Saturday, August 30, 2008

English Roadtrip - July 2008 - The Pride & Prejudice and Spiritual Renewal Tour I

After such a disastrous day, that night, I was quite upset, disappointed, frustrated, angry... but after coming down from all of that, I was humbled. I felt like I had to be broken down... through my pride (of *my* vacation and schedule and ways), through my prejudices (of my family or other things that can be "blamed")... and be brought back to my bareness and depravity, coming back into the hand of God, which does not happen unless I relinquish my life. I am thankful that Alison was there for prayer, so that we could come back to such spiritual matters that are of utmost importance. Nothing else compares.

The next morning, we departed from York and rerouted our journey. Though it was a day late, we came to Fountains Abbey. This is/was Britain's largest abbey. Through the ruins, the visitor may imagine how great this abbey may have been in its heyday in the 13th to 14th centuries. Ironically, it is despite its "greatness"; its spirituality is what undergirded the institution.

After coming to this point, spiritually, I was truly looking forward to enjoying the open air, sitting around the ruins, and reading and meditating through the Bible. It is only when I recognize my place before God that everything starts to make sense again. And in his Word, I find joy in praising Him and peace in contemplating his design. The monks during that time would have read through the book of Psalms in under a week. And so, I thoroughly enjoyed the day of spiritual renewal in the Word. [Plus, ruins are like a "playground for adults", it was fun to explore the area!]

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

-- Psalms 8:1,3,4

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it
-- Isaiah 55:10-11

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

-- Psalm 121:1-4

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
-- Psalm 84:1,2,10

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;

-- Psalm 95:1-6

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever present help in time of trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear,
though the mountains be moved into the herat of the sea,
though the waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
-- Psalm 46:1-3

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
-- Psalm 136:1-3

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

English Roadtrip - July 2008 - The Everything-Go-Wrong Tour

All right, it would never be possible for such a lovely vacation to have gone off perfectly without a hitch, would it now? So here we have the "Everything Go Wrong Tour (Day)". Thankfully, it was just one day that went perfectly wrong.

We stayed the night in Keyworth (my parents were with my mom's friend in Bingham), and because of transportation issues, I had to go and pick up my parents to bring them back to their car in Keyworth. i wasn't happy because that arrangement would cause us to be at least an hour late from our original plan.

I just add this picture here because I was wearing pink and black... the same colours that Alison wore that morning. To her credulity, I actually felt 'bothered' enough to change T-shirts so that we wouldn't wear the same colours. [Looking back, she was wearing a shade of purple anyway.] She teased that my sister didn't do her job to wean me from feeling uncomfortable about such a silly thing. I attribute this discomfort from a deeper seated psychological need to assert my uniqueness. So in the end, I changed to yellow. :p

When I left Keyworth, I noticed that my car temperature shot up to maximum after five minutes; in fact, the car was pretty hot for the previous day as well. So, when we get to Bingham, I popped the hood for my dad to check (since he knows these things). Well, the problem was simple... we have been overheating for the past two days. We proceeded to pour water into the tank, at the beginning it just guzzled it up because it was basically just converting to steam... evidently there was nothing in there, and it ate up a LOT of water.

We went on our way back to Keyworth (to pick up my aunts too) and they were not ready! In fact, their clothes were still being hung out to dry! They took some time to get ready and by then, I was rather upset at being about two hours late.

Along the way to York, the Indicator light came on. Since Alison expressed her (rightful) disappointment at me not being open about the temperature going up for the past two days, I told her this time about the Indicator light, and she checked the car manual as to what it meant. It said something like, "If the indicator warning light comes on, do not drive the car." Well OK then! I walkie-talkied my dad and my parents said something about electrical problems. We stop the car, my dad checks under the hood, and clearly at that time, the fan wasn't working, since the car was starting to heat up again. GREAT! I call Enterprise Rent-a-car, and they tell me to call AA (like the CAA). Clearly, I was not very happy at this point!! However, the rest of my family took it well and enjoyed the stop at McDonald's. :p

Thankfully, the AA guy came within 20 minutes, ran some tests, and confirmed that the car couldn't be driven. He rigged it to his van so we would be towed to the nearest Enterprise at Mansfield, where we would have a new car. Sigh. By now, all hopes to getting to Fountains Abbey (which would close at 5pm) AFTER going through York were shot. The black car below is our new car (MUCH better, actually), and we were finally on our way to York, 4 hours late!

