Archives for posts with tag: Beng

Most mornings I wake up in Oxford thinking, “Awesome. Time to go take a Greek Exam. Time to go get punched in the face.”

This morning I woke up thinking, “I get to see my wife today.” I literally woke up with a smile on my face.

The Big Surprise

Lyndon asked me the other day whether I planned to meet Jen and Steve at the airport. I told him I wasn’t sure. I told him I had class.

He gave me a look like I was crazy.

“Oh, you’ve got to go, man. Why don’t I drive you?”

He said he had a class, but that he’d see if he could miss. So he could drive me to London. To meet Jen & Steve at Heathrow. This guy’s amazing. Time is so valuable here. With all the workload. For him to take a half-day to drive me to the airport was huge.

I thanked him profusely for even offering it. He shrugged it off like it was no big deal. But it was.

“Oh, no worries, man.”

And he was right. Once he mentioned it, I knew I had to go.

I e-mailed Jen a list of things Monday evening. Items we could use here. Things to pack, if she had room. Her flight itinerary. And directions to get to the bus that would take her and Steve from the airport to Oxford. She knew I had class, and they had planned to take the bus. She had no idea…

Lyndon and I had Greek this morning. And we took off right after class. To Heathrow International.

We arrived at the airport five minutes after their flight landed, which meant we’d have some time before we saw them.

“How ’bout a coffee to help get you even more excited?” Lynde asked with a smile. I wasn’t going to pass that up.

The coffee shop was only 20 feet or so away from the door for international arrivals, so we could sit there and chat while waiting. Watching everyone come through. Waiting for Jen and Steve to arrive.

“So, is Jen going to text you when she arrives?” Lynde asked.

“No, her phone won’t work here. And even if it did, she doesn’t have my new number,” I told him.

“Oh wow. So, if we miss them somehow, how will she get a hold of you?” he asked.

“Well, she doesn’t know we’re here,” I told him, forgetting that I hadn’t filled him in on that little detail.

“No way!” he said with big eyes and a laugh. “Well played!”

We had a great time talking. Catching up. I felt bad for continually looking to the door, but every time it opened I felt myself hoping it’d be Jen and Steve walking through.

Another wave of people. Still no sight of them.

I told Lynde I was about ready to run through the doors and start shouting for Jen. He told me if I did, I’d probably find myself with a black bag over my head and thrown into a van. He told me England law allows a suspected terrorist to be held for up to a month. I told him that was the only thing holding me back.

I forgot my camera at home, so Lynde offered to snap photos with his iPhone. I told him he’d better be ready. That I was likely to take off running as soon as I saw them. No matter how much I told myself not to.

After about an hour, I was starting to get nervous. Wondering if something went sideways with customs. Or if we had missed them somehow.

I asked one of the women who walked through the arrivals door where her flight was from.

“Iceland,” she told me. “They shouldn’t be far behind.”

That was encouraging. At least now I knew this was in fact their flight.

Another 10 minutes went by. Still no sight of them.

Lynde and I had been talking the whole time leading up to this point. We weren’t talking at this point. We just stared at the doors. At each face that walked through. Waiting. Nervously. I was growing more anxious by the moment.

And then, all of a sudden, the doors opened up and I caught a glimpse of them. First Steve. I noticed his sweater. I have the same one. I wore it yesterday, of course. This is the way it goes with us. It’s kind of weird, actually. Then I saw Jen. She was just behind him. And immediately my face lit up. With a smile that split my face from ear to ear. I couldn’t help it. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Times a million and a half.

I started walking down the walkway leading up to the doors. With people on both sides waiting for their loved ones. They waited. I didn’t. I couldn’t help it. My chin was quivering. I was so happy to see them.

I walked right up to them both. Flowers in hand. Steve was first, so I patted him on the shoulder. Then I grabbed my wife and gave her the biggest hug. The kind of hug you save up for for weeks. There’s no better feeling than holding your wife after not seeing her for so long.

I kissed her. I told her I loved her. And the whole time I was smiling. I couldn’t help it. I was so happy.

“How’s that for a surprise?” I asked.

I told them I was so happy to have them here. And I was. So much. I introduced them to Lynde. I told them how he had driven me here. To surprise them. And they thanked him. I think they were just as happy about not having to take the bus as they were about seeing me. Maybe more, after their long trip.

