leedsblorg

16 Sep

Day One
Song stuck in head: I Think You Know – Julia Nunes
Foreign people met: Four

Here follows a quick and mostly unenlightening precis of the first day, filled in on paper at various points in the day. Skim at your leisure – it gets a little bit more intense later (when the italics end). You’ve been warned.

Boring journey – got lost in little country town, pub advertised “Chateaubriand for two: The Ultimate Beef Experience”. Another pub up the road: The Dog and Gun. Yorkshire, motherfuckers.

Got all my stuff packed and in the room, except for my goddamned beer fridge. Must find some way to sneak it back in later on.
Had lunch at Brown’s. Was fairly rubbish. Mussels took ages to eat. Next time: Nando’s.

Family went. No tears – they’re probably glad to get rid of me. Spent an hour or two in the room, unpacking shit and sitting around. Eventually I went to get a cup of tea, and found two people in the kitchen.

First neighbour(s) met: Amy and Boyfriend (Steve?). Both Mancs, but Steve (or whatever) supports the Toon. Get in, lad. Amy was supposed to be in the Nursing halls but got shifted for reasons unknown. They immediately left to go bowling.  Bye, guys. (n.b.: She’s actually called Katie. Well done, you moron).

Texted around, got on Facebook, Interneted about for a bit. Second neighbour met: Shin (or Chin, or something). Very possibly Chinese. Apparently he’s the hall warden for this floor, but the letter says we just have one warden, and he didn’t know there was a common room. (There had better fucking well be a common room). Vaguely suspicious, but seems friendly enough. Ran into a few problems in the conversation (my accent, his grasp of the language). Seemed a little too interested in what was in my room. Possibly a wrang ‘un. Possibly just Chinese. Will investigate later.

Got a little bit suspicious of that Chinese guy. Rang the fam and asked what they thought – sister smells a rat. If he didn’t know where the common room was (assuming there is one), and he claimed to have a job that doesn’t exist, and he didn’t ask about whether or not I’ve been doing okay or any warden-type stuff, and he seemed to stand a little bit too close to me (maybe that’s just me being weird), then the little shit’s up to something.

About to head downstairs and see what’s what. Nobody seems to know what they’re talking about (fucking student labour, harrumph etc.) Hopefully something’s going on downstairs. There really better had be a common room.

Went down and spoke to the security guy. He said he’d check the CCTV.

Never heard back from him. Good job, too, because it turns out… well.

I was busy stalking around the floor, waiting for something to occur, when something occurred. A knock on the door revealed two girls with stacks of posters, who asked if they could put one in the kitchen. The posters turned out to be for an Opal-only bar crawl. They were selling tickets, and I readily handed over six of my best pounds for one, when who should walk in but my newest neighbour?

This Is Deeply Embarassing, Because I Spent the Majority of the Afternoon with This Girl, and I Have No Idea What Her Name Is. She’s from Portugal, and her English is great, and she can fucking well use it, as you’ll hear about imminently. After making a few introductions, we decided to knock on doors and see who was around so we could all have dinner together. Turns out our Chinese friend, who I was still mildly cautious of, was the only other person on the floor at that moment. We all duly head into the kitchen and sit down in front of the TV, intending to have a cup of tea and a chat and then make something for dinner. The first two steps went fine. In fact, I think you could say that the first step went better than any of us thought it ever could.

Basically, we sat and talked for six hours. Well, that’s not quite accurate: Portuguese Girl sat and talked, I occasionally joined in and spat out a few lines, and Chin sat quietly, owlishly analyzing the whole conversation and inserting a couple of choice comments here and there. It seems that the whole “Chin is a nutcase” thing was a misunderstanding on my part: when he introduced himself to me that afternoon, he’d said “Hello. I’m the resident in room D.” My brain, addled from stress and hunger, immediately tacked the word warden into the sentence and began to bubble over with fresh paranoia-brew. It seems that Chin is nothing more than an archetypal Chinese student – quiet, unfamiliar with the West, smiley but easily confused. (I say “seems”. He may turn out to be a thief. He may turn out to be a murderer or a backstreet abortionist or a Flashdance enthusiast. It’s still far too early to tell with these people. Despite that, “seems” can go a fair way.)

Portuguese Girl (I must find out her name) expounded on a great number of subjects – the various foibles of the bizarrely corrupt Portuguese school system where peer pressure is such that the class loners get lower grades for being so, the systems of institutionalised hazing in Portuguese colleges, the weight and quality of Portuguese books compared to British ones, the four channels that Portuguese terrestrial TV is blessed with, the complications of the registration system at Leeds Uni, her many and varied interests (Arthurian legends, pre-industrial towns, health foods, not watching TV, Japanese cartoons and teetotalism, among a thousand other things), the various fast food restaurants in Leeds and how they’re all bad in various ways. We listened to her horror stories, finished off her sentences, inspected three of her books (all novels concerning the various legends of King Arthur – she’s obsessed) and had a long discussion about the relative merits of rubbing alcohol. By the time the conversation wound down, it was half ten.