At York - We arrived at 3:30pm, basically kind of in time to see the cathedral and nothing else, since many things close at 6pm. But I figure, since there was nowhere else to go until Durham, we may as well stay a little longer, enjoy the city and have dinner here. We parked in a car park and split up to spend the day, aiming to go back to the car park at 8pm. I was not happy, since Fountains Abbey was probably the main thing I wanted to see on this entire trip. So, instead of walking around, Alison and I went for a late lunch with a high tea set, and I cooled down a bit. Afterwards, we enjoyed the quaint town and part of evensong at York Minster, which was soothing prayer time that I very much needed.

We all kind of forgot where the carpark was located, since it was a little way off from York Minster and the old town centre. When we got there, the gate was completely shut and LOCKED! I was in total dismay... because I knew there would be absolutely no way of getting the car out (it was a National Car Park... run by a government agency). Sigh, so easily can we blame this as "typical UK", where car parks don't operate past 7:30pm.

Thankfully, my family took things really well and we set off to look for a place to stay in York. And also thankfully, Janey and Nabeel in London helped me with some online bookings, and we found a place to rest for the night.

What a disastrous day!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

English Roadtrip - July 2008 - The Chinese Food Tour

Well, after all, I am Chinese, and this is my tour, so inevitably, there would be some element of Chinese-ness in it. My auntT has a good friend who lives in Swindon, and my mom has a good friend who lives in Bingham, near Nottingham. Naturally, our trip was to encompass visiting them (sorry Alison) so that they could show their hospitality.

To start off though, before Alison, auntHK and I arrived, the rest of the party had spent a day and a half in England, and for one day, they took the train into London Chinatown!! Here is my mom, auntM and auntT. I imagine this was before they bought roasted duck(s?) on the train back to Rhinefield House to prepare dinner that night as well as lunch the next day. For, when Alison, auntHK and I arrived around noon, we were awaited with instant noodles and roasted duck! A "homey" lunch before the trek out to Stonehenge, I suppose. :)

Swindon is not really known for anything in particular, other than having an outlet mall, it seemed. Of course, as a "Chinese tour", we would definitely hit it. Both Alison and I purchased some stuff from here, as well as auntHK, who is not known for buying things!! This is the UK-style outlet mall. :p Second picture is the friends of auntT, the husband who is a pastor of a Chinese church in Swindon. For dinner that night, they treated us to a BIG dinner of UK-style Chinese food (the owner of the restaurant who goes to his church, I think).

Later on the trip, we visited my mom's friend in Keyworth. Well, my mom's friends actually lives in the town of Bingham, but owns a Chinese take-out restaurant(!) in Keyworth. Both towns surround the larger city of Nottingham. My relatives stayed above the restaurant in Keyworth, and Alison and I found a very nice bed & breakfast down the street. Keyworth is a tiny, modern village (population under 10,000??), so we didn't expect to find any B&Bs there. However, Keyworth is also "Home of the BGS" -- the British Geological Survey -- and amusingly, the BGS website had a good listing of B&Bs catering to international geologists who need to go to the BGS. The funny thing was that every B&B on the list would state the walking time to the BGS -- obviously, the main 'attraction' of this tiny village.

As this is where my mom's friend has lived for many years. I had to do my 'daughterly duties' and talk to the auntie, and I dragged Alison there to eat the Chinese take-out food. Alison wasn't really looking forward to that (after all, we were in England, not known for its Chinese food??) but once we sat down, we both started to eat really fast because the sweet & sour stuff hit the spot! In particular, they had a super-crispy version of sweet & sour pork that was really good (imagine sweet & sour pork but cut into half centimetre shreds, and each individually dipped and fried). In the end, Alison actually ate a lot of her rice too -- apparently, a rare feat! Hahaha... it was a very funny meal.