I Have Guests

We pulled into our place around 2 this afternoon. 6 am Washington time. I was surprised by how well they were doing. Considering the time difference. Considering the travels. They were doing great.

After showing them around (they loved our place), Jen decided to lay down for a nap. It was so nice to tuck her into bed. Our new bed. She told me I had lost weight. That I was too skinny. I kissed her forehead and tucked her in. She closed her eyes and pulled the covers up to her chin. She had a smile as I closed the door behind me. Which made me smile. I was so happy.

Steve stayed up. This guy’s a machine. He hadn’t slept since, Monday night, I believe. He said he felt great.

Steve checked the cookie jar, in hopes of finding some homemade cookies. Instead he found the strawberry wafers my Grandpa had sent over the week before. A look of incredible disappoint spread across his face.

“I thought I told you to bake me something sweet?” he asked. I laughed, knowing what was waiting in the oven. The cake I had baked for him the night before. In honor of his birthday I had missed.

We worked away from the kitchen table. I on my Greek. He on his e-mails. And Skyping with Jamie back home.

It was so nice. I was used to working on Greek on Wednesday afternoons. I wasn’t used to working on Greek with my best friend across the table from me.

He helped me run through my flash cards, and I told him I had decided he’d have to stay here with us. He said, “okay.” (Sorry, Jamie. I’m afraid I’ve let you down already…).

After several hours, we decided to get some fresh air. Jen was still napping, so I left her a note. That we’d gone for a run.

It was so refreshing to get outside and get some fresh after being inside most of the day. And it was a great way to introduce Steve to Oxford.

I’d point out buildings as we ran. Wycliffe Hall (“Where Lyndon goes”), Eagle & Child (“Where Lewis & Tolkein used to shoot the breeze”). There were several street performers on Cornmarket Street as we ran. A guitarist. And an amazing drummer. Dodging people as we ran through the city center.

A 31st B-Day Cake

I promised Jen pizza when she got in. Her favorite. So Steve and I walked down to Summertown to pick up our takeout order after getting cleaned up from the run.

“I can see why you’d love it here, man,” Steve said as we walked along the cobblestone sidewalk to Summertown. Leaves underfoot. It was encouraging to hear him say that. It was nice to share this with someone from back home. For him to see my new world. To be a part of it.

I told him it still feels unreal most of the time. Like I’m still living back home. It’s a weird feeling. Hard to explain.

We grabbed the pizza’s and walked home. Pizza and sodas in-hand.

After several weeks, it was great to share a meal with Jen and Steve, here in our new home. So great to sit around the table with them again. To talk, in-person.

We cleaned up the table and I pulled the birthday cake out of the oven. Frosted from the night before. Jen and Steve were both plugging away online. Jen on my laptop. Steve on his. So I managed to light the candles and turn off the lights before he realized what was happening.

I began singing. Jen joined in. He looked up with a look of complete surprise on his face.

“What? No way!”

“Oh, now I feel bad for giving you a hard time for not baking me cookies,” he said after blowing out the candles.

It’s not often I’m able to surprise this guy. It was nice to get him twice in the same day.

Jane and her family got in around 8:30 tonight. From Rome. I asked Felix how it was.

“Yeah, it was quite good.”

I asked him what his favorite part was. He told me it was the coliseum. He told me about all the animals they used to keep there. This kid loves animals. I should’ve seen that one coming.

He’s on break right now from school. For another week. It was so good to see him again. I’m really enjoying getting to know that kid.

Jane came over as we were dishing up cake and ice cream. To say “hi.” And to meet Jen and Steve for the first time. Everyone was quite tired from traveling, including Jane. So she didn’t stay long. But it was great to see her again.

I put four pieces of cake on a plate, covered it in saran wrap and snuck it into their kitchen. Along with a note thanking them for letting me borrow their cake pan (well, Beng let me while they were out).

The Happiest Guy in the World

I’m living in England. I’m studying Theology at Oxford. My best friend is visiting. And my wife is now here with me. I’m the happiest guy in the world.

