Thursday, October 27, 2011

"It tastes like s***!" (The North Carolina State Fair)

October 2011

When Pat told me about the NC State fair all of like a month ago, I knew I had to go. It seemed a fantastic opportunity to experience another aspect of American life, and man did I experience it! We went on the Monday, when the crowds were going to be quieter and it would be easier to get about the place (that’s according to Pat by the way, seeing as I wouldn’t have a clue…). 5 of us bundled into Madison’s car to drive over to Raleigh where the fair was being held, with Andy seated in the front getting very excited about the fair and Betsy sandwiched between Pat and I showing us the wonders of the next iPhone whatever, and Pat subsequently having great fun asking it lots of different questions to amusing results! Madison was driving, in case you didn’t realise that…

We originally rocked up to Madison’s house, with the plan to get the bus to the fair from his. However, on realisation that the bus would cost 4 bucks each, and the car park was only $8, we got back in the car and drove towards the fair. Being lucky as **** we managed to find a parking spot incredibly near the entrance to the fair. Result! Entering the fair beheld a majestic view. Well, not really, but I was certainly full of bright lights and loud music and smell of fried food. Faaaaantastic! I realised how sheltered of the wider American public Chapel Hill is, with various people of (mainly) larger sizes wandering around, with thick southern accents that I seriously had no way of even hoping to understand. And that was just the kids!

Having not eaten since lunchtime (a whole 5 hours before hand), I was starving, as were the others. Andy disappeared off and returned with the leg of a turkey (no, really), and I spied something which had been spoken about with a hint of reverence for the few weeks leading up to going to the fair. The phenomena known as the “Krispy Kreme Burger” is one found at the NC State Fair, and was spoken about with a hint of awe, fascination and disgust by both internationals and American’s alike. Naturally, on seeing a sign advertising them being sold I knew I had to try one!

There was a little (ok huge) issue with me ordering one, as my accent wasn’t understood at all by the two girls on the stand. “Are you foreign?” asked one, to my look of surprise at their appearance of pure stupidity/ignorance/hick-ness, followed by “I can’t understand your accent, speak English”. EXCUSE ME?! I am English you dumb hick! This was where I fully realised I had stumbled upon some of the American stereotypes so well known back home. Anyways, once this slight mishap was overcome (with me then being asked if Krispy Kreme burgers were a popular thing back home. You can guess the response I gave…) I received a box with this fabled item of nourishment (Ha!) within.

As you may have guessed, a Krispy Kreme burger is a slab of meat with the trimmings (lettuce, tomato, fried onions) sandwiched between two glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts. You read right. Add bacon and plastic cheese and you’ve got yourself a heart attack in a box. Literally.  But the all important taste test revealed that it was absolutely disgusting. Imagine a McDonald’s cheeseburger, then throw a load of sugar on it, then a bit more, then glaze it in more sugar and you’re nowhere near how sweet this horrendous creation is. Coupled with the weird taste of meat and cheese accompanying it, it was just disgusting. Needless to say, I didn’t finish it, gave a bite to Pat who fancied a try (he didn’t like it either!) and threw it away. Seven bucks well spent! I then seriously needed some decent (or at least as decent as you can get at the Fair), and so followed Pat on the hunt for a ham biscuit (not a biscuit as in Mcvities I hasten to add!). Which turned out to be rather nice tasting, except I got laughed at for asking for ketchup (apparently you don’t eat a biscuit with ketchup…).
The epitome of healthy living...
Maybe not one of my greatest ideas!
The rest of the evening was spent wandering around the fair, taking in the sights and sounds. As it was a sate fair, there were exhibitions on show such as cake designs (some were phenomenal), competition winners for biggest vegetables (some were bloody huge!) and animal auctions. The amount of money thrown around was an eye opener – $10,000 for a cow seemed about standard (yes, I know being a city boy I have no idea about these things but it does seem a lot!). We also went on a couple of rides, which had to be chosen with care as it seemed that health and safety didn’t really exist at the fair and many of the rides looked like they were about to topple over. Needless to say, the high swings and ferris wheel were chosen, and duely enjoyed by all. I was also cool to get up high and see the whole area of the fair (absolutely huge!). Also on offer at the fair was the opportunity to stare in fascination at the various weird and wonderful animals on show. Now these animals weren’t just normal animals, but what were labelled as “freaks”. For example a 5 legged sheep or giant horse. The only catch was the cost of going in a looking at the animals – needless to say we didn’t bother. It also concerned me a little when I saw some adverts for a “fish girl” and “spider women”. Not sure whether that can be considered culture or just plain bizarre…