And finally, in London, since Janey is always deprived of Chinese food in London, the four of us (Janey, Ina, Alison and me) went out for Chinese food twice to satisfy her cravings. Not that it was great, but to be fair, English food is not that great either. :p No pictures of HK Diner or the other place, but here we are in front of St. Martin's by Trafalgar Square before we went to dinner. Fun times. :)

Until next time, this is Gladys Yam.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

English Roadtrip - July 2008 - The Cute Cities and High Tea Tour

The quaintness of the cities below, married with the habit of enjoying afternoon high tea made for a vacation that was quintessentially English... scones with clotted cream (both not too buttery, of course) and jam... yum... while we didn't exactly have the full set at *every* location listed below, I did have 4 scones over the vacation. I had it once coming back to Hong Kong (not the same), and so I'm good for six months, I think!

Bath - The Pump Room is well-known for its high tea accompanied by live music. The room is a "neo-classical salon" that is beautiful in its simple and elegant decor. Here are my parents at the table! The Pump Room is adjacent to the Roman Baths, and as an educational service to the people who visited the Roman Baths, they serve the mineral-packed spa water for you to taste. As I said, it's mineral-packed (or, rather, it seemed like it was just packed with sulphur)... it tasted.. disgusting. However, my mom, being able to move paste these superficialities to the nutritional value, downed three glasses!!

Cotswolds - area denotes the rolling hills area in mid-southern England. As I mentioned before, it is best on horseback, and so we went! About horseback riding, it is tiring and uses some muscles that never seemed to exist! Therefore, there is a need to "stretch out" after the exercise. :p

While I am not a "typical girl" to appreciate the full satisfaction of horseback riding through the English countryside, the ride was peaceful, beautiful and enjoyable nonetheless -- it was peaceful as long as I could control my horse from eating all the high grass, shrubs, or trees that it came across. The funniest thing was that Janey's horse ate EVERYTHING in its path. :p In the other picture below, the plains were full of sheep happily eating away! What a simple, yet full life!

Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the towns in the Cotswolds area. Though much of the buildings retain their original forms, the Lonely Planet says, "this town has sold its soul to the tourism industry"... and indeed, it was packed with tourists who came admire the quaint little stream with quaint little bridges, lined with quaint little rose bushes and stately shrubs. Haha, we enjoyed great weather, so it was a great day walking around outside.

The Lakes District is not as historic as Cotswolds, but is quaint in a more modern 'small town' way. The numerous swans also made for amusing episodes since they are no longer afraid of anything in their path! Walking around the lakesides made for very peaceful walks around these gentle waters.

York has a local chain of tea cafes called Betty's, and Alison and I enjoyed a late lunch and tea here. Yum... the pastries and food were all prepared SO very beautifully! This was a long day (to be explained later), so sitting down for a quiet tea time was much needed and very appreciated.

London - by All Souls Church at Langham Place is Langham Hotel, where we enjoyed high tea tea at The Landau. The environment, service, and food were all exquisite... nor did they regard us as a bunch of silly Chinese girls! Of course, the most important thing about spending time eating is the company, and we were lucky to catch Ina and another of Alison's friend in London that weekend!

What a simple joy it is to eat and drink amongst good company!

Until next time, this is Gladys Yam.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

THANK you all for the many, many messages wishing me happy birthday. :)
It was a happy day!

If we were to play a game of jeopardy, the answer is "NO". :p

But my birthday would not be complete if I did not take the time to be quiet and reflect on my life journey. As usual, I don't place intrinsic value on the day (nor do I need to do anything special), but it is a milestone to gauge our progress in this lifetime.

Looking back to last year, I was caught in a pretty melancholy mood. Not that I used to feel them often, actually, but I think such a mood can easily veer off into a narcissism (you get the word I'm looking for)... so there needs to be a counter-balance. We look to ourselves, we look to this world, and we look up.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

--- Psalm 8:3-4

God is good. I was reminded of the need to slow down, to be quiet, to think and to reflect. I even think that getting sick is God's way of forcing me to do that if I have been going too hard for some time. Though the slow pace felt uncomfortable, it was part of God molding me to simplicity. I think the complexities of the world are just more and more unnecessary, and too often we create them ourselves or foolishly throw ourselves at it. And in my un-comfortability, God is mindful of me, cares for me. There were some chaotic crises last December, and God provided strength and a community to support me. And through some other emotional struggles, I was met with His peace.