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I keep telling myself I can’t possibly keep up the pace with this writing. I feel like I haven’t slept in days, and my body is punishing me by beginning to shut down. Sore throat. Wanting to fall asleep before noon. Each day I find out about more and more reading, studying and writing to be done. About another exam, it seems. But there’s so much I want to capture. So much I don’t want to miss or forget.

The Great Hall

After a Skype with Jen, a bit of studying, a quick workout (in the family’s gym) and an even quicker breakfast, I made my way to the final Greek Pre-Sessions this morning. Through Oxford City Center. Even at 8 in the morning, there is still a lot of hustle and bustle going on. Plenty of people starting their days. Students. Business owners. Tourists.

It was the morning of my last class at Hogwarts (aka Christ Church) for the quarter, this morning. I’ll miss the school, for sure. The class will carry on next week, in a different building, unfortunately.

Even though classes are getting going this week, there are still a bunch of tourists around. You can hear their voices over the sound of the professor while in class. Jen and I commented last summer while we were here how strange it would be to be studying someplace that was such a large tourist attraction. And it is. Particularly for someone who wore the tourist shoes only a year ago.

Leaving class, I remembered our conversation over dinner the night before. The one about Harry Potter being filmed here at Christ Church. I asked around, and a few steps later I found a line of students getting ready for lunch. In here…

I quickly put my tourist shoes back on and snapped this photo. You’re welcome.

Harris Manchester Library

I found myself back at Harris Manchester this afternoon. To be introduced to the university’s Tutor System. Which basically equated to what we could expect from our course load and how best to handle it all.

The woman speaking was incredibly nice. A professor at the University (or Tutor, as they’re often referred to here). Leslie Smith. She helps students adjust to the frantic pace of Oxford life. She told us to expect to feel completely overwhelmed for the first few weeks, and that we’ll then then quickly find ourselves adjusting. Our terms are shorter here. Only eight weeks long. And, since it’s Oxford, that means more work to complete in a shorter period of time to complete it in.

Leslie said the most common things she hears from students is that there must’ve been some kind of mistake. That there’s simply no way they could’ve actually been accepted here. Everyone else seems so. . .brilliant. Apparently I’m not the only one who feels that way. She said she always tells such students not to worry. That they have a very careful selection process and each student was chosen because they not only have the potential to do well here, but to contribute to their field.

“It’s all just an act,” she said in her very British accent. “Everyone’s scared out of their minds.”

We were introduced to the library afterward. By a woman who guys by a title other than Librarian. Library Fellow, perhaps. She was incredibly kind. She told us she was here to serve us. That there’s no stupid questions. And that if there’s anything she can do to help, that we should just ask. After looking at our reading list (mine’s 11 pages, for one class…), I was hoping she knew what she was doing.

I absolutely loved it there. In the library. I was so at peace. It’s a beautiful place.

Old books, of course. Row after row after row. Stacked all the way to the ceiling. Lots of leather and wood, everywhere you look. Leather chairs framed in wood. Leather-topped tables framed in wood. Ceilings and walls, all old, dark, rich wood. The room has a second floor for additional seating, and you can look up at it as it is merely made up of overhead walkways. The first floor has windows at the end of each book aisle. Stained glass windows. An ivory statue of an old cloaked man with a book in hand sits at one end of the room, and there’s a fireplace at the other. A clock sits on top of the fireplace, tick, tick, ticking away.

The room is incredibly quiet. So much so that you feel guilty about the sound of your footsteps on the wooden floor beneath. A pile of shoes sit just outside the door. By students who’ve found them to make too much noise, apparently.

Dinner with Felix

With Justin and Jane at Sir Elton John’s private dinner party, I joined Felix for supper shortly after returning home tonight. Beng had prepared us dinner. A meat and noodles dish. Italian. Very good, although I’d be hard-pressed to describe it. She called it spaghetti, but it definitely wasn’t the kind of spaghetti I’ve ever had. Again, very good, though. Broccoli. Green Beans. Carrots. Plenty of vegetables to round out the meal. It was great.

Beng set the table and served us before excusing herself from the room so Felix and I could carry on. It all felt very odd. Very much. . .for someone else.

