Thursday, April 28, 2005

Tutta Bene

I am really relived! Madoka just emailed me to say that she was fine, but really sad that the train accident has claimed so many lives. Am pretty relieved, but pray for all the families of the victims injured or dead.

On a more cheerful note, THANK YOU everyone who has given these really cool suggestions for the tables in France. I think I am going to use Kiddo's idea and adapt it accordingly depending on how it all looks when I do the mock-up.

Today we had this test on the Vienna Convention. I think I did okay. We have a lecture in the afternoon on the social impact of globalism. Today is also ILO World Day for saftey in the workplace. Apparently working can be dangerous for your health! we got stickers and stuff to advertise it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

All Quiet on the Western Front

There are some people I have not heard from for some time, so I am blogging this with varying degrees of concern.

First there is Shaun - my brother in Baltimore. YOO HOO Brother -- Are you there? And why your emails have gone quiet? You mean you are actually studying?

Second there is Madoka. For those who do not know her, Madoka was this friend I made when I was studying French in Rambouillet. She lives in Osaka, which was the site of huge train crash a few days ago, and I have not heard from her, so I hope she is okay too.

Okay, I guess I will hear from them at some point in time. In the meanwhile I am trying to settle the billion logistics for the wedding in France. If anyone knows of an interesting way to present chopsticks (they are our wedding favours here) please drop a comment on this blog. Otherwise I leave you with the theme idea which we decided on for the dinner.

We decided to name the tables after places which have some significance to Fabien and me. So for example, we have "Bali" and "Turin" which we enjoy together, and "India" and "France" which are very special to Fabien, and "Nottingham" and "Taiwan" which are special to me. Then we put photo albums and postcard on those tables (but no flags because they are cheesy) and we give the guests clues to find out which table they are on. Does anyone have suggestions on what other little things we can put on these tables? my idea is to have soft toys in costumes, like a plush baby elephant for India, a pig in a poncho for Mexico, a Panda for China and so on.. But what animal is suitable for France??

Monday, April 25, 2005

Northern Exposure

We are now in Lille this weekend because Monday is a public holiday in Italy. Basically we are 6 weeks to the weding here, so we needed to swing by and prepare wedding booklets and other nonsense in Lille. It is really pretty administrative, and (after the pain of deciding table themes and dinner menus) I realise why people only get married ONCE...

The good new though, is that I have learned about more interesting wedding customs from the North of France, where Fab is from. For example, in the Church, there is one part of the ceremony where people come up to the front table or something and bless a cruxifix of some other personal item intended to be in our future household. The idea is 2 fold. First, it allows people to get up and walk around in the middle of the service to stop them falling asleep and secondly, there is a church collection basket next to the cruxifix, where you can drop some change into. The money goes to the maintainence and repair of the church. I have no problems with this custom. I actually think it is quite useful, and when you see the stained glass window, you realise that it does deserve to be maintained and repaired...

I am also reading this really funny book at the moment. it is called "surely you are joking Mr Feynman!" and is the biography of the brilliant and eccentric physicist _ Richard Feynman.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Passing Exams Italian Style

Before I start - I am going to say hello to Jac -- (*waves madly*) because she would like to have something personal and I think you can be personal by blog as well as email. She is running all over the world at the moment, and I really hope she can run around to France in June this year, but of course, we will have to see. In any case, Pete can come by himself, because you know that the invitation is open to him too!

This post will have greater interest to Esther because it is about an Architecture exam, but it has a general interest to anyone who has had to ever take exams...

I gained some insight into Italian Style exams from this really interesting lady - to protect identities, let's call her M. [I know that I have a policy of using real names on this blog, but this particular case requires an exception] Anyway, M has 2 other siblings. An older brother and a little brother. The 3 siblings lived together in Rome, and attended the University of Rome at the same time. The older brother was studying engineering. He is clever and mathematical, and always did well in school. M is the sister in the middle, and she was very good at Art and literature. Then there is the little brother, who was desperate to enter the highly prestigious faculty of Architecture in Rome, but that faculty required a 2 section multiple choice entrance exam, with one section on Art and literature, and one section on mathematics and physics. It is not enough to be smart or to be a potentially good architect. There are 150 places for more than 2000 applicants, so you had to score really well.