Yo veg is so fat....
Other edible items consumed was an ice cream as big as my face (no joke), a deep fried milky way (pretty dam good ill have you know, although god knows what it does too your body!) and deep fried macaroni cheese. Wasn’t so keen on the macaroni cheese I’ll be honest. It was amazing at what was on offer – deep fried Kool Aid (similar to Robinsons but not really), deep fried Oreos and deep fried candy floss were to name just a few. We hung around to watch the fireworks, which were pretty impressive to watch and then wandered back to the car and drove back to Chapel Hill, chilling out at Pat and Madison’s apartment for the remainder of the evening.

Deep fried everythiiiiiing....

The NC state fair was certainly an interesting experience which I am glad to have gone too. Having said that, I would probably prefer to go to a tradition English Country Fair with its quaintness and almost innocence compared to the American version. Plus it would mean I wouldn’t get stared at for my accent…

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"WOW! You just said 'y'all'! (2 months in)

October 2011

So now I’ve spent 2 months in the USA, and whilst my list of things I’ve learnt is a lot smaller that after 1 month, there are still things that I am getting used to and experiencing. For one, I still don’t get crossing a road. Sometimes cars stop, other times they don’t. Different crossings have different right of way laws, and sometimes people stand in the middle of the road and blow whistles at you. So confusing! I’m sticking to the (so far, but not sure for how much longer) fair safe of simply just sprinting across the road…

I’ve also started watching the BBC TV series “Stephen Fry in America” which is fascinating to watch, as much of what he says about America and its culture I can relate to from my own experiences. If you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend watching the series as it very entertaining. I'll apologise now, as I reckon I will be quoting and referring to a lot of his series as examples of what I’ve done and seen. It’s also great to watch a programme with a good, proper English voice in it!

So the list of things I’ve learnt this month:
  • Fosters does exist here in the USA. I found it in a supermarket type place. But it comes in two sizes – huge and fucking huge.
  • You get charged to make and receive texts and calls here. I hate the fact that some calling me cost me money. It doesn’t make any sense.
  • Adverts (commercials) for medicines (drugs) are pure hilarity. Every time I hear one it makes me chuckle. They spend 30 seconds telling you the wonders of the drug in a dreamy like way, and then 5 minutes telling you the side effects and how its bad for you in a very hard voice you would associate with a stern teacher. Absolutely fantastic to listen to!
  • Cheese is shocking here. All plastic and peeled out of a packet. It’s really not that nice at all. And it even looks crap, all plastically and horrible!
  • Picking up local dialects and words is a lot easier than I thought. Although this doesn't mean I understand people anymore often at all!
  • The size of food portions here mean boxes are sometimes offered as standard at restaurants. I mean to my logic, why put so much food on the plate and then offer a box? Why not put a little less food on the plate in the first place?! Fancy restaurants with huge plates and no food on them would really suffer here that’s for sure.
  • Pepsi and KrispyKreme Doughnuts originate from NC. I have been asked repeatedly if a) I’ve ever had a KrispyKreme (the answer being yes many times) and b) if we have them in the UK (the answer being yes, hence the yes answer to the first question). I do think they taste a bit different here though…
  • Oral sex is illegal in NC (I mean, really?!)
  • When asked if you want “a shag”, don’t think you’ve got lucky (or not depending on who it is I guess…). A shag is a dance, and not what British people associate it to be (that’s sex for you Americans). Anyways, apparently there’s a place called the “Shag Barn” in Chapel Hill somewhere. I definitely did a double take, thinking other things that would go on there…
  • Americans like to change what they call food to reflect their constitutional freedoms and world image. For example I heard a cracking story of the changing of the name ‘French fries’ (as in chips) to ‘Freedom fries’ back in the time of the attempt to go to war in Iraq, because the Bush Administration didn’t like the French’s lack of support. And so not wanting o be associated with the French they changed the name of fries. Only in America.
  • There are only three letters in the American alphabet: U, S and A.
  • Spunk as in “being spunky” does not mean what it does back home at all. I got laughed at a lot for that one…
  • It is illegal to sing off key in NC. Seriously, don’t try it.
  • I genuinely have become a convert to American Football (now I understand the rules!) - I love going and watching it. Though it will still continue to never have anything over Rugby…
  • Memorable quote (can’t remember who said it though unfortunately): “it seems weird that people in other countries have Facebook”. Oh dear! 
It seems amazing that I’ve been here two months now – it’s gone so quick, yet also so slowly. It certainly feels like I’ve been here a lot longer, and the next two months till I get to go home seems to stretch out in front of me. I guess I’ll just have to keep craicing on and keep busy and not do any work as per usual!

