Nerrrrrrrrrrrd.
patrick_mcmeen
After being ill on Wednesday, I was a little apprehensive about the trip to Bath and Cardiff this weekend. It's ok though, because the Doctor Who Experience is cool enough to retroactively make bad days better. It's very cool, and I spent probably not enough money (because it's less than all of my money) on Doctor Who swag.

It's ok, I get to keep some cool points for partying with the basist of El Toro the night before (awesome rock cover band in Bath).

Wall Of Text, Incoming!
patrick_mcmeen
All right! I've been promising a real update for a while now, and since I've slept about 20 of the last 48 hours I finally have the brain power to type more than gibberish. I left off last in Istanbul, so it's probably best to break it down by city from there to here.

Prague

We stayed in the Jurys Inn right near the city center. It was kind of a trendy place, and I later found out why- it's about a 2-minute walk away from one of the richest streets in the world. That kind of killed my plans for playing Texas Hold 'Em, as I don't have five grand to toss around (yet!). Still, it was great to be able to easily get to the heart of town. Prague, more than maybe any other major city I've been in, has an extremely old-world feel to its city center. The architecture is such that if you removed the cars and tourists you could probably film a period piece from the 1800's, and it would be an AWESOME movie. Every once in a while we'd pass a tour group standing outside of some non-descript (yet beautiful) building, and the guide would be talking about the two-hundred year history of it, or about the such-and-such clock that was a marvel of engineering decades before its time, and so on.

The exchange rate there was still relatively good (about 18 Kroner/Crowns to the dollar), though prices were somewhat more Euro-centric than, say, Bangkok. Even so, it was a nice change from the 1.8:1 Turkish Lira, of which I spent probably a bit too much getting into all the tourist sites. Regardless, the best sites in Prague were all free to see, first among them being the big ol' bridge over the river near the Palace. The whole thing is lined with 20 or 30 statues of Byzantine style (as far as I'm able to judge such things), and all of them were remarkably well-preserved. That, combined with the amazing vista, made it onto my list of must-sees of Europe. Across the bridge and up an unfair number of steps was the Palace, which I wheezed and panted my way up to right at noon to fortuitously catch the Changing of the Guard. They let you stand much closer in Prague than they do at Buckingham, so if you're tall enough to see over the crowd you get a really good look at the uniforms and guns. The guard band wasn't half bad, either =)

Prague is also a great place to visit if you're really into medieval torture. I counted no less than 4 different tours, though we only went through one. I mean, how many thumbscrews do you need to see before you get the idea? I really enjoyed, though, how all the dungeons not only provide a contrast with the modern European era, but also a contrast with a place like China, where by and large they do NOT talk about their past human rights abuses.

After a night of 90's music at the Drunken Monkey, which is owned by an American ex-pat friend of one of Todd's friends, I left my travelling buddy to continue enjoying the night life in Prague and booked a trip to Frankfurt. It was way easier than I was expecting it to be, to the point where the kid at the ticket counter was giving me the look that said "Even for an American this guy is an idiot!" I casually hopped on a double-decker bus (but there's no driver on the top! How is it steered?!?) and off I went. I just about had a heart attack when the border crossing official stared long and hard at my passport, and asked me when I'd last been in Europe.

"Uhh... 2009? I think? It would've been, uh, Italy I guess. Or was it 2010?"
"....."
*heart attack begins*
"Hmmmm. Ok."

A few hours and a train later, I arrived in...