Felix was still dressed in his private school attire. Dress shirt and slacks. Dress shoes. Although his shirt was now untucked. His latin homework book sat at the end of the table. Latin. At 10. He’s brilliant. I’m confident his vocabulary outnumbers mine by a ratio of two:one. On a good day. My good day.

He’s very into animals. We talked about the different kinds of animals he has here in Britain. The kind of animals we have back at home. And then he told me about the safari he went on. And all the animals he saw there. He told me there probably aren’t any African animals I can name he didn’t see. I gave it my best shot. And, after getting through about three or four, I had to turn to my memory of The Lion King to think of more animals to throw at him. Still, no luck. He’s pretty much seen them all.

We went out to the backyard after finishing our second plates of dinner. To show me around. To introduce me to the rabbits. To point out which neighbors get fussy when you accidentally throw a ball into your yard, and which neighbors don’t. And to give me a quick introduction to the game of Cricket. As if I didn’t have enough to learn all ready. I really did want to learn, and I think I have a better understanding of it now, but I still don’t know whether the guy who throws the ball is a pitcher, a bowler or a punter. Too many new terms all at once, I suppose.

We returned to the dining room for dessert. Warm apple cobbler and custard. It was amazing. The phone ringed for Felix while we were eating, so I sneaked in a second helping.

Pub Crawl

The folks at Harris Manchester hosted a pub crawl this evening. To show the freshers around. To introduce them to the best spots. And to provide a chance for everyone to meet one another.

I had debated on going or not going. I really hadn’t been feeling well. Sore throat. Exhaustion. Surely a side effect of going to bed at 1 a.m. and hardly falling asleep before the alarm went off at 6 since arriving.

But I decided to go. “It’ll make a better story than staying in and studying,” I kept telling myself.

And I’m glad I did. I met up with about 20 other students at the college before wandering back down the cobblestone alley to a pub called the Lamb & Flag. A small place with low ceilings. And it felt a bit like you were walking into a sauna that had been stoked with Guinness for a few hours stepping through the door. We placed our drink orders at the bar and found a small room toward the back of the pub. Less crowded. Less hot.

I met a handful of very nice people who’re also members of Harris Manchester. And one girl attending another college. It’s a bit of an odd thing, really. Even though I am technically a student of Harris Manchester, I don’t actually have any classes there. If you’re confused, don’t worry, so am I.

I met a guy from the south of England by the name of Jamie. Really nice. Thick in the chest and shoulders. Bit of a sporty look to him. He told me about the time he hitch-hiked from Canada to Yosemite to go mountain climbing. When he was 20. Or just turned 21. And about how he met the nicest guy in a mountaineering shop in a place called…”Port Angeles?”

Harris Manchester is specifically for students over the age of 21, so most of the group was made up of people returning for second degrees. A lot of people who have decided to change careers, for some reason or another.

“English is what I’m really passionate about, so I applied and now I’m here,” said a girl by the name of Faith. She’s from the Philippines. Her father’s a pastor outside of London. “I actually studied law here at Oxford about nine years ago, but English is my passion.”

“I’d have trouble saying that about law,” said Wei Meng, a really cool guy who went from banking in New York to studying law at Oxford. Wei is originally from Malaysia, but he’s worked for quite a while in the states now. Young guy, still. Late 20’s, probably. “It’s something I’m definitely interested in, but I’m not sure I’m passionate about it.”

I interjected. “Sure, but you could be passionate about a purpose you could use law to accomplish.” He nodded. Others nodded. Another guy spoke up, “Like helping the homeless.”

“Right,” I said. “That’s probably true of most subjects. We’re here because we believe what we’re studying can help us accomplish something. Something special. Something we’re passionate about.”

And I immediately was reminded of the words Hayley sent me a few months before her passing. Shortly after hearing the news I’d be studying at Oxford.

“You’re going to impact a lot of people’s lives. You have mine.”

And it was all I could do to not lose it. I turned my head to the window and the conversation quickly drowned out like stars lost in the thick clouds of a night’s sky as my thoughts were swallowed up by her words.

I am here because I believe in something I am passionate about. Him. And introducing Him to others in a way that makes sense. In a way that removes the haze from the seemingly difficult things of the Christian faith. In a way that makes them appear clear.