    "Ugh. Just Ugh" (American Midterms)

    October 2011

    The past few weeks have also been fairly hectic in terms of relative workload. I had two midterms (admittedly not as bad as some of the others), which were quite stressful as it’s a concept I have never experienced in Manchester. These exams can count to 15% of the overall grade, so it’s quite important to do well! Luckily in my Spanish I got 84% (VERY happy or ‘muy feliz’ as I should say!) and I haven’t had my GIS one back yet.

    The process of taking exams here has been an interesting one. As said in previous posts, being in college at UNC is very similar in nature to being in secondary school, in the sense that attendance is marked and grades rewarded reflect your attendance record. This is particularly hard for me when I have come from a system where the emphasis is very much on one own learning, and attendance is encourage but not required at all, and now I am sitting in a classroom listening attently for my name to be called to ensure I’m marked in and my grade doesn’t suffer. I would say I’ve turned into a proper neek from this, but in reality for some classes I’ve been marked as absent, and so not turning up now isn’t going make much difference to my grade, and so I may as well stay in bed to be honest! Another thing that has really shocked me here is the lack of anonymous marking of work and exams. My name has to be written on everything. And I hate it. I really feel it’s unprofessional and not conducive to helping promote individual thought at all, because I feel nervous putting things down in case the professor calls me up on it. On a more worrying level, it sort prevents people from complaining about professors and staff, simply for the worry that their grade will suffer as a consequence. Which I feel is terrible.  I would say I wouldn’t put my name on the paper and just my student number, but sometimes you get awarded a mark for writing your name on the paper, so I may as well maximise my chances of scoring ok-ish! 

    Going hand in hand with this concept of being back in secondary school is the way of talking to professors. At Manchester, I am now very used to talking to my lecturers and tutors on first name terms and fairly informally. However, here at UNC the professor expects to be talked to formally, similar to a school teacher by a pupil. Now, here I understand this may be simply a Manchester Geography department phenomena, with the staff being a lot more laid back (for example only names are on the doors in the geography department, no titles of letters), where as in other departments at Manchester the title etc of the professor is on the door with no first name. Here at UNC this seems to be more the case, with lecturers being referred to as “Professsor Smith”, and always held in some sort of reverence (again, I emphasise this is simply from what I’ve seen), which has been quite hard for me to adjust to. I guess personally I prefer the Manchester system as in my opinion is fosters more familiarity between lecturers and students, which is better for a working/learning environment. However, this could be indicative of the fact that (in general) the geography department is quite a young one. Or simply the fact that geographers are a lot more chilled out about these things!