To put it in the only way I can, I never noticed I was fucking starving until I noticed I was fucking starving. They both got their coats and we headed off into the city centre. We noted landmarks, tried to remember where shops were for the morning inventory, and marvelled at the sheer number of fucking Subways in this city – they’re more numerous than Greggs in Newcastle, and I’m not lying – on the way down to the train station, where Portuguese Girl said there was a Marks and Spencers where we (she) might be able to get healthy food. Predictably, it was shut. Nevertheless, we found a nearby Subway (that is to say, we turned around and there were about twenty of them) and irritated the cashier with our extensive and prolonged orders. Portuguese Girl insisted on the veggie slice – a hunk of brownish tofu-looking material with green and red flecks studded randomly in it – and Chin asked, in halting English (bless him) for salmon, without first looking at the menu to see if it was listed. It wasn’t. He then asked what the one fish-based item was, and apparently had never heard of tuna but decided he wanted it, and then he didn’t quite understand the process or concept of heating up a sandwich. In this midst of this multinational confusion strode a large, cheerful Leeds native, who, upon hearing that one of us was Portuguese and one of us was Chinese, proceeded to give several helpful tips on the pronounciation of the word “tomato”. We then got into a cheerily impromptu and quickfire discussion of American English, the religious nutcase in America who organised Burn the Koran Day, empire building (British vs. Portuguese), the exact location of Chin’s town, terrorism and Iraq. As the automatic mediator of this conversation, I was appealed to by both sides – Portuguese Girl with logic and historical argument, and Big Friendly Leeds Guy with good old British stubbornness and rhetoric. After about twenty minutes of lively but good-natured debate, a queue started to form in front of us and BFLG announced that he had to go home and eat his sandwich. He shook my hand and Chin’s, then gave PG a hug and the European side-face-air-kiss-thing. I remembered thinking “Jesus, I hope they’re all like that”, as we trailed back up through a huge upward-curving shopping street that reminded me hugely of Wenceslas Square in Prague, and back to Opal through the quiet streets.

Quick summary of the rest: Got back, partly watched American Beauty. Funnier than I thought. The blond girl, whose name is in fact Katie, and her boyfriend turned up, slightly drunk but nice and talkative. At about half one, after a good twenty minutes of introductory conversation, I bid the kids goodnight (all of them are twenty – ha!) and leapt off to bed. I’ve spent an hour writing this. I’m still knackered. More tomorrow, yeah?

Day Two
Song stuck in head: Horchata – Vampire Weekend
Plates smashed: One

Fuck today. Wait ’til you hear about tomorrow.

Day Three
Song stuck in head: Kiss with a Fist – Florence and the Machine
Posters bought: Three

This is going to be a long week.

I long for the day that the two empty flats on 25 get filled up. And please, God, make them two British people, or even an Australian or a Canadian or, and I’m serious about this, an American. Really. I would gladly tolerate anything the next year can throw at me as long as I don’t get any more foreigners foisted on me.

I feel pretty bad saying that, but they’re both starting to grate on me now. The language barrier and the cultural gap are both too large to allow any meaningful interaction. PG (whose name I still haven’t learned – I’m too scared to ask) and Chin are both nice people, don’t get me wrong. But they’re just too, well, foreign, and they want to do absolutely everything as a group. The social stuff I can understand, but I really don’t need to walk around with them all morning while they try to find a Carphone Warehouse… I can tell this paragraph is going to descend into formless ranting very soon, so here’s a quick list of details and grievances:

PG has a great many irritating little habits, but by far the most prominent one is that she talks too goddamn much. You cannot spend five minutes with the girl without having your ears bashed with Portuguese cultural characteristics, lists of shops she’s been to and shops she might have to go to again, fast food places she doesn’t like, and English customs she deems ‘weird’. Every minute is an endless stream of garbled criticism and pointless outpouring. I wouldn’t mind it so much if she could actually hold a conversation, but it appears that in PG’s verbal symphony, hers is the only voice that counts. Every comment or point you make is answered with a vaguely enthusiastic “Yeaaah…”, followed by a thirty-minute oral exposition on whatever else seems to pop into her head. Between her and Chin, the Man of Few Words and Fewer Grammatical Rules, my chances for decent conversation are incredibly limited. I’ve been living in Leeds for about two days, and I haven’t spoken at length with a single local person yet. There’s barely anyone in Opal 3, either, so I’m basically fucked for social interaction until the other freshers arrive. That’s on Saturday. Today is Tuesday. Give me strength.