Frankfurt

...where I was greeted at the platform by Airman Doug Young. Not quite the same as in the movies where the haggard traveller steps off the train into the embrace of his beautiful girlfriend, but I guess I'll live =) It was good to see that guy again- it'd been a couple of years. I was worried that military life had changed him for the worse, but within five minutes we were talking about Magic: The Gathering cards and my fears were assuaged. We dropped my stuff off at the hotel, which was more of an apartment-style complex- it was really nice not to have to hassle with check-in and the rote speech that I have memorized from my hotel days. We decided to hunt for dinner along the street right in front of the Frankfurt Station, which got us some pretty good steaks and a revealing look at the side streets... which apparently are the Red Light district of Frankfurt. Probably a good business move, but most cities I've been to at least give it a two- or three-street buffer from the welcome mat. After dinner, we went in search of beer using my favorite method- walk along a street until you get bored, then turn down a side street. Frankfurt was not compatible with this, however, as we soon found ourselves in the banking district. Probably fascinating during the day, really boring in the evening. We abandoned the adventurous method and decided to just find somewhere near our hotel, which turned out to be a good call. We ended up at a little hole-in-the wall bar filled with local regulars- my absolute favorite kind of place to drink.

After unsuccessfully pretending to be from England (hey, we all have to have fun while travelling somehow!) I was sipping on a relatively awesome German brew when Doug asks me if I'd had Schnapps yet.

"No, I don't really do liqueur. It's too syrupy and sugary."
"Ah, so you HAVEN'T had Schnapps. Zwei Schnapps, bitta."

The bartender grins and pulls out a litre bottle that looked like it began life as a store-bought sparkling water bottle, then had its label carefully peeled off in order to be used for... well, it was a mostly-clear liquid, and there were a bunch of mint leaves floating near the bottom of it. Two shots were placed in front of us and


I recall leaving the bar and being extremely glad that it literally shared a wall with our apartment. I recall having bought a round of Schnapps for the regulars, and I recall tipping 20 euro on our 20 euro tab because I simply couldn't believe that four beers and an entire bottle of Schnapps cost less than two drinks in Istanbul. I have no idea what impression we left that bartender with, but I have the feeling like it was moderately favorable and unquestionably American.

DINOSAURS! Dinosaurs, and WHALES! The Frankfurt Museum of Natural History (I call it that because I can't remember if it had another, less generic name) was what made me decide to hit Frankfurt instead of Munich. Doug and I raised the average age in the place by a solid 5 years, I think, but definitely fit right in on the level of pure childish glee. There were big dinosaurs, and small dinosaurs, and jars full of eyeballs and fetuses, and a huge wheel you could spin to travel through time and watch plate tectonics happen, and DINOSAURS! Oh, and Sharks!

After returning to our mid-20s, we headed to Old Town. It was awesome, picturesque, there was a cathedral, yada yada yada. Very beautiful, definitely worth seeing, but I can only mentally process so many historic and architecturally stunning things in one trip. Needless to say, it's worth visiting if you find yourself in Frankfurt. From there we walked a couple of blocks to an old monastery which had progressed with the times by opening a bar to sell its homebrewed stuff. The rest of the evening, we hung out in the biergarten and swapped stories, complained about politics, discussed the merging of modern life with science fiction, and generally nerded out old-school. We headed back to the apartment with grand plans to drink the night away and keep up our discussions, and instead got back and promptly fell asleep. It was for the best, I'm sure, because the next day we had a nice drive to...

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Doug and I did a quick tour of the city while waiting for Mike and Nate to meet up with us as planned (though we had no clue what time they were actually arriving). Rothenburg ob der Tauber (which I still pronounce incorrectly, and will henceforth type as RodT) is exactly what you want if you're looking for a quiet vacation spot that caters to tourists. It's a medieval walled city that's been painstakingly restored and kept as close to the original as possible- though thankfully they've long since gotten rid of open sewers and whatnot. Walking along the wall itself is a great way to see the city, and occasionally you bump into some interesting folks. We met a couple from Australia who were in Germany to visit the man's brother. They hadn't seen each other since the man escaped from East Germany fifty years before, and it was the first time in their lives that they'd given each other a hug.

The rest of RodT was a blast as well. We hung out in a local pub during the Germany-Italy soccer game, which was a fun experience (if a disappointing ending to the game). The other major highlight was climbing the tower of the City Hall building, which is really, really tall. You get to look out over the city, and the rolling hillside of the country, and then your brain explodes from how picturesque it is and you have to be dumped over the side of the observation deck.