And I believe studying Theology here–at Oxford–will help me achieve that. And once that has happened, that’s when His work can really be done. His work of changing lives. Others, just as He has mine. Not because I am so special. Or really because of anything I’m going to do. But because of what He can do. Because of what He’s going to do and what He is doing. By working through this experience.

Goodnight.

I apologize in advance for the lack of photos in today’s blog entry, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of time to take many pictures. And, even if I did, they would’ve looked something like this…

Not so exciting, I know. But that was what the majority of my day looked like. Trying to play catch up in Greek. Still.

Getting my cap and gown

We had Pre-Sessions (class before the real class begins) from 10 to 12 this morning, and then again from 4:30 to 6 this evening. In between? That’s right, Greek. Oh, and I bought my cap and gown. Because that’s what you do when you’re at Oxford. You wear your gown, and you carry your cap until you graduate. No, the funny get-up isn’t just for graduation. Not at Oxford. So when do you wear the gown and carry the cap, then? Why, to formal meals and tests, of course! Ridiculous, I know. Anyway, I have one now.

I’ll have a chance to wear my gown (more appropriately, with a full suit and bow tie) on Wednesday evening for our first formal dinner at Harris Manchester.

Harris Manchester

Harris Manchester is the college at Oxford University I’m a member of. And today was actually my first time seeing it. I hadn’t had a chance to see it last summer, and I did my application interview over the phone, so today was my first experience with it. It’s really quite nice. It has a really pretty grass and stone courtyard surrounded by a large stone fence that you can look into from the street through an arched gate. The school itself has some very beautiful architecture. Lots of stained glass windows. Lots of stone. Really cool two-story library.

I checked in at the front desk and picked up my mail (all internal school paperwork). I met some of the other students who were in the common room waiting for lunch. Most of them were very friendly and easy to get a long with. There were three guys from Singapore who just arrived. They’re studying economics. Very bright, but very friendly and easy to talk with. And they remembered my name. I was surprised. I’d be hard pressed to remember the name of someone from Singapore. Except for Tim. I remember Tim.

There was only one other American at the school who I met today. Moira, I believe. I heard it a couple times and I’m still not sure if that’s right. She just moved over. A transfer from Brown. Daughter of a professor back in Ithaca. And she seemed like it.

Brown had a change in its Anthropology curriculum, she explained to us over lunch (bangers and mash – my favorite English dish!), so it was either take a two-hour bus ride to Harvard for some of her classes, or change schools. So she chose to transfer to Oxford. Naturally.

I came because I didn’t like my 20-minute commute from Everson to Bellingham. Naturally.

Back to Greek

After picking up my gown, finding my college for the first time and a bit of studying in Starbucks (felt almost like home), I made my way back to Christ Church to get my brains stomped in by some more Greek. But not before passing a number of incredible buildings and still being blown away by it all.

Including this one: Magdalene College (where Lewis taught during his tenure at Oxford).

We were tested right off the bat, which I knew was coming, and it did not go so well, which I feared was coming.

I found myself sitting in the second Pre-session of the day thinking to myself, “You know, this was probably the worst decision I’ve ever made. I don’t need to know Greek to write! . . . Now, all I’ve got to do is ask for my job back and things will be just fine.”

Being talked off the ledge

After class this evening, I stayed after until everyone else had gone. All except for one other classmate who was also feeling a bit behind, and I explained to the professor that I still felt terribly behind. She said not to worry. She said I certainly had some catching up to do, but I had time before our actual classes began in a week. She told me to take my time, to walk through each chapter, and to not get anxious. She was sure I would do fine as soon as I had a chance to be caught up on the reading material. (To put it into perspective, most of today was spent discussing chapters six and seven of the book. I’m about halfway through the third chapter).

On the way out, I told the other classmate I was planning my escape from England. And that I was wondering how easy it’d be to ask for my job back.

She quickly shrugged it off. Telling me I would do fine, and that this material would be confusing for anyone who hadn’t seen it before. That each chapter build on the previous, and I shouldn’t be surprised I don’t understand chapter 7 material if I am still working on chapter 3.

I explained that I’m not used to being lost in class. And that it was all so disorienting, particularly after traveling to a foreign country and trying to orient myself. She assured me to just work through the material. And not to book my return flight just yet.