The little brother had flunked this entrance exam one time already, and was close to giving up. So the two other siblings signed up for the same entrance exam together with him.

Why? The cunning plot revolves around the fact that they all had the same surname, they would all sit around each other in the exam hall. and so the Older Brother was the (*ahem*) guide for the maths and physics section and then stop writing (effectively only doing half the paper)and the Older Sister would perform similar services for the Art and literature section. So only the little brother handed in the COMPLETED paper with both sections, and has graduated from the university and is now a practicing architect.

This apparently is a very Italian way of doing things, where the ends justify the means. I asked M if she had any moral issues about doing what the rest of the world would think of as cheating, but apparently there is no inherent conflict because everyone is doing something like this!! There is less regimented adherence to rules here, which I find totally refreshing. However I would still need to apply my own personal moral standards to be comfortable in my own skin. I am not alone in this, because my classmate - Jukka from Lapland, lightly scratched someone's car whilst coming out of a parking lot, and left a note with his name and phone number. This has caused much amusement to the Italians all around...

Monday, April 18, 2005

dinner somewhere in Alba

One really nice thing about being here is that you get the experience of being cold and sunburned at the same time. It is kinda like skiing. We drove through the vineyards surrounding Turin (Alba and Asti), and ended up having dinner at one of those quaint little village places, where there is a fireplace and so on. You kinda think that you are having dinner in someone's house! The chef comes out to talk to you and throw in lots of freebies and stuff. We had a carpacio which melts in the mouth, some kind of chicken roulade, a pasta dish with some kind of meat sauce, and some kind of gamey meat. The desert was a sharing platter with different types of tasting portions. The only good news is that earlier in the week, I played football with my friends from the class for an entire afternoon. You can do that here because you don't really feel hot.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Toilet Paper Trees

There is a kind of tree here which has big pink blooms and lots of little delicate petals, which shred in the slightest wind. I will get a digital camera from Singapore and show you a photo of what I mean. After some rain, the pink petals get all soggy and wet, and plaster themselves on the pavement and cars and anything else in the vicinity. They kind of look like shredded toilet paper (you know the cheap bright pink kind?) This has led Fabien to christened them "Toilet Paper Trees".

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Totally Boring Game

Last night's match was a complete waste of time. Both sides were nonsense, and I am really disappointed. The only good thing was that there were no fights taking place between the hooligans, which would have really pissed off the real fans, because that would have called off the match.

I hear your comments and will put up photos of our appartment when we have a digital camera. Fabien will try to buy one in Singapore. Or someone who is coming here to visit can get one for us or something. I will try put up a photo from our pizza party dinner that someone else took on their camera. We went to this place where you can order rectangular pizza about 1m long! Beer is cheaper here than coke.

The weekend weather is going to be crap. It is going to actually snow!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Thanks Liyi!

Fabien and I were celebrating getting our appartment last night. It started with champagne and ended with Tequila shots. I also managed to talk to Liyi last night, and even though we stumbled home slightly wasted, I don't think any amount of alcohol could take away from the fact that I was really happy to hear from her.

Jean Nie emailed to say she just dropped by this blog (*waves*) she said you can use to call me because it is cheaper. I cannot use it to call any of you guys because I am on a public computer.

My phone number is on this blog! Scroll to the entry of 29 March.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Muggers and Misconceptions

Okay before I start on today's topic, I need to clarify the last post about our appartment. In case anyone is confused, the appartment that we got, is the one which required an interview with the picky Piedmontese Landlord. I think he prefers to call himself "selective" but at least he is not completely ignorant, and he realises that Singapore is not a hotbed of terrorist activity (or whatever his concerns were) and actually let us have the appartment we wanted for a reasonable price, and we are very happy about it.

Moving onto the first topic of today - I conclude that I am currently a shameless mugger. What do I mean by this? Well, I am a mugger because I study with consistency and enthusiasm. After working for 4 years, I now appreciate study of the law in a way that I never did whilst I was in university. For those of you that knew me in either Notts or NUS, you would know that I usually didn't even have a copy of the reading list. It would therefore surprise you to know that I am now reading ahead of the lectures! This means that I usually put up my hand and get all the questions right in class, ask questions and make what I hope are reasonably intelligent comments. I don't get much flak from my coursemates, because my comments/questions are usually simple and easy to understand (bearing in mind that most of my coursemates have English only as a second language). I cannot say the same for some of the responses recieved from some of the lecturers. I suppose they can make the excuse is that their first language is not English.