There were also these berries that they were selling. They were extremely tart and delicious. They were red. I have no idea what kind of berry it was, but I want more, and I want to put them in ice cream.

Oxford

I had to travel back to Prague from RodT to catch my flight to England, which was uneventful. I arrived late enough that nothing else of note occurred, with the exception of a taxi driver that was quite disdainful of American culture and history as compared to Prague's. With that fresh in my mind, I arrived in the birthplace of our country and the home of obscene amounts of history.

After hauling my now-bulging baggage around trying to find a hotel with vacancies, I ended up at a hostel just outside of Oxford's city center. Oddly enough, this was the first time in all of my travels that I've stayed in a hostel. With the sole exception of having to haul my luggage up the stairs, I actually had a really good time. I shared a room with a couple of guys that I never ended up meeting, and Claire- an awesome Australian that further solidifies my fondness for that country. Sadly, she already has a genius, nerdy, law student boyfriend back home, but I'm always happy to find a friend while travelling who raves about the Chronicles of Narnia. After playing some pool in the hostel common room (well, they CALL it pool, but all the balls are half the size they should be), I joined some of the other travellers at the nightclub next door. It was loud, and after an attempt at dancing that refreshed my memory of why I don't go to nightclubs, I got some sleep.

The next morning, Claire and I ate 20 Chicken McNuggets and headed off to our respective colleges. I made it to Brasenose without too much trouble, and only my travel fatigue kept my brain from exploding AGAIN as I trundled my way through Hogwarts to get to my room (thankfully on the first floor this time). People started arriving throughout the course of the day, and it was really a blast at orientation to have fully a third of my §3 class there. After a formal dinner in the main dining hall (gorgeous, weight of history and prestige, etc.) and a trip to the Brasenose Bar downstairs, I called it a night.

Since then, my time in Oxford has been filled with socializing, darts, and (of course) classes. I'm taking European Union Law and English Law from Lord Blackbranch (a huge proponent of the EU and just as bonkers as every other law professor I've had) and last week I started Alternative Dispute Resolution with Professor Bogan (less crazy, but maybe that's just because he's from OU and knows to hide it better from the students). I'll probably write more about the content of those classes once I've had a few more of them- so far it's mostly been the survey-style foundational stuff, which is hard to get good critical analysis from. Aside from that, there's just the weekend in...

London

We all took a bus down for the Legal Tour of London a couple of Fridays ago. The tour was excellent- the guide was properly witty, and knew quite a bit about the legal structure of England. We learned about the difference between Solicitors and Barristers, about the goofy wigs everyone wears, and a little about the awesome architecture in the area. We took a brief walk around the Courthouse, then hit up Cheshire Cheese for lunch. Apparently the place is famous and everyone famous has been there, that sort of thing. I was more excited by Samuel Smith's Bitter, which is one of the best beers I've ever had on tap. It was sublime.

Mike and Nate and I got checked into our hotel, which was adequate- they self-rated at 2 stars, and that's about what we ended up with. My calves definitely appreciate the 4 flights of narrow stairs we had to climb every time we went up to our room. We attempted to get tickets to see a show or two, but apparently things tend to book up pretty rapidly two weeks before the Olympics in London, and had to settle for more mundane experiences throughout the city. We made it to the British Museum of Natural History (again, it probably has a cooler name) and spent 4 of the 15-20 hours possible. Still- mummies, the Rosetta Stone, Roman gold hoards, Sanskrit records...

We met up later with Megan and Cormier and hopped on a boat tour of the Thames. If you ever plan on going to London, this is a great way to see some historic sights of the city without crowding onto a bus or wearing your feet out. It has the added plus of letting you get off and on at various stops throughout the day, so you can do a lot without spending much effort (or money). Later, Mike and Nate and I wandered around a park (I forget which park, it's one of the famous ones) and got to overhear some big hip-hop concert- apparently this Drake person/group is a big deal? I dunno. Regardless, we got lost on the way back, and so I consider it a successful trip.