While PG says far too much, Chin says basically nothing, and when he does eventually pipe up, it’s with some deranged question to which I have no response. The questions are all about stuff he should have figured out before coming here, about banks and student registration and technology. Today he asked me a question that was basically unintelligible but had the word ‘Playstation’ nestled somewhere in it. I said “What, you want to know where to buy a Playstation?” He adopted the pained, confused expression he always puts on whenever something is asked of him. “Aaah… yes?”

I explained that various shops, like HMV and Game, sell Playstations and that he could go out and get one any time. “Aaah… no. I mean, ahhh… where I… re-gis-terr my Playstation?”

I stared at him. The question completely threw me. Did he already have one from China? Do all immigrants have to register their electronics, or is just Chinese people? Who the hell would he be ‘registering’ it with, and why? Above all, why was he asking me?

It turns out that his Visa application had told him to register certain items when he first came here. Christ knows why he was asking a British person a question based on the finer points of the People’s Republic’s immigration process, but now that I think about it, this reflects a general aura of incompetence that surrounds these people. Now, I understand that immigrating to a new country is big and scary and has many problems, and you can’t possibly prepare for absolutely every one you might come across. But it seems like neither of them have even done basic preparatory research on how student life goes, not to mention the normal activities attendant in British life. Neither of them know how the banks here work. Neither of them know exactly which events they want to go to, and which ones they have to go to. Chin seems convinced that his classes start tomorrow, though it’s not even Fresher’s Week yet and none of the lecturers are back. Neither of them seem to know the basic mechanics of crossing roads and navigating streets – it took us all of twenty minutes to walk to the university this morning. Alone, it would have taken me five.

Neither of them can cook, either – and food represents a whole new universe of obstacles. Chin has no clue whatsoever about Western food – he doesn’t know what anything is, he doesn’t know how much it’s supposed to cost, and most importantly, he doesn’t know what he likes. He brought a rice cooker and a set of huge knives, but since he doesn’t know how to cook, I’m not sure exactly what he thought he’d do with them once he arrived. Perhaps the most irritating thing is his habit of using the word ‘cooks’. Whenever food is mentioned, he’ll say “So we get the… cooks and we… make dee-ner?” God only knows what he thinks ‘cooks’ means. He could mean ingredients, he could mean kitchen equipment, he could mean recipes. He may think that Opal 3 has a hidden cadre of personal chefs, for all I know. When the awful day arrives that we have to try to make something in the kitchen together, maybe I’ll find out.
PG is another story altogether. She may be the fussiest person in the history of gastronomy. She won’t eat English food, or any food that looks like it may have an ounce of fat in it. She hardly eats sugar. She detests meat, and carbs, as usual, are the enemy. So far I’ve seen her eat a veggie slice from Subway, a bowl of cereal, a tuna sandwich and a plate of sushi, which she complained about on two fronts – firstly because it didn’t come with chopsticks, which is apparently a grave sin, and secondly because it was spicy.

Spicy.

In a desperate attempt to shake them off in town today, I’d told them in advance that I had a (fictional) lunch date planned with a friend who was only partly based on a real person. PG seems to think that we should do every damn thing together, so she suggested that first we should go to Kirkgate market to buy some fresh food. After meandering uselessly around the place for twenty minutes, staring at stalls and not buying anything despite my constant attempts at persuasion (I felt like an Arab trader in an old Disney move: “Observe these beauteous plums! Truly, they are the king of all fruits. No? Then perhaps some oranges, flawless and juicy globes of… no? Some spinach, kale and beansprouts, for a vegetarian stir-fry that kings might envy? Really? Nothing at all? Not even a poxy grape? Oh, for fuck’s sake”), we reached the end of the market and hung around uselessly. I had gotten to the end of my tether at this point, and said I had to go and meet my “friend” but that I’d come back later to pick up some vittles and we’d split the cost of a meal (which I would have to prepare). It’s now half-four, and the market closes at five. I have absolutely no intention of going back there today. I wouldn’t even know what to buy if I did – I know exactly how to make a meal to my own tastes, but between My Body Is A Temple With Armed Guards And Rotweillers Girl and Er Ah What Ees Haym Sarnd-wheech Guy, I doubt there’s a recipe in the world that caters to all of us. In any case, I’m planning to slope off to a free film showing at the Union at six, which should kill about three hours before I have to sneak back in and avoid my live-in parasites. I wonder what excuse I’ll have to pull out of my arse. Something about sudden forgotten appointments with imaginary friends, I suppose. Bring me some Anglophones!

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One Response to “leedsblorg”

  1. Laura September 16, 2010 at 1:53 am #

    Blogging needs satiated, I think I should tell you that it was well worth my staying up for. I hope some actual people from actual Yorkshire show up soon, otherwise you might as well have stayed in Newcastle and just bummed about Chinatown for a bit. Tell him that ham sandwiches are fucking awesome, by the way.

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