these trips are rather affordable (accommodation notwithstanding–I had some horrible hostel experiences a few years back, and am thus disinclined to share my sleeping quarters with strangers). Also, to put some prices into context, I have several perks as a “student” and have acquired a Railcard, which gives me 1/3 off a range of trains–I’ll try to put the normal prices were applicable.

Continue reading

The Belfast Post

Back in December, a friend asked me about where I am in Irelandisland, and for some recommendations of things to do in my area. Since first moving to Belfast in September 2012, I’ve not snapped many photos of the city in a super touristy capacity, so when my friend made her request, I spent a day or two carrying around a camera and playing tourist.

But first, a few little facts about this wee city:

  • Belfast is the capital and the largest city of Northern Ireland, and has a population of 580,000 in the metropolitan area (thank you, Wikipedia);
  • The name “Belfast” comes from the Irish “Béal Feirste”, which means “sandy ford at river mouth”, and the city is a major port;
  • Although Northern Ireland is physically located on the island of Ireland, it is politically (though I use that term warily) part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and uses the UK international dialling code as well as the Pound Sterling;
  • That being said, the rest of the UK sometimes forgets about Northern Ireland, and many services/shops/etc in Great Britain (consisting of England, Scotland, and Wales) don’t have branches or even deliver to Northern Ireland;
  • Northern Ireland became such in 1921, when the island of Ireland was partitioned between Northern and Southern Ireland;
  • The “South”/Republic of Ireland is a different country, with a different currency (the Euro), and different official languages (Irish and English). And although locals sometimes refer to Ireland as “the South”, there are parts of Ireland that extend to the north of the Ireland, such as County Donegal (it can all get a little confusing);
  • When things get confusing, drink Guinness;
  • The Titanic was built in Belfast, and shipped off to Southampton (in England) where it set sail;
  • Game of Thrones is filmed in Belfast and around Northern Ireland (which may have influenced my decision to move here); and
  • You can become an extra on Game of Thrones through an extras company, but in order to sign up for the company, you have to have a Northern Irish National Insurance Number (basically an Australian Tax File Number or an American Social Security Number), and in order to do that, you can’t be elsewhere in the UK, but must be living and working in Northern Ireland (see above parenthetical note).

And now, here are a few photos of this wee city:


Just a little street, with lovely terraced houses.


A lovely little river underneath a lovely little bridge. Unfortunately, the grey sky is all too common a sight.

Continue reading

NCLA’s UK International Students Short Story Competition 2012

A few days before Christmas last year, I sat myself down at the dining table of my English housemate’s childhood home in a village tucked away in the Midlands. In between the hearty home-cooked meals, half-written sonnets, Christmas carols, and an essay on Edmund Burke, I began working on a short story that eventually became “Lily of the Valley”. Upon its completion, I entered “Lily” in the Newcastle University’s International Students’ Short Story Competition, where it was shortlisted early last month.

Last Saturday, I went to one of NCLA’s “Festival of Belonging” events, where I had the pleasure of meeting Hari Kunzru, one of the guest authors in attendance. To my utmost surprise and delight, he announced (on behalf of judge Tahmima Anam, who was unable to make the event) that I had won the competition. “Lily of the Valley” can be now found at the NCLA’s online archive.

Continue reading

Short stories, academic conferences, and a giveaway

I don’t usually make personal announcements here, but these two recent events have filled me with literary excitement that I couldn’t help sharing them!

Titbit #1: One of my short stories, ‘Lily of the Valley’, has been shortlisted for Newcastle University’s International Students’ Short Story Competition! I wrote the short story over the winter holidays and in three separate places: Wolverhampton (England), Horst (The Netherlands), and Leuven (Belgium). My thanks go to my three wonderful betas, Lisa, Maria, and Meghan, without whom my writing would be full of Freudian-slip typos and temporal inconsistencies. I’ve received similar honours for my writing in Australia, but this is my first in the UK and I’m very excited about it!

Titbit #2: My proposal to present an academic paper at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies’ postgraduate conference has recently been accepted! The presenting body consists largely of PhD students while I’m still working on my Master’s, so I am absolutely thrilled about the acceptance! My paper is entitled ‘From Speculations to Pamphlet War: The Influence of Burke on Wollstonecraft and Paine’, and focuses on the British literature of the French Revolution in the 1790s. Not only will this be my inaugural presentation at an academic conference, but it will also be held at the University of Salamanca in Spain! Much excitement is to be had!

And in order to celebrate the harmonious relationship between both my cerebral hemispheres, I’m hosting another postcard giveaway!

Continue reading

Happy Holidays 2011!

This year, as I’m so far away from home, my English housemate and her family—in their kindness and generosity—are having me over for Christmas. They’ve even given me a stocking to join their throng!

Wishing you all a joyous time over this festive season (from an English village in the West Midlands)!

Dribs and Drabs: The ‘X’ Factor

The ‘x’ factor is one of the the most striking things I’ve experienced since arriving in England three months ago. By this, I’m not referring to the singing competition and its massive following (which I suppose is equally striking), but the ‘x-ing’ culture that seems to take place in this curious little country.

As you may know, putting an ‘x’ near your name denotes a symbolic kiss. ‘xoxo’, being American and reversed, stands for ‘hugs and kisses and hugs and kisses’, and should be said in a Kristen Bell accent, preceded by ‘you know you love me’, and followed by ‘Gossip Girl’. In my lovely hometown of Sydney (and I presume in most other non-UK places), when someone says ‘x’, you think of that nasty boy who ate through your fridge or that nasty girl who ate through your credit card. However, the Brits do it a bit differently—here, ‘x’ becomes a primarily electronic kiss, but one that you would spam in multitudes. You put it after a text or email or Facebook wall post or comment or message or Tweet. Just today, the ever-so-awesome Stephen Fry Tweeted, “Leaving cyberspace for a week or so. Travelling to spend Christmas in a place with flaky reception at best xxxx” If we take this practice to be indicative of real life interactions, then the Brits would be as flamboyantly affectionate as the Italians or certain Austrians or drunk Australians in their greetings.

Continue reading