If you managed to read all of this in one sitting, congratulations! You hopefully understand why I haven't been able to wrap my exhausted little brain around all of this until I got a few good nights' sleep in a row. This coming weekend will be Cardiff and Bath, and the following weekend will be Inverness, Scotland, so stay tuned!


Really, England?
patrick_mcmeen
I was going to write a nice long post for you all, but then I had to walk back through a hailstorm.

Ice is not meant to fall from the sky in July. Except maybe in the southern hemisphere, that's probably ok.

Hi, Hiatus!
patrick_mcmeen
I realized this morning that I haven't posted in two weeks. To be fair, I didn't have access to the internet for some of that, but mostly it's just because I've been ADVENTURING!!! Prague, Frankfurt, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Prague again, and now Oxford. There may or may not have been a few nights of highly scientific research on the composition of local beverages as well, which of course I didn't want to publicize until the copyright was secured.

That being said, this still won't be a long post- in part because of the overwhelming amount of stuff that's happened over the past two weeks. I'll sort it out, break it down, and get back on track soon. For reals.

I Want a Palace
patrick_mcmeen
Istanbul is gorgeous. Hills, red roofs, the sea, the sea breeze, birds, mosques, obelisks.... it's pretty awesome. Yesterday we toured the Sultan's Palace, which had maybe the best view of the trip so far- it overlooks a wide vista with the sea and the rest of the city on the other side... I could definitely live there. You know, when I get my time machine and go back to become a Sultan. We also toured the Royal Harem while we were there- it's really quite nice, very airy and comfortable-looking.

After wandering around for a while in that general area (there are probably 10 different incredibly historic places, more of which we saw today- but I'll get to that), we headed back towards the hotel and stopped by the Grand Bazaar. It is what it says it is- enormous, situated beneath an ancient building of some sort, zillions of people and vendors. We were approached by a friendly guy (I think he said his name was Hajij) who offered to show us around a bit, provided we took a look around in his carpet store. "Why not?" we said, and were escorted into a really cool little shop. They brought us some really fruity tea (or maybe it was cider) and I decided on a gorgeous hand-made rug for the parlor (it's small, I refrained from going crazy this time). While Todd finished his tea, I struggled to get my credit card to work with their portable readers, letting half my tea go to waste.

This was a good thing, turns out. After we left the store and continued exploring the Bazaar, we started to feel kinda tired, and a little weird. It was sudden enough that we decided to just head back to the hotel. By the time we got there, I was feeling pretty light-headed, and Todd was just straight loopy. Suspicious, we checked Travel Advisor.... sure enough, it's common practice for merchants in the Bazaar to drug you with horse tranquilizers or opiates in their "Turkish Hospitality Tea." Niether of us got too sick, but our evening was a bit subdued. So, moral of the story- read advisory notices BEFORE going somewhere, not after you get drugged.

Today we went back to the Byzantine Plaza (I think that's what it's called). We toured the Hagia Sophia, which was gorgeous and huge, and the Basilica Cistern, which was also huge (though much darker). The cistern was one of my favorite things so far- 2.5 acres of underground columns and cool Roman statues. Apparently they filled it with water from a lake 19km away- glad I don't have that job. Did I mention it was built in the 6th century? No? Well, it was. That's really old.


Edit: I just found out that imgur, where I've been storing my pictures, has all kinds of limits if I don't pay them a bunch of money. I'm going to start uploading things to Facebook, and when I get back I'll try to find an album site or something to put everything up in one place. I'll comment on the photos then, too.

(no subject)
patrick_mcmeen
So now that I'm no longer in Thailand, I'm going to write about it. It's my journal, and I'll do what I want with it!

