Friday, December 07, 2007

Random Observations

Here are some random observations culled from our time in England...

There are no kids in England ("Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" comes to mind)

Yorkshire pudding is not pudding (it's more like a muffin)

Left is right, right is wrong (whether driving or walking)

People from Leeds don't go to Manchester (we don't know the history of that one)

Cab drivers know Marillion ("The last time I saw Marillion...")

College girls wear short shorts/skirts, high heels, and tights (where did that come from?)

Their English is not our English (Desi still thinks it was "Platform 1"; it was actually "half past one")

Leeds is one old stone building after another (apparently the city was mistakenly not bombed during World War II)

Is there anyone in England not wearing boots and overcoats? (we for sure didn't see anyone)

Mince meat is not meat (it's basically a fruit tart)

Tipping advice from some ladies at the train station (1 pound for good waiter service, 50 pence for good taxi service)

Everything is old (even the graffiti)

Everything is small (including cars and feet)

~Desi and Steve

Ilkley and the Dales

When the International Working Group meeting broke up on Saturday afternoon, we all scattered pretty quickly. Some of us went home right away to places like Stockholm, Tel Aviv, Milan, and Paris. Others journeyed to York or London to see some sights before heading back across the pond. Desi and I were the only ones who heeded Stephen Coleman's local insider advice and headed out to Ilkley to take a quick peek at the Yorkshire dales.

Stephen advertised the dales as the prettiest place in Britain and they didn't disappoint. We had a nice train ride out to Ilkley, through pretty countryside dotted with sheep, stone fences, and hedge rows. Ilkley itself is a charming old village with lots of pastry shops and interesting architecture.

A quick cab ride took us out of the town proper to a pub called the Cow and the Calf. This stone building has occupied its spot on the hilltop for many, many years. It gets its name from a nearby rock formation that supposedly looks like a cow with its calf underfoot. (We really needed Z to help us see that one!) Beyond this fantastic scenery there are moors that go on for apparently a very long way. I read somewhere that you can lose an army in there. This warning, plus other vague utterances about being sure to get out by dark, did not deter some campers who were setting up for the night...no word on their fate...

Definitely a legendary place. Thanks Stephen!

~Steve

A Happy Secular Christmas

One facet of life in the UK that was not at all surprising is its secularism. The Leeds Student ran a piece the other day arguing that the university ought to drop Christmas break altogether. Why observe a Christian calendar in a secular state? Even the response essay focused on generic tradition rather than the birth of Christ.

What we didn't expect, however, was how much Christmas spirit and celebration there is all over England. And it is not just shopping that I'm talking about (although there is plenty of commercial Christmas as well). Restaurants and pubs have special Christmas menus. Even BBC radio highlighted the fact that this past Sunday was the first day of the Advent season, which is not a declaration you would hear on CBS news.

All in all, there is quite a happy Christmas spirit in Britain. It is just hard to tell, as an outsider, what the significance is in light of the secularism that has swept the country.

God bless the UK...I mean it...

~Steve

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Time Changes Freak Me Out

I can't tell you how many times I thought about what time it was back home during this trip. It was difficult to imagine that while Z was eating his after-school snack, I was rocking to Marillion. Or as I was eating lunch, the kids were on their way to school. A five hour time difference is not inconsequential.

Like right now, for instance…I'm sitting on a train en route from Manchester to Leeds. It is 2:38 am (long story). While it "feels" late, I take comfort in the fact that Julie and Z are probably just getting home from the pool right now with Grandma and Grandpa. I'm fully awake because my odd sleeping habits are keeping me much more aligned with Maryland time. It will be a tough morning for Steve though...While his meeting starts at at the "early" hour of 9:30 am, that's really 4:30 am in Maryland. By the way, he’s taking a "catnap" as I write.

Don’t they always say, "it’s happy hour somewhere?"

~Desi

The Snow-Where Else Tour

Here's what Marillion played the other night in Manchester, with some observations from my perch right in front of stage left.

Bridge (A very moody opening to the evening, with Mark starting things off with the water and foghorn effects that famously open up the Brave album.)

Living With the Big Lie (A classic and still timely Marillion classic.)

Runaway (By this time, I am thinking, "Hey, are they going to play Brave in its entirety?)

Wave/Mad/The Opium Den (The opening Brave segment ends with a nice segue into...)

Fruit Of The Wild Rose (...a very underrated song in the Marillion catalog. I was glad to see it for the first time live, especially the soaring bridge section of the song, which is a musical go-to moment for me.)

Out of This World (By now, h has announced that they will be playing two sets, an opening collection of mellow songs about "death and water" (epitomized by Out of This World) and a second set of more rollicking songs about...death and water.)

Real Tears For Sale (This is a brand new song no one has ever heard. It received one of the louder, more sustained ovations of the night.)

Somewhere Else
(h sings the "Mr. Taurus" section through a megaphone, as predicted by Desi before the show.)

Seasons End (An opening prelude of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" set the tone for a wonderful presentation of this great song. Desi and I especially enjoyed singing the "in England" lines.)