Groceries and my talk with myself

I stopped by the grocery store on the walk home. My first time at a British grocery store. The place was packed. Lots of 20-somethings stocking up on staples. The place was bustling, and I did my best to not look like it was my first time at a British grocery store, which included my best attempt not to appear shocked when their cereal aisle ended after only about 10 brands.

I have 20-min walk from campus to where we’re living. Which gives me plenty of time to think. When I’m not reading my flash cards (tough to do with two hands full of groceries). Walking home, I thought about why I was here. About what had brought me to Oxford. And what I wanted to do with all of this.

I really didn’t come here just so I could have the prestigious “Oxford” label by my name. What I wanted was to write in a way that helped reveal Christ to others. In a way that made the difficult things of the faith a little more clear. I knew Oxford has something truly unique that could help me reach this goal. And I knew they’d give me the opportunity to write to a much larger audience than I otherwise would be able to. “If he’s coming from Oxford, he’s gotta have something worth hearing, right?”

Also, because this is where Lewis studied and taught. And he is the reason this passion began in me so many years ago. So here I am, not for bragging rights, but so that others might be touched by my words. Sounds cheesy, I know. But that’s why I am here. And that’s what I want to take away. The opportunity to help others. The opportunity to speak into their lives. The opportunity to illuminate the difficult things of the faith. No matter how difficult the road getting there might be.

I’d stick it out, I told myself. I’d keep plugging away and give it my best. And we’ll see where that takes me. At least until Jen has a chance to come over and see everything.

About halfway home I got to thinking, “I just bought all of this food to go home and make dinner, but I really would like some company. Particularly company that is not interested in talking about Greek.”

JK Rowling, Sir Elton John and dinner

When I arrived home, I found a note from Jane waiting for me at the door, inviting me to have supper with Felix (Jane was on her way out the door for tennis). Beng (the housekeeper) was cooking fried rice. Things were already looking up.

I set down my things from the day, put away groceries, and I quickly found my way into the family’s kitchen. Justin (the father/husband of the home where I’m living) was in, which I was excited about, since I hadn’t actually had the opportunity to meet him yet. Justin works in London Tuesdays through Friday each week, and he is at home the other days of the week.

He invited me to come join him and Felix at the dinner table while Beng warmed up a plate of dinner for me. They had just finished. Felix was wrapping up some math homework; Justin was wrapping up a bowl of cereal.

Beng brought me a plate of fried rice, freshly warmed from the microwave, and a glass of water. Felix and Justin asked how my Greek exams went. “Poorly,” I told them. They were familiar with the circumstances of my departure, so they weren’t terribly surprised to hear about my need to play catch up.

I explained how I had been studying at Christ Church, and Felix told me that’s where his Dad studied. He then told me that’s where Harry Potter is filmed. Funny, as that’s exactly how it felt.

“Yes, Hogwarts,” Justin chimed in from the kitchen, filling up his bowl with another round of cereal. “Do you know who I’m having dinner with tomorrow evening?” he asked Felix upon returning to the kitchen table.

“Who?” Felix asked, leaving the table himself for the kitchen.

“J.K. Rowling,” Justin responded. Felix’s eyes grew big.

Apparently Justin co-owns two newspapers in London. One of his business associates is having a party tomorrow night. It’s being hosted by Sir Elton John. Hugh Grant and many other close friends of Sir Elton will be there. Including Ms. Rowling herself.

“Ask her if she plans to write any more books,” Felix told his dad.

I finished my dinner just as Felix returned to the kitchen table with a bowl full of ice cream. Justin eyed Felix’s bowl with a smile and wide eyes. “That’s a lot of ice cream!” Felix grinned. He has a terrific grin.

“I hear ice cream helps with mathematics homework,” I said from across the table. Felix smiled and nodded.

Harris Manchester, the college I’m a member of, is hosting a pub crawl this evening. After going to bed at 1 a.m. last night / this morning and not being able to fall asleep until just before my 6:30 alarm, I decided to stay in for the night. The school is continuing the pub crawl tomorrow evening, so I might try to squeeze in some studying tonight and catch up with them tomorrow evening.

It’s only Tuesday tomorrow, but it already feels like I’ve been here for ages.

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