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February 2006 Archives

February 27, 2006

Birnam Wood

9 Cathedral Street, DunkeldSo, I had a rather lengthy and kinda tedious post about Dunkeld, which is a town I stopped in for about 30 minutes on the way to the Highlands, and after much thought decides it wasn't really interesting enough to post up. Especially when I can sum it up in a few sentences: Dunkeld is pretty, and there was a Cathedral. Also, it is near Birnam of Macbeth fame, and Alexander MacKenzie, the first Liberal Canadian Prime Minister, live there for a while. I know this, because there is a plaque. {Other photos of the lovely Dunkeld Cathedral... beautiful place, with lots of bird song.}

But mostly what I wanted to write about is the guide we had on the tour.

I went on the MacBackpackers 3-day Skye Tour, and I recommend it if you like irreverent humour, brief glimpses of history, and really loud music. It was a hoot, but if you're expecting anything of any real depth... well, it's fun!

Ewan, our guide, has his volume set permanently on 11, if you know what I mean. And I do mean that both literaly and figuratively. I ended up buying a set of earplugs on the second day because of how loud everything was on the bus. But he told some very interesting (if not precisely factually accurate) stories about Scotland, about the Highlands, about mythology and stories and legends about this amazing country I'm currently in love with.

Our Fearless GuideThe stories he told were all over the top and fantastical, with everything being larger than life. He told the story of Bonnie Dundee (which is now *stuck in my head* - Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can, Saddle my horses and call out my men), changing the numbers so the Jacobites come out as an even more amazing victory than they had historically. He made Bonnie Prince Charlie into much more of a hero than he was, glossing over a lot of things. He romantised the Highlands and the people from it, turned tragedies into greater ones by adding zeros, told myths and legends like facts, and overall was exactly what a good and fun tour guide should be. He told stories of Scotland like I think a lot of people want it to be. His discription of how Highlanders could fight and take out any five or so Redcoats was inspired. I have a video, you should see it.

{It's interesting to me that I like my tour guides to tell larger than life stories, but I want my historical movies to be accurate, damn it. I have no idea why this is.}

It was more than beautiful, it was fun and funny and irreverant. That's really what I want to tell you about it. I could (and will, I'm certain) wax poetic about the mountains and the bird song and Faery Glen and the waterfall that sang, and about how I loved it all. But Scotland is full of stories, not just pretty pictures and picturesque castles, and I occasionally forget that.

{Birnam Wood... apparently they really did cut down a bunch of trees, and used it to hide the numbers of their armies. I can see how it would work.}

But, damnit... William Wallace is *not* the inspiration for Robin Hood!

February 26, 2006

Through the Looking Glass

As I've mentioned before, I have a friend coming here to live, and another friend coming for a visit, and I'm really looking forward to both of these things because there's nothing quite as exciting as showing some place you love to someone else.

Plus, it'll be nice to "re-see" Edinburgh with fresh eyes. It's not {quite} that I've gotten blase about it, but seeing someone get excited about all the old buildings on my bus route might get me to stop reading the Metro every morning and enjoy them again.

Don't get me wrong - I adore the Castle and I love those glimpses I keep getting of the Firth of Forth, and the North Sea, from various places in the city - but eventually you get too used to seeing buildings that are older than your country, and they don't have that interest to them anymore.

So, yeah. Looking forward to seeing Kristi and Joe, and showing them Edinburgh in all her glory.

In unrelated news, it took me until today to figure out that when people on the tour were referring to Winter and their Winter Schedule, they were meaning that it's still February, and thus is Winter, and not that it is cold, because it isn't. This really did confuse me - isn't it Spring?

{I've been dreaming lately about Asia. A couple of nights ago I had a dream where I was teaching in a Japanese school. It was so vivid I had troubles waking up. Last night I had a dream where I was back in China, teaching in Jiangyan, but my old boss from the last hotel I worked in in Edmonton, Bing, was teaching Phys Ed and there was a new headmaster. It was also hard to wake up from. I think I have something on my mind.}

February 24, 2006


I'm back from the Highlands.

I don't know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I've been afraid
That I might drift away

I did not fall off a mountain, or drown in a Loch. The faeries in the Glen did not steal me away, and I have yet to discover that I am Anna MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, and I can never die.

Now I have moved and I've kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way

I put my face in an icy-cold river because I was told it would keep me young. I saw the Old Man of Storr, and stood and listened to the faery pipes as the wind blew my hair like a curtain across my eyes. I looked out on the battlefield where Bonnie Prince Charlie lost his war and led so many men to their deaths.

I have kissed the ladies and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes there's no denying
I have traveled hard sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere in the wind

I sipped at Drambuie while looking out over the ocean, and pondered legends and myths and tales of a land so old and ragged that the mountains are worn to softer peaks than I'm used to. I listened to tales of brave men and wild women, of those who would die fighting for a way of life, for honour, sometimes just because to stop fighting meant to die.

Oh, but let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia you're calling me
And now I'm going home

If have fallen so deeply in love with this land, with its stories and its people and its wild landscape up north. With its castles and ruined abbeys and graveyards older than my country. With cobbled streets and roads so narrow that they have 'passing places' to avoid oncoming traffic in.

If you asked me right now, this second, to choose, to decide between this country and anyplace else in the world....

Eilean Donnan

I'd pack everything I owned and go up north, to the Highlands and Islands, and live the rest of my life up there and never give a backwards glance.

Which begs the question of what the heck I'm doing planning on leaving.

February 21, 2006


I am apparently handling being unemployed with my usual grace and maturity. That is, none.