So where are my coursemates from? This class is about 40 percent Italian, and the rest come from the rest of the world. And we learn so much from each other, and take away a lot of preconceptions about other places in the world. For instance, Talal is my friend from Beirut. We had a reasonably long walk to the ticket shop to try to buy tickets for the Juventus - Liverpool match tommorrow. So on the way there, he gave me a quick history lesson on Lebanon, dispelled any myths about Beirut being a war zone, and invited me and Fabien to his house this summer. It is supposed to be a wonderful summer, because Lebanon will gain what Talal calls "actual" independence as opposed to the original powerless government which allowed Palestinians to force their way into Lebanese homelands (you can tell which angle this history lesson comes from).

If you walk through the classroom during a break, and you can hear Mira, the girl from Khazakstan, Murud from Uzebekistan, and Vitaly from Ukraine all speak Russian to each other. Listen to the 3 swiss guys talking to each other. Pierre will ask a question in French, Luca will answer in English and Manuel will object in Italian. After a few drinks, everyone automatically assumes that the rest of the world understands whatever language we are carrying on in, and I have had entire conversations in French to someone answering in Italian.

Okay, I will stop here because I have to finish reading this article on La loi applicable a l'arbitrabilitiè du litige (the law applicable to the issue of arbitrability). Did I tell you that even though the course is conducted in English, the reading list is in English, French and Italian?

Monday, April 11, 2005

We got our Appartment!

Whoopee! We got the appartment! thank you, thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. Apparently the landlord liked us enough to have us live opposite him...

So we FINALLY have a place to live, and I can start Italian Lessons! The two issues are linked because I wanted to sign up for language class not far from home. So I have found an inlingua school near us so that I can stop using my "survival Italian" and start learning the proper conjugates and proper grammer rules and so on.

The next step is to learn how to drive...Heh heh heh. It will be a pre-condition to accomodation in our appartment that I get to drive any would-be guests in my car for at least one long journey (e.g. from airport to home). In case you are wondering, this is not meant to discourage you from being coming to visit, but an incentive!

Living in a Postcard

I hope you had a good weekend because mine was great!

Turin is the site of the 2006 winter games, the discovery of this weekend was why it is considered an appropriately picturesque location.

The weather had been both rainy and cloudy on Saturday. On Sunday, we went to the park which is up a hill, when the sun came out and we saw the Alps. I felt like we had just stepped into a postcard! There were places where you didn't know where the mountains stopped and the sky began, but the rest of the Alps could clearly be seen as snowy mountains and grassy slopes. I felt like Heidi was going to appear any minute and start yodelling with lonely goatherds.

Then we went to a restaurant above the Piazza Grand Madre (where our original first choice tiny appartment was) and had this "carne a la pietro" which is essentially beef served on a hot stone. You can order the local wine in a demi-carafe (about half a regular bottle). It costs 4 Euros or about the same as one glass of wine in Singapore. After dinner, we went to a bar for coffee. You can go to a pub or bar here and order hot beverages instead of wine or beer. The local speciality is chocolate. Apparently Turin has more master chocolatiers than either France or Belgium! So when you go into a bar and order hot chocolate, you get stuff you can literally stand a spoon in. It is so thick and creamy that me and Fabien take all night to finish a tiny little cup. It is especially addictive when the weather is 7 degrees outside at night, and you can see your breath.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Interview for Appartment

okay Mike thinks option one and Kiddo thinks I will appreciate a safe interior better with a rough exterior -- keep those replies coming.

Actually there is a new development on the housing issue.

We went to see this GREAT appartment, which was well located and reasonably spacious, and a lovely courtyard. The landlord's agent very frankly told us that Price is not an issue, but the people who live there must fit in well. So in order to do this, we had to have an interview of sorts. Where we went to school, exhibit our latest employment letters to show our salary and other kinds of nonsense. The only reason why we put up with this is because we REALLY want this appartment.