    Anyways, as I have said in previous posts, the amount of work is much greater here than in Manchester in terms of quantity, but to an extent of a lesser level in quality. By that I mean I feel that here the work is a lot easier in content that back home, for example is a geography class I used to take (Natural Resources – since been dropped) we were looking at concepts I learnt at a AS level standard (high school for you Americans) and I was sat in a degree class with people who didn’t have any clue about these various concepts being discussed. I guess in argument, the system at UNC with pre-requisites across different academic departments and across different years means that in-depth concepts and theories cannot be taught, simply as the class has to be at a level that someone who may be majoring in Sociology can understand, and is only doing the class to fulfil their geography requisite to graduate. Furthermore, the style of teaching is a lot different with much smaller classes (which is definitely good!), but this means there is no hiding from the lecturer, and so you have to do the work before hand or else you look like a right muppet! And yes I have been in that position a fair few times now… Blagging habits die hard though! Talking of blagging, it’s also SO easy to cheat in tests (not that I’ve don’t it I hasten to add). The tests are given out in class time, and so everyone sits next to each other and so you can potentially read the persons script next to yours easily. And at times the lecturer will leave the room. Madness I tell you!

    Fall break is this week however, and so a whole two (yes two!) days are awarded to us poor souls to rest our weary heads and collect our thoughts. For two days. Bloody bollocks if you ask me… Ah well, to Washington, DC!

    Ariel view of (part of) the UNC campus

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    "So, just who the **** are you?" (Joining ROTC)

    October 2011

    I’ve forgotten to mention in the last post that I’ve started up ROTC here at UNC, transferring from Manchester and Salford OTC for the year. Now I’ve got to be careful with what I say about comparing the two, certainly in terms of not pissing off the higher echelons of both Units, but also for security reasons (can’t be posting on the internet all the tactics each Army uses now can I!) Nevertheless, the past few weeks of involvement with the ROTC has been interesting for me. My first interaction with the UNC Tar Heel Battalion (as it is known) was a rather intense one-on-one interview with the Commanding Officer. It took roughly 3 hours for me to explain who I was, what I was doing there and what the English OTC system was like in terms of where to place me in the American ROTC system.  Typical with all things public sector, the papers I had sent off in May beforehand still hadn’t got through to the unit, and as such they had no real idea (apart from a few emails) who I was. Typical! Anyways, being the British guy in a unit of Americans is cool – with a lot of fascination flowing both ways. It was a bit of a baptism of fire, as the first parade involved getting up for a 6am 4mile run on a Monday morning. Very grim. And being a lazy **** all summer made me even more nervous about not wanting to stand out for being the unfit douche rocking up and looking dumb. Luckily I managed to pull it out the bag and finish just over the 30min mark (very proud of myself!) and was glad to realise that like back home, there are some VERY unfit people within the unit.

    I am wearing my British Army uniform whilst training here (making me stand out even more!) but walking around campus is great with all the double looks I get! That’s another thing, on a Wednesday you have to go to class in uniform – very different from the Manchester security conscious attitude of not wearing uniform anywhere except at the Unit. I guess this links into the different attitudes towards the military here in the States compared to back home. The military is truly supported here and people genuinely think the world of the soldiers. This is very different to back home where we are not allowed to wear uniform in public die to security risks, and on Remembrance Day last year we were followed by riot police in case of a violent reaction to us marching in the streets. Despite having my own uniform, I don’t have any of my own kit, and as such am having to use the kit issued by the ROTC unit. Let me say now, I am never bitching about the kit we get in Manchester ever again. I really don’t like the kit we use here – the webbing doesn’t have any utility pouches, doesn’t tighten properly and has things hanging off it everywhere. So when crawling on the ground everything falls off and it looks like a bag of shite. I also really don’t like the compasses we use – they look like they were designed in the 1960’s and are rather bulky and cumbersome. Furthermore, taking a bearing is a right bitch, as it can’t be done just using the compass itself – instead lines have to be drawn all over the map with the use of a protractor. Bloody hard in the woods in the dark whilst also trying to find a torch! However, I have been issued a cool American digi-cam camelback, and a t-shirt with ARMY written across it (simple pleasures!). The uniform I bought with me from home really isn’t suited to the climate here (being designed for cold raining England), and as such I am always hang out of my arse sweating within 30 seconds of standing outside. But I have to say training in sunshine and the dry for a change is VERY nice. Especially in comparison to the “Bleak Leek” days of always raining and snowing, even if the rest of the country is enjoying 30 degree Celsius temperatures!