The intermission consisted of a slide show that kept the crowd entertained while the band took a brief break. The slides featured a holiday sing-along, some bad jokes, and a picture of Ian's dog dressed up in a Santa suit.

Hooks In You (A very rocking opening to the second set.)

Genie (h announces that they will now be playing a song from their much-acclaimed Marbles album, adding that "it's probably the song you like the least." Z would definitely not agree with that statement!)

Circular Ride (This song, an outtake from the Somewhere Else album, is being played for the first time ever on this mini-tour. It was surprisingly unknown to many in the crowd, as we saw few people singing along. For our part, we were ready!)

The Other Half
(I was paying close attention to Mark as his fingers played the beautiful closing notes of one of my favorite songs of 2007.)

Most Toys (A song meant to be played and heard live!)

Cannibal Surf Babe
(h introduces the song by reminiscing about the time, during the Afraid of Sunlight sessions, when they created a piece of music that was a "departure" for them. With its Beach Boys/B-52s vibe, everyone knew CSB was coming next. Desi just about hurt herself dancing, while Pete laid down the funky back beat.)

This Strange Engine (I know Desi had tears in her eyes for this one, while I watched Rothers' fingers as he worked his way through the exquisite guitar lead in the "Blue Pain" section.)

Then came the first encore...

Quartz (We thought the show might be over, but they came back for a welcome encore. A funny element was added by a roadie who was dancing wildly just off stage right and flashing a flashlight crazily during the intense sections of the song when the stage lights were turning in every direction.)

Neverland (Desi snapped a great picture of h "flying." A great show closer...or so we thought...)

A second encore!

Let It Snow (The roadies blew up a huge inflatable Santa, and then the band came back on stage, led by Mark, who was tossing plastic kazoos into the crowd. There was a brief "practice" session while the band taught the new instrumentalists what to do...and off we all went into a light-hearted jam of this holiday classic. As the song was coming to an end, blowers above the stage sent "snow" showering onto crowd, making for a very festive finish.)

OK Des...seeing Marillion in England is different!

~Steve

Sorry Kids…We’re Not Coming Home 'til the Tour is Over!

I just knew it...

It has been my dream to see Marillion in England for many, many years. Steve will tell you that I haven't been shy about that. I had a strong feeling that their popularity here would make for a concert unparalleled in the States. I was not disappointed. The "feel" was different…the crowd rapport was different…the "bells and whistles," unbelievably different. (Literally, they threw kazoos out into the audience for the last song!)

This concert was all I expected and more, including songs from albums past, brand new songs, and even a few rarities. My shining moment: "Cannibal Surf Babe." This is one of my absolute favorites but it is almost never one of their selections because it is a bit different for them stylistically. My sides still hurt 3 hours later because I "rocked" so hard.

Well, Steve, you thought you'd "quiet me down" by taking me to the UK to see 'em...You couldn't be more wrong! Now that’s the only place I want to see 'em!!!

~Desi

The Days are Longer in England

Actually they are shorter with respect to daylight since England is so far to the North. In fact, sunrise is somewhere around 8am and sunset 4pm give or take.

Then why did I say they are longer? I mean that with respect to the trip itself. It is not blowing by. Perhaps due to the relaxed atmosphere I feel like we've been here for a long time. Usually time flies when you’re having fun...here the fun takes longer.

Oh, excuse me, it is time for afternoon tea. Cheer-i-oh!

~Desi

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Isn't China on the Other Side of the World?

I knew essentially nothing about the Weetwood Hotel before arriving in Leeds, other than it was where members of the International Working Group were staying. Desi, though, did a little advance scouting, and informed me that it is a four-star hotel.

This is yet another example of how standards of luxury vary from place to place, from country to country. (The Chinese Tibetan Medicine Hotel, a real dodgy accommodation, was advertised as three stars!) The room was small (but nice). The bathroom was small (but nice). The bed was small (top sheet not provided!).

The Palmer House Hilton this was not! (With apologies to the fantastic staff...)

~Steve

Hey, That Portion Isn't Too Small!

On a number of occasions, I have spoken to a group of civil servants visiting DC from Warwick University in the UK. Every time it seems that they are stunned by the size of two things in the US--cars and food portions.

Given this common reaction, I was expecting to go hungry in England. Much to my surprise, the British know how to dish it out, at least when it comes to the restaurants we went to. Here are some pasta dishes we didn't quite finish at Dare Cafe in Headingly, a neighborhood in Leeds. I did just as well later in the trip, with some fish and chips that rivaled Keyport fishery in terms of volume (nothing compares, of course, when it comes to taste).

At least as far as we are concerned...British portion sizes are very small...MYTH!

~Steve

England on a Shoe-string Budget

Better bring the whole shoe! These prices are killing me. They all sound good like "a pound or a pound-fifty" for a bus ride…"Four pounds-seventy" for a cab ride. Even 199,000 pounds for a nice little home on the outskirts of town. Then you do the conversion. Since the dollar has lost its proverbial "value" across Europe, the exchange rate is less than half. No bargains here. Ten dollars to go 3 miles in a cab? That’s as bad as twelve dollars to go from 17th Street to Georgetown in DC!