Bangkok was pretty sweet. Very, very different from Beijing- as Todd put it, "There are some benefits to a culture based on Imperialism." Wayyyy more people spoke English, or at least put up with our antics enough to help us out. The curry was divine, and imported alcohol was more prevalent (and cheaper). Going from a 6:1 exchange rate with the Yuan to a 30:1 exchange rate with the Bhat was nice, too- though that's biting me a bit now (1.8:1 exchange with the Turkish Lira).

In addition to the hotel, which was gorgeous and extremely accomodating, Bangkok proper was a joy to experience. Todd (the other cool cat doing both study programs, and my travel buddy) and I headed out after a day of mostly sleeping off the flights and jet lag to see the sights. Within two minutes of stepping out of the taxi we took to the "tourism" district, we were accosted by the police- the Tourism Police. After a moment of panic born from having had to tiptoe around in China, we discovered that the Tourism Police are basically kickass guides that protect stupid Americans (okay, Europeans too) from getting swindled, misled, lost, or wasting time. The guy asked for our map, and in rapid, flawless English planned out our day for us after hearing what we wanted to see. He then flagged down a mini-taxi (basically a go-kart with a 2,000cc engine, felt like) and told us that the driver was ours for the day for 50 bhaat (we gave him 200 at the end, he was awesome). We were taken to a pier, where we hired a boat tour of a cool temple and the Floating Market. Both were awesome, though the Market might have been on an off-day, since it consisted of exactly 2 women on boats selling things. We toured another temple- maybe the one where Buddha found enlightenment underneath a tree? We're not positive, but I suppose it's possible. It was a cool tree, for sure.

Then our driver took us to a suit shop in order to get free gasoline. I'm a suit whore. I now own more suits. No further comment.

After the suits, we went to a really cool jewelry store. It was neat browsing all the loose stones- it's not something I'd really seen before, and I was tempted to buy a bunch. I came to my senses, and made some sensible purchases (and remembered to haggle). We then retreated to the comfort of our hotel. Which, by the way, had had live music in the bar the night before- they were great to begin with, and after I bought them a round of beers we were given exclusive rights to song requests. It was a good night. Anyway, we wanted to see some crazy nightlife after our tourism, so we headed out to RCA- a district filled with ex-pats, university students, and "young professionals." Triple threats, we, and Route 66 bar was unprepared for my abysmal clubbing skills. I managed to avoid stepping on anyone's feet, was given extremely sage advice from a drunken Dutchman on how to pick up women, and snagged a taxi back before the drinks appearing in front of me got unmanageable (so around 2 a.m.).

The next day was spent rapidly re-packing to make the noon checkout time, followed by more rediculously good curry at the hole-in-the-wall we'd found. After eating, I got a Thai oil massage across the street. It left me sore for a couple of days, and I thought I'd been swindled until I woke up this morning feeling less knotted up than I have all year. No pain, no gain, I guess.

The flight from Bangkok to Istanbul was relatively uneventful. I sat next to a chatty Thai sailor and near a crying, pooping baby, but the headphones were good enough to let me watch Thor and X-Men: First Class in relative peace. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get much sleep, and so I was a little bit unprepared for the Istanbul Airport Gauntlet.

Apparently, you need a Tourist Visa to enter Turkey. I found this out after 30 minutes of standing in line. After another 30 minutes of standing in line at the Visa desk, I was informed that my Bhat were not legal tender for the Visa, and neither were my credit cards. In fact, Turkish Lira were also not ok- only U.S. dollars and Euros. Conveniently, there was an ATM right there- that only dispensed Turkish Lira. I proceeded to stand in line for another 45 minutes to get to the Turkish Ariways counter, which sent me through Transit security.... out to the Departure terminal area. I went to the currency exchange office, which also did not accept my Bhat, and then through another couple of hoops to find an ATM that did dispense USD. I was extremely tempted to just leave through the front entrance that was right there, but I figured not having my bags (or a legal entrance to the country) might prove problematic. So after a mere three hours I departed the airport and arrived at the Barcelo Saray hotel.

More later, including concubines and crooked carpet criminals!

In Thailand
patrick_mcmeen
Our hotel room comes with a rubber ducky. Win.