    The training is also very different to home, with only one weekend per semester (compared to Manchester’s every other week) and shorter training sessions during the week of 2 hours or so. However, there are a greater number of sessions – 3 PT sessions at 6am, one classroom ‘lab’ and one outside ‘lab’ a week. It’s been a bit of a challenge trying to integrate into the unit, especially with all the different acronyms for things (the US army likes acronyms just as much as the British one!) and the fact there is no socialisation outside of the unit activities for me to get to know people – a far cry from the massive drinking culture prevalent within the UK OTC units (I mean, we don’t drink to excess, just a responsible amount obviously…)

    It is interesting to see who the US ROTC is treated as a Unit in comparison to the UK OTC, in terms of pay etc. In the UK we are paid per training session we do, with a minimum requirement for out year bounty, but the ability to choose a little or as much training as possible, with the amount of take home pay collected reflecting that. In the US as far, as I’m aware, you receive a set amount of money monthly depending on your time served, regardless of the amount of training you do. Further to this within the US ROTC when you join you have to contract into the US army after you graduate, in return for paid tuition fees and money towards books etc. This is a far cry from the (current) OTC system where there is no obligation to commission into the Army after you graduate. However, I feel this has positives and negatives, in that it helps aid a professionalism within the unit here as people know that they will be leading others once they graduate, but at the same time I feel it prevents others from potentially joining to see what the ROTC is like, and as such in the future they may have National Guard Reserves under them and not allow them time off for training – something the (current) OTC system aims to happen for those who don’t wish to commission into the British Army. It also seems a lot more common for ex-soldiers who wish to go to Uni to join an ROTC unit whilst at college, and so within the Tar Heel Battalion there a few US marines knocking around and apparently an SF guy (although I don’t think I’ve met him yet). Obviously being British I manage quite successfully to bridge the gaps between years and can quite happily chat away to anyone which is pretty good – some fantastic stories come out that’s for sure!

    Now I would write about tactics, but in the interest of national security I won’t (OTC-ers, fairly similar but some key differences – some good some bad in my opinion!), instead I’ll write about my ROTC mentor, DJ. I’m not sure if this is US wide, but certainly within the Tar Heel Battalion a mentor system exists with 4th years having 1 or 2 mentees with whom they are supposed to look out for and help integrate into the ROTC and college way of life. Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea, and would seriously push for this to happen at Manchester. The Mentors take the mentees out a few times a semester and simply act as a person to talk to about anything, and help out with issues that may occur within the ROTC programme or the wider college life. DJ is a really nice guy and seemed pleased to have me as a mentee (British charm coming out there too!). I just hope he still is please to have me… And h studies in Nottingham for a year doing his Masters, so it means he understands the nature of living somewhere else away from home, and also parts of British culture which is refreshing to be able to talk about and hear about UK Uni life from an American perspective! So far we’ve met up twice – once for a nice Tai meal in Durham (I think) and then again for a drink in the Station bar in Carborro. What with now having a solid group of friends, alongside Pat and Connor, I don’t really think I need another mentor as such, but it’s still good to have someone else to turn to if needed and also to meet up with and chat about military things – something I can’t really do with non-ROTC people!

    So all in all transferring to the ROTC whilst at UNC seems to have been a decent idea, and means I can continue to do something I enjoy doing, meeting other people who have the same sort of attitudes and interests as myself. I would like to say thanks to all the guys who have helped me out with the various bits of paper work and admin malarky that had to be done, and the different years who have helped me not look like a bag of shite not knowing what is going on when various things are shouted about! It would just be nice if there was a little more socialising outside of training!

    I don't have any ROTC photos yet so here's one of a racoon I saw one night

    Carpe Diem

    October 2011

    I realise I haven’t updated my blog for a while now. It’s sort of in part due to the realisation of the humour so prevalent in the first entries wasn’t quite coming across as I’d have liked, possibly through a combination of increased work load with midterms approaching and culture shock setting in.