~Desi

No Pepsi…Coke…

In fact, not much soda at all across the pond. And when you do find it, it tastes different (to a connoisseur like me, anyway.) I do recall that there was a difference in the taste in
China as well. I wonder if they use a different formula in each country and how they determine the mix.

In addition, the size of the can and bottle is much different. For example, the bottles are 500 ml (see, you should have learned those metrics in 1976 when you had the chance) and restaurants do not offer refills. Price, though? Unsurprisingly, the same as those bigger, better-tasting sodas back’ome.

~Desi

The Working Group at Work

In the middle of all of this fun was the original purpose of the journey. Over the course of a day and a half, the International Working Group on Online Consultation and Public Policy Making accomplished a number of things. We continued to get to know one another, broadened our intellectual network by hearing from DEMO-Net (a European Union-funded research group), and made progress on our book project.

On this last score, my particular subgroup had what I thought was a very productive session. Andy Chadwick has some great ideas about how we ought to think about Web 2.0 in the area of e-democracy. To "get real" about what we can expect from user-generated content (e.g., blogs, YouTube) without becoming overly cynical. For my part, I will be heading up our efforts to analyze what sorts of governments are more likely to be innovative when it comes to e-democracy and what kinds are more likely to be laggards.

Finally, under the lead of Jeff Lubbers and Sungsoo Hwang, we will be surveying government bureaucrats about their attitudes toward e-consultation. The progress we made on this chapter was, I think, our most important accomplishment. We now have some basic topics and survey questions, as well as an online tool (SurveyMonkey) to implement our instrument. If all of this comes together as planned, we will have three nice chapters that tell us (a) what government bureaucrats want out of e-government, (b) how these preferences translate into action at the institutional level, and (c) a theoretical framework for tying the analyses together.

Work, group, work!

~Steve

Solo Venture Part Two: Kirkgate Market

After finishing my pasty, I strolled down the Pedestrian mall and saw a beautiful old building called Leeds City Market. I couldn't help but go inside and discovered hundreds of small stalls and shops brimming with all kinds of merchandise including flowers, toys and clothing. There was also a "Butcher’s Row" with all kinds of meats displayed and a Fish Market (very popular with the "Fish and Chips" crowd.) Just outside there were tables set up as well, very much like Englishtown in New Jersey. (Hey, maybe that’s why it’s called ENGLISHtown!!!). Ready for purchase were fruits and veg (that’s what they’re called here), pajamas, and lots of shoes and boots. When I decided to take a picture from outside one of the doors, I noticed a smaller sign denoting that this was Kirkgate Market! I had found the place I had wanted to go without even knowing that it was where I really wanted to be! Jolly good fun!

~Desi

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Solo Venture Part One: Tasty Pasties (Actually, Pasty rhymes with Nasty!!!)

Since Steve just had to go to those meetings, I decided to head back to the room after an English Breakfast of eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and sausage for a bit of a snooze. When I woke up 2 hours later (I guess I hadn't "absorbed" the jet lag yet) I headed to the bus stop. While I had some idea about where I wanted to go, the streets are not well-marked and some of the bus stops are unclear so after almost making one bloke miss his stop, a young woman offered assistance. "Where would you like to go?" she asked. I told her "Kirkgate Market" and she suggested that I get off at the next stop. After walking around a bit I decided I needed a bite to eat. I wanted some traditional English fare so I stopped at a small shop called the "West Cornwall Pasty Co."

What’s a pasty? I had no idea but they looked harmless enough. I chose cheese and mushroom (as opposed to a few with ingredients unrecognizable to a newbie like me…"swede?"…"balti?" In any case, it was delicious and since there were tables outside, I was able to sit and people-watch for a bit. That and a Coke, 3 pounds-sixty (or around 8 US bucks).

Now, off to Kirkgate...

~Desi

Why are Customs Agents So Mean?

This question came to me after I stopped shaking from the barrage of questions I was asked at Heathrow. It occurred to me that 99.99% of people who fly are just innocently taking to the sky for transport to business or holiday. The number of “bad people” is notably low. Yet the demeanor of Customs Agents by and large rattles even the innocent.

I found myself questioning my own answers because she looked at me with such a tough expression. “Are you spending your entire holiday in Leeds?” she asked in a very surprised tone...almost like I couldn't possibly find enough things to do there for 5 days. “Yes,” I said. Yet as I walked away I recalled that we would be in Manchester for an evening.

Steve would not let me go back to tell her…

~Desi

Monday, December 03, 2007

Zhongguo!

I just opened a letter this morning that says the following:

"It is a pleasure to inform you that the peer review committee organized by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) has been completed and that you are among those recommended for a Fulbright Lecturing award in China, People's Republic of for the 2008-2009 academic year."

Translation: We will be living in China for a year!

~Steve