Anyways, Fabien is bringing all our documents to show the landlord's agent today. The landlord is this grandfatherly looking old man who apparently owns ALL the flats in this beautiful and historical building (meaning he either is mafia or inherited the entire building), he takes one floor, and kept insisting to us that he only wanted to preserve the "family atmosphere" of the building, where people could leave their stuff unlocked in the main courtyard, and the common areas. In a way, you can see where he is coming from, but I was really annoyed when he looked at me and said "but you are not French!" in this shocked voice. (GRRRRR)

Anyways, we are sooo desperate for this place that we would jump through all hoops he has set up, so we try to persuade him that we are wonderful people. Wish us luck!!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Dry Skin, Driving Lessons and Big Decisions

As can be seen from the header I am going to tell you about 3 things.

First, a general anouncement that my skin here gets really dry - much worse than when I was studying in Notts. Either I forgot how my skin reacted to English weather or (*gasp) my skin is showing my age! In any event, the next time I am in Singapore, Elaine's Natural Source discount card is probably going to be useful.

Secondly an update on the Driving Lessons. It costs about 1000 Euros to get a driving licence-- and I don't mean by illegal means. About half of the costs of obtaining a licence is eaten up by the paperwork involved. You need Document X in order to apply for Document Y and so on. Not to bore you with details, but the process is going to be long and painful and I will probably whine regularly about it on this blog = Akan Datang.

Finally, the Big Decision I have to make now is whether or not we rent this lovely apartment in the Borgo Po, which we viewed yesterday. The appartment is situated in the Bukit Timah of Turin -- a very lovely safe area with views of Piazza Grande Madre, and the Alps in the distance. The only problem is that it is just a little bit small. Originally we wanted to rent an appartment with at least 2 bedrooms, so that we would have enough room to put up guests. However this appartment is small, so guests have to sleep on the sofa. There is another appartment which is much larger, has enough room to put up guests, but is located nearer the train station, so you may have to jump a few dead bodies on the way in (just kidding).

I am not going to canvass the opinion of family and friends on this issue, unless you first declare any vested interests! However I think we are probably going to take the first appartment. This is simply because any discomfort felt by cramped guests will be only over a few days, but Fab and I would have to suffer the daily stress of walking through less pleasant surroundings on a longer term.

Okay == What do our family and friends think?

Monday, April 04, 2005

Ciao Karol

There is national mourning in Italy, and especially in Poland. BBC and CNN provide 24 hour live coverage of St Peters Square. Is the world ready for an African, Latin American or Asian pope? I am not sure, but for the moment, we bid him a fond farewell, and headlines in all the major newspapers here have nice eulogies about him.

The sun appears in increasing spells although it is pretty chilly and I can see my breath in the morning when I walk to school. What I am learning? Well, the first lecture last week was on Economics issues in Trade Law and Policy. Prof Enrico is in the 5 percent who do not believe in neo-classical economics, and he has some pretty contreversial views - I love it! Today we have Global Trends in something or another.

As you can see I have not really commenced with my reading list. Will of course have an Essay Crises later in the course. This is difficult to do because apart from looking for permanent accomodation, Fab and me went to the Impressionist Exhibition yesterday at the Valentino Musesum yesterday.

Friday, April 01, 2005

stupid keyboards and other annoyances

One more thing I forgot about being in Europe -- the keyboards! They don't use the normal QWERTY keyboard, because there are all these letters with strange symbols and then to make matters worse, people go and diddle around with the keyboard settings so that it no longer is what you see is what you get. Does anyone know how to go back to normal QWERTY setting?

Other than that, the food is great, the weather is lovely and the drivers are still crazy. There are lots of interesting people from my course, a bunch of lovely lasses from Brazil, and some gorgeous Latin American men {i bet you my friends from back home are now dying to visit when they read this). There are 5 China students. They wear suits to class and take down everything the lecturer says.

Oh yeah, I was thinking of doing some April Fool joke on you all, like announcing that I am pregnant or something. But then given that people actually take this blogsite quite seriously, I decided against it! Tell me how April Fools went in Singapore or anywhere else in the world?