    I hit a low a couple of weeks ago, really missing home and not wanting to be here anymore. We were told that it’s a perfectly natural stage in coming here to the USA, and that everyone will hit a low at some point within the first 6-8 weeks. It’s basically a period where you get over all the fun and excitement of arriving here and meeting new people and discovering new things, and the reality of being away from home and in a new culture for a long period of time sets in. Now you are probably thinking here “err, what Alex, the USA is the same culture as the UK right?”, and I would like to point out, as ive said to many people so far, that although the US is very similar to the UK in many respects, in others it is very different. I feel that this mish-mash of differences and similarities has made it a bit harder for me to adjust here, as so much reminds me of home, yet it isn’t the same. It’s strange how the things I miss most are the little things, like Robinsons orange squash, Cadburys chocolate and a carpeted floor in my room. I’m sure at this point people are laughing at me, but trust me when you can’t have these things they mean a lot to you! However, I’ve tried to push through this stage by keeping busy getting on with things, and trying to not think too much about home. Easier said than done when your roommate is keeping you awake at 2am and the mattress is digging in and you can’t sleep!

    The bit more homely but still rather uncomfortable bed space

    Anyways, I’ve kept busy and am still living it large at the weekends with various different groups of people. I try and see Pat at least once a week and its always cool hanging out with him and his group of friends who are so welcoming of me. I also think Pat quite likes showing new places to me when we go out, and I have to say its refreshing to go to different bars in and around Chapel Hill, some of which you would never know were there unless you were in the know. A prime example of this is a place called “The Cellar” which is just outside of Chapel Hill proper down Franklin Street. This is a cool little underground bar in the basement of another bar (hence the name). You actually have to walk through the upper bar (which is quite trendy and expensive I have to add!) to get to the stairs down, and it has neon lights, low ceilings and loud music. Just what you want from a bar!

    The first ‘international dinner’ was held by the American girls (Lexi, Lexie, Jess, Emma and Wevine) that have sort of adopted us whilst we’re at Chapel Hill (known as the Pritchard Ladies for simplicity!). There were a lot of us crammed around the table, with perches being found on all sorts of cupboards and window ledges, but it was a great laugh, especially with John providing his usual unique humour in the form of verbal abuse at everyone. Getting more and more drunk on wine this became even more outrageous and equally hilarious! The food was cool – pasta can never go wrong at an eve like that, although eating off Halloween plates (bit early!) was a tad bizarre… the life of the student! Now, as mentioned before, with the copious amounts of wine being consumed (its actually ridiculous how much wine got drunk!) things began to get rather raucous, with far more Ke$ha and f***ing Cher Lloyd (thanks to John, America has now been introduced to her – god knows what they think of our national taste in music…) being blasted on the iPod than I care to remember. Plus John doing more and more things only he could get away with doing…

    Pritch antics

    Anyways, we headed out to Pulse just behind Franklin Street (a place I’ve been to a few times, and I still wonder why I go there), with a $2 cover and a bouncer who couldn’t read DOB’s on ID’s (no seriously, he couldn’t). Pulse was as tacky as ever, yet also shamefully brilliant (think that’s the wine affecting the outlook to be honest), with everyone dancing away and completely not giving a dam about anything. I also experienced my first American Long Island Ice Tea. I say American LIIT because it is vastly different from the UK one. The difference is simple, yet makes so much difference to the drink. That difference is the quantity of alcohol within the drink (Oh yeah of course!). Here in the good ol’ US of A, you can’t touch a drop of alcohol until you’re 21, but my god when you turn 21 the measurements of spirits are so generous it sort of makes up for the wait. And obviously it’s a great way to introduce people to the world of drink right? Its certainly interesting to see how stringing UK clubs and bars are with their spirit servings (obviously I know its government prescribed), where as here in the US and in mainland Europe there is a much more generous attitude to measurements. I will say I don’t know if there is legislation in these places limiting the measurements of spirits like there is in the UK, but its sure going to be annoying when I go back! The eve was a great success (thanks girls!) and as those of you who have me on Facebook have probably seen, some horrendous photos were taken. Yet again rolling into bed at 3-4am was the inevitable outcome. Via PitaPit for some food. Standard...
    All of us