One Down, One to Go
patrick_mcmeen
Well, the final was brain-draining, but definitely not the most difficult one I've had so far (looking at you, Professor Kutner! =). I wrote my essays on the effects of arbitration and arbitration law on other Chinese international and domestic laws, the major types of direct foreign investment in China and the pros and cons of each, and on the impact of Article 1 of the Constitution of the PRC (declaring it to be a socialist state ruled by the democratic dictatorship of the People) on Chinese legal and governmental structure. I was more or less out of words when I was done- monosyllabic grunts were high discourse for me.

Today we had our Closing Ceremony, which was a little bittersweet. Everyone in this program has been swell, and I've made some great friends that I hope to keep back home (especially the OU folks- you don't have the excuse of distance for not being in touch!). The student volunteers were all recognized, which is good- they ROCKED. Being at the beck and call of 40+ stupid Americans for a month with no pay or academic credit is truly a public service. They even designed and produced a 2013 calendar for all of us with pictures from the trip- it's definitely going in my office next year.

Maybe it's a little crazy to be thinking this far ahead, but Professor Wilson mentioned 3-month clerkships here. We'll see how I'm doing at the end of the summer, but if I can't get a job locally next year..... well, we'll see. I'm probably jumping the gun on that just a bit ;)

Reflecting on my trip thus far, I'd have to say that this has been one of the most rewarding single months of my academic career. While at times it's been frustrating trying to overcome language barriers, lack of potable water, illness, and exhaustion, I wouldn't even trade those aspects of it away. Well, maybe the illness, that wasn't fun. Regardless, the difficulties of living here helped accentuate the legal studies, and sort of put them into context a bit. This really is a developing country in many ways, which is easy to forget in a city of ~20 million people. The prevalence of arbitration agreements, for example, doesn't just reflect tradition and culture- it also relates to the burden on the court system of having a huge population all moving towards a market economy (which by its nature is more adversarial).

Overall, I'm incredibly glad I decided to do this program. I'm a little bit nervous as I head off to Bangkok, and Istanbul, and Prague, and Germany, and Oxford, and who knows where else- but I'm glad that I've had fun so far, and think that it's been a good first month of my adventure.

The Hutong
patrick_mcmeen
An absolute must for any ex-pats in Beijing is The Hutong. It's a little hidden-away mini-school, where they teach numerous kinds of Chinese cooking skills (tonight we learned how to make dumplings from scratch), as well as market tours and tea ceremonies (the latter of which we also did). They have a website: http://thehutong.com/blog/. Very, very highly recommended- it was a great way to spend the  last night with free time before buckling down for the final on Friday.

Far Away
patrick_mcmeen
This weekend has made me a bit homesick for the first time this trip. So far, I've been spending a lot of time experiencing new people, places, sights, cultures, and so on. Being cooped up in a hotel room with nothing but my studies and the internet has reminded me a little too much of the daily doldrums that plague ordinary life- but with a slower connection, and firewalls to overcome. Professor Wilson (from Indiana University, who I don't think I've mentioned yet) told us about the Great Wall in a scholastic sense- at some point, you stall a bit with your studies abroad, and the newness loses its lustre. I had experienced that a bit this past week in class with Chinese Company Law, which had redundancies with Foreign Investment Law and Contract Law. I definitely have difficulty re-hearing old material- one of my problems with studying.

The past few days, though, have impacted me with "travel" redundancy, if you will. I'm in a big city, again. I'm in a foreign country, again. I can't speak the language, again. I've been ill, again. I've experienced numerous new sights, and smells, and sounds, and people, and astonishments, again. I'm less than a third of the way through my travels this summer, and there's a significant part of me that just wants to go home and get a good night's sleep, free from the obligations of experience. If you're reading this post in the context of doing more than one summer program in a year, and you're an introvert, recognize that this will probably be a difficulty. If you're anyone else, have a moment's sympathy for me. In either case, you should still do what I'm doing and damn the consequences.

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