A pure, sincere and stable spirit is not distracted in a multitude of affairs, for it works all to the honor of God, and inwardly blessed to be at rest from self-seeking intentions.
--- Imitations of Christ -- by Thomas a Kempis, Chp 3

Now, I know you're waiting for it, is the most obvious change this year, of David coming into my life. Or, the other perspective is me finally entering into his life. ;) Needless to say, it has been a blessing to learn how to lead a Christ-centred relationship replete with open, natural, and honest communication. And further, it has been an encouragement to challenge each other in complementary ways towards a fullness of life, whether it is appreciating the discipline and stability of quiet meditation, or learning to experience pure joy in all aspects of daily living.

It has also been a good challenge to consider my life service to Him... especially as things have gotten quite comfortable in Hong Kong and at E&Y... to continue on with my thoughts from last year, change is often needed. It is just a matter of time!

If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
--- Jeremiah 12:5

May we continue to press on...until next time, this is Gladys Yam.

Monday, August 11, 2008

English Roadtrip - July 2008 - The University and Cultural Educational Tour

Like any good Chinese tour, the universities are a must-see. Plus, my family was additional going to visit University of Sheffield to see my cousin graduate. In addition to the universities, I've lumped all "cultural educational" spots into this post too...

Oxford - No introduction really needed, just being on the Oxford University campus exudes the feeling of being "scholarly". Haha! When we visited, we passed by an exhibit below, which as Alison noted, the content seemed to have been designed for me... :p it turned out to be a very small exhibit, nothing spectacular. Next is the Oxford-version of the "bridge of sighs", built to replicate one in Italy. And finally, I am reading "Prince Caspian" in the courtyard of the Bodleian Library. :p

We parked on St. Giles, just in front of a nice-looking pub with a nice fish & chips sign in front of it. This pub was called the Eagle & Child. We went in, and it turned out to be *the* Eagle & Child where the Inklings, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, regularly convened to discuss story ideas. Very neat! The fish & chips were ok.

Cambridge - The Cambridge campus exudes a different carefree and literary feeling, no less because of the original architecture that was untouched through the war, as well as the river that cries out for tourists to go punting. Below is the Cambridge-version of the "Bridge of Sighs" in St. John's College. Alison and I were on our own punting boat when we bypassed my family... and my crazy auntHK stood up in her boat to take a picture of us (while I took a picture of her.) I add that she has had surgery on her knees, which adds to her craziness of standing in the boat! While tourists can pay for a punting tour, they can also choose to "do it yourself", and it was very amusing to see the self-punters who evidently did not know what they were doing [and why were many boats being punted by a woman while the rest of the men were relaxing??]. Plus, while it is kind of romantic for a boyfriend to punt for his girlfriend in their own boat, I think that is kind of boring, don't you think??

Stratford-upon-Avon is known for William Shakespeare, and we (Janey, Alison and I) were able to come here to catch the Royal Shakespeare Company's interpretation of "Taming of the Shrew". While I did do some minor research on the plot before coming on this trip, prior to that, my only knowledge of the story was vaguely from the movie "10 Things I Hate About You". :p It was interesting... I wonder how the Stratford Festival in Ontario would have chosen to demonstrate the "play within a play". In the UK, it was done as a touring Shakespeare players in a truck. :P Sorry, difficult to describe here!

London - And it is difficult not to catch a show or two in London. Janey, Ina, Alison and I caught Into the Hoods, a modern musical that is a spoof of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods". This new London fairy tale tells of the old fairy tale characters in new roles in the hip hop culture:
- Spinderella -- longing to be the best DJ,
- Prince -- longing to be a talentless D-less celebrity,
- Lil Red -- longing to be a lyrical songstress with her own Grammy,
- Wolf of "Big Teef" records -- looking to roll in the money
- Rap-on-zel -- wishes to be as independent and free as a badass MC
- Jaxx -- aspires to be a producer of beats that are truly heavy

You get it. It was a great show and great fun! The break dance moves and choreographed dances (hooded figures of the "hood" forest) were very cool.