    Not fulfilling the purpose of a dance floor...
    Was it something that was said?
    The Saturday after brought on the wine hangover, which didn’t shift for a majority of the day. So obviously the best course of action was to make it a triple night out and get back on it. I swear I get so frustrated at the lack of night life during the week that im so used to in Manchester that I simply go mental at the weekends here… The night was spent once again in Pats company (he surely must be getting bored of me now!) first going to a house party for a friend’s birthday and then heading to the Cat’s Cradle in Carborro to see Madison DJ. The house party was a typical American affair, with a seemingly dark and empty house from the outside and then as soon as the door opens the blast of music hits you. I swear these student houses are triple soundproofed to prevent anyone hearing anything outside! We headed out to Cat’s Cradle about 1ish, with the horrendously long walk to over the road (American sense of distance is getting to me already!). Cat’s cradle is a cool place. A smallish gig venue, it plays host to smaller and up-and-coming bands and DJ’s, and could probably fit top end few hundred in there. I felt really bad for Madison when we rocked up however, as there was a grand total of 20 people. It turned out the night wasn’t very well publicised and as such no one really knew about it beyond friends of the DJ’s playing. Shame really as I for one really enjoyed it!

    Other nights have have included various touring of bars and clubs, house parties and dressing up as pandas. Yes, a panda. That cute cuddly thing that eats bamboo. Except when its inebriate students, pandas suddenly don’t become cute or cuddly. Although they may still eat bark for a laugh. Obviously. The occasion was a friend of Harriet’s, from her Sorority, 21st birthday, and because we were all chic, cool internationals, we were invited along. Oh how that chic image soon shattered! I for one had nothing remotely panda-ish to wear, as I was only told about the party mere hours before hand, and in desperation rocked up in black tracksuit bottoms and a white t-shirt. More chavvy than panda-y. Face paint was then liberally applied to faces, which then made me look like a chav on day release who went to the zoo. Wonderful. The party itself was full of Frat and Sorority types, which as ive said before I am not a big fan of, and whilst they seemed ok-ish on the surface, it did feel like we had become marginalised once it was worked out that our Daddy’s wasn’t head of a big firm somewhere (alright, slight exaggeration, but still). Anyways, we found some non-Frat/Sorority types who went by the names of Jess, Cari and Colin who turned out to be good fun to be around. The evening moved out of the house (where a few people turned up in chinos and shirts I may add – to a panda party?!) and onto Franklin, namely Toppo. Now some of you may have gathered from previous posts (or just know) that Toppo is a fairly respectable bar, and rocking up in tracksuit bottoms with face paint raised a few eyebrows and mutterings of “it’s not Halloween yet you know”.  For the first time since arriving here I felt embarrassed at talking to people, simply for the nature of my attire (I was the only one with face paint at this point as John hadn’t gotten in and the girls had opted for the make-up look panda) and the fact that I was getting dumb questions when people realised I was English. I was quite surprised at my attitude to this, and realised Toppo is definitely not the place to go when in fancy dress alone. Needless to say, Fiona and made our escape and dodging further comments about Halloween walked down to Pulse (yes Pulse. Again!) to join John and Andrea with Cari, Jess and Colin. I have to say, for all of Pulses faults as a club, at least no one gives a dam what you look like in there. And the bouncers were loving it too!


    This is a 'just don't ask' picture...

     Lexi has turned 21 since my last post, and as customary for the ladies of Pritchard, a party was held, with 21 things for her to do over the evening. This inevitably ended up with her doing a body shot (you don’t want to know), a lap dance and kissing John (I hope she got checked out after kissing John…). As ever for a Pritchard party it was good fun with a decent mix of people we knew already and new people to meet. And Harriet got off with someone from a US Army Airbourne Unit (just thought I’d mention that in passing). The evening finished in “La Res” a house turned into a club just round the corner from the Pritchard house. La Res is quite a cool place and I really liked it with its outside dance floor and (almost) plush rugs on the floor. And its pretty rammed in there which is always good!
    Drunken (American) antics

    Before it all went downhill...
    On a more cultural level, I have seen two plays here at UNC now (yup, totally broadening my horizons!) A couple of weeks ago I went to see an amateur dramatic play in the Dramatics Centre at UNC called ‘(SIC)’. This was on a bit of a whim, as half an hour before Pat text me asking if I wanted to go with him. Obviously not wanting to miss out on anything while I’m here and taking every opportunity to do things, I accepted. Not knowing anything about the play I rocked up with Pat, hooking up with Presley and Sarah just outside. It turned out that Ramey, a mate of Pats was in the play, being a drama student, hence why Pat was going. The play itself was really good, with some great humour and interesting interpretation of language and props (check me out being a theatre critic!). I really enjoyed watching the production (obviously), which focused around the interactions of three young 20-somethings who lived in adjacent apartments. If you are reading this and the production is still on, I would highly recommend going and seeing it! (it’s free too, just to add another incentive…). After the play was over, and Pat had said hello to practically everyone in the place (no idea how he knew so many people!), we went down into Carrboro for a drink in a place called Miltown. I loved this place – styled on a German bar it offered loads of deferent beers from all over the world, plus with Oktoberfest coming up it had some sweet offers on German beer. And German beer is waaaaay better than some of the shite Americans drink! Me being me I had to get a stein (a litre for those of you who don’t know what a stein is). There was also some North Carolina beer on offer which was good too. Much to my surprise…

    I really enjoyed the evening actually being able to have a sociable drink and chat to people and actually being able to have a proper discussion rather than the brief shouting matches that are had at house parties and in clubs. Coming back into halls I stumbled (no literally by this point) on Connor, Alan and a couple of others having a rather animated conversation in the lounge. These people turned out to be called Angel, Filip and Brittany and seemed rather good fun (even Filip in his own way – VERY dry humour on him!) so obviously I joined them. And then realised it was 4am…

    The second play featured Elston, a fellow international from UCL that I met here. Funnily enough we had some mutual friends in common which was rather random when we first met! Anyways, Elston was in play called ‘The Rimers of Eldritch’, alongside Angel who I had met a week earlier in my dorms study lounge. The Ladies of Pritchard were going along to support Elston (Lexi is Elston’s mentor), and so I joined them as everyone else was spending the evening studying. Which, me being me, I was not going to do on a Saturday night! The play itself was interesting (I think that’s the way to describe it). The acting was very good, but I became very confused as to the storyline, which jumped around and repeated itself a lot. Further Wiki research cleared up a fair bit of confusion afterwards, but at the time it was quite overwhelming to watch when you don’t know what’s going on! After the play I joined the ladies in their evenings partying, which ended up me being the sole bloke in a group of 10-12 females. Que lots of jokes about being the GBF… After drinking at Pritchard for a while and spending aaaages on deciding what to do, we went out onto Franklin and bar hopped around a bit (including going to a bar which took me right back to when I went to Zante (that’s in Greece for you American’s) at 18 – they had vodka slush puppies!), ending up in La Res again, which I was quite happy about! Yet again, I ended up hitting the sack at like 4am after a really nice chat with my RA, Connor who was up changing boards around in the corridor as I stumbled into the dorm.

    The soon-to-be-standard Pritch photo
    I guess all these things show that keeping busy is the best thing, and to take advantage of everything going on - carpe diem as the saying goes (means ‘seize the day’ in Latin for you Americans!). However, I am beginning to become stifled by Chapel Hill – as great a place as it is it is still a small college town and for someone who’s lived in cities his whole life is definitely a shock to the system. Still at the time of writing Fall Break is approaching and with a planned trip to Washington DC it will be good to get out of  what is known as “The” college town and into a big bustling city!