NOT as musically inclined was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which both Alison and I still had not seen despite their long production in Toronto back in 1992. Some of my friends were in the children's chorus at that time and I felt like I needed to catch up on my childhood and finally see what this show as all about. And miraculously, over the past 16 years, I had NOT been subjected to any of the songs from the musical at all, so I had no idea what I was in for. Well, not much, really... the show was really cheesy, but at least now it's out of my system. :p

Below is the view from St. Paul's Cathedral across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern, where Alison and I quickly toured. Many of the art was just interesting. :p While I enjoy modern art, there were only a couple that caught our attention. The Tate building is a sight to see, though, in its grandeur in the city.

Until next time, this is Gladys Yam.

Friday, August 08, 2008

English Roadtrip - July 2008 - The Jane Austen Tour

I had the pleasure to be travelling with an obsessed Jane Austen fan, *ahem* Alison, which turned out to be educational for me since I have never read any of her books nor watched any version of Pride & Prejudice, which turned out to be a unifying theme throughout the trip. [I have only watched Sense & Sensibility directed by Ang Lee.]

It was funny how the day worked out, since Alison and I were scheduled to go horseback riding that day, but was unfortunately rained out that morning. Instead, we decided to head to Winchester Cathedral (see previous blog). In addition to it being a beautiful cathedral, this was also the burial place of Jane Austen. [Who would have known.]

A "stone's throw" away from Winchester is Chawton, the small town where Jane Austen lived, and her old house has been turned into a small museum. In it, we saw the table where she wrote her books and letters, keepsakes from her brothers... all in all, a quaint little house with a lovely garden. In today's day, it looked comfortable enough, even if small. Jane Austen lived there after her father passed away and her family had to auction off their remaining assets to generate funds. Incidentally, Bath was also on our route!

While the rest of the group visited the Roman Baths, Alison visited the..

Stamford happened to be one of those little historic cities en route to our destination in the Nottingham area. Stamford is on this list because it was also used as the backdrop of Meryton in the Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice, but walking through the town was a quaint experience nonetheless! Though we didn't visit it, Burghley House is a major estate nearby, previously an estate of one of Elizabeth I's advisors, which was also in Keira Knightley version of the movie. Below, you can see the historic architecture of Stamford, very much fitting a backdrop of 'officers' of Meryton.

The finale attraction was Chatsworth House, which was Mr. Darcy's beautiful residence, Pemberley, in the Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice. Do these pictures look familiar? The visit was indeed breathtaking, backdropped by the rolling hills of Derbyshire (for real -- I "heard" that Jane Austen was inspired after visiting Derbyshire and Chatsworth House to include it in her story.) The drive here through the rolling hills of Derbyshire was so nice. The fountain in the first picture is called the "Emperor's Cascade", a beautifully long, cascading fountain, where the steps were varied for a different sound along the walk (and the water was cold!)

Ah, Mr. Darcy... though, I can't say I am completely smitten by his character in P&P... :p He is a nice guy, with sufficient funds and good relationships to allow for generosity and to pull strings behind the scenes to do stuff for the girl he likes/loves, but... is he really "man" enough? hahaha But I suppose he and Elizabeth complement each other in the end.

Epilogue -- after the bombardment of Pride & Prejudice, (which included the BBC version soundtrack), I did purchase a copy of this book (at Jane Austen House, no less) and finished it as soon as possible when I returned to Hong Kong. I very much enjoyed it -- a very charming and witty satire of social norms, great writing and dialogue -- and also watched the 'inferior' Keira Knightley version of the movie. I figure I would watch this version first, since it would be so much more inferior if I were to watch it after the BBC version of the story. Indeed, the movie pales in comparison to the original book, where a movie character's intended 'non-'expression can, in no adequate way, convey the emotional tensions that underlie the situations. While I have not yet seen Colin Firth's portrayal of Mr. Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen's anti-social quietness in his early scenes at the ball only come across as blank and empty stares. It makes me think that Leon Lai possesses the similar emptiness in a Hong Kong version of Mr. Darcy. :p

Until next time, this is Gladys Yam.