So far today, I have:

- booked a spontaneous tour up north
- examined my webstats way too carefully
- put together a table
- done several loads of laundry
- done the dishes
- reorganised parts of my house
- had a lengthy discussion about my future
- finally remembered to email my parents (I suxx0rs)
- caught up on my RPOL participation
- written three hundred thousand million postcards, or at least 30

It's been a busy day.

I mention this here because I'm currently at a bit of a loss and needing advice. Is anyone out there who reads this able to talk serious with me about teaching, both high school and university, in various parts of the world? I'm not sure how getting either my Education Degree, or going on to get my PhD, affects my job prospects as a foreigner, and if anyone out there can offer some insight, I'd like that.

I'm also trying to figure out if I can get my Masters degree in China, and I'm really hitting a brick wall there.

Someone got here looking for...

"i m the keeper of the cheese. and you re the lemon merchant"

And I want to know *why* and *how*.

They also got here looking for "everything will be perfect", "fun things for anna", "i am different overseas", and "people wanting sex in edmonton".

There are an awful lot of people wanting sex in Edmonton, apparently.

Random Fact: My blog has more readers from Romania and Ireland than from Canada.

Sudden Change in Plans

So, I went to the place to buy the ticket for my tour on Friday, and they said "Did you want to leave tomorrow then?"

And I sad "Tomorrow?"

"Yeah, it's 10 pounds cheaper."


So, I'm going to the Highlands tomorrow morning. Be back in three days.


I was talking last night with friends of mine about trying to get my mind around the culture here. "Is it really something very offensive if I call you English?" I asked, thinking that it really just amuses me when people assume I'm American.

"Well," said Simon, "For some people, yes."

"And if there's alcohol involved, completely," said Myles.

"But, why?" I asked. "I can't figure it out."

"We had a royal family, and they disappeared."

"And there was the battle of Culloden."

"Those were hundreds of years ago!"

"Yes, but they're still relevant today."

This all sort of came out of a conversation about tourists wearing kilts and claiming clans, and about whether or not William Wallace was a 'hero' before That Movie came out and ruined everything.

We ended up with a fascinating comparison between Wallace, pre-movie, and Louis Riel.

I won't bore you by explaining the whole Louis Riel thing. There is a wikipedia article on him which seems to be rather well done, but I can't claim to have read the whole thing. I studied Riel in school, many many times, and no longer find him interesting. I make awful (and incorrect) jokes about how Canada is dull - we had one rebellion, it lasted a weekend, and afterwards everyone went out and got drunk. But it's not *too* far off the mark, depending on which part of Canada you're from.

Riel, you see, is either a Father of Confederation (in Western Canada, where I am from, because his actions led to the creation of Manitoba and Saskatchewan as provinces), a Traitor (in Eastern Canada, because of executing Thomas Scott, and then being hanged), or a Saint (which I've been told is how he's seen in Quebec).

Canada is a country that doesn't give a lot of thought to it's Larger than Life characters like that, although everyone knows about him. There are statues to Riel, and schools named after him, but he hasn't really captured the national interest or spirit. No one's going to go out and buy a replica Louis Riel gun, for example.

I got the impression last night that this is the way things were in Scotland before That Movie. People knew about Wallace, they had some opinions about him, everyone would know who you were talking about if you mentioned him, but he hadn't really captured the national consciousness until That Movie came out, and suddenly people were speaking in bad Scottish accents in places like New York, LA and Edmonton. Some people enjoy disliking the movie, because of how historically inaccurate it is, and others enjoy watching it as an heroic tale with varying degrees of accuracy. {I recommend you read this discussion about the historical inaccuracies in Braveheart. It's fun, and funny, and very full of facts. But mostly, it's funny, as is their take on Elizabeth and The Sound of Music.}

It was suggested that if I really wanted to understand the culture here I'd have to go back in time and just watch everything for 600 years, and even then I'd probably not get it. I don't get the papers here, and why it's okay to call people NEDs and Yobs. (NED = Non-Educated Deliquent. I don't know what Yob means, but basically the same thing. They told me it's more English to call someone a Yob than a NED.) To me, for some reason, those terms are really offensive, or at least shocking to see in a newspaper. I can't believe that it's okay, here, to write that sort of thing.

Of course, in Canada, we're more concerned about offending people. We tend to fret about that a lot.

Hence, I think, why I don't care if people assume I'm American, but I'm always quick to correct them. One of the few sentences I can still remember in Chinese is "I'm not American, I'm Canadian", and in bargaining, that was always useful. People do react to me differently once they hear I'm Canada, make assumptions about what it's okay to talk to me about. I hear a lot of anti-Bush rhetoric from cab drivers.

I think, because Canada is so immigrant-heavy, we don't really know how to deal with being an immigrant. I would never assume that anyone speaking to me wasn't Canadian - I don't care where your accent is from, or what colour your skin is. Canada is full of people of various levels of immigration, whether newly 'off the boat' or been here since forever. We just sort of blend people in.

I could live here until I die, and I think I'd still be an outsider, not understanding why it's more amusing than offensive that the statue of Wallace up in Stirling looks like Mel Gibson.

February 20, 2006

Plan of Attack

I have spontaneously decided to head out to the Highlands this weekend, as I managed to work my way out of a job again.

{I have a tendancy to do this: people hire me as a temp to audio type, expecting it to take about half again as long as it actually takes me to do things, and then I just sit around and go "Is there more work now?" I hate getting paid to do nothing... so now they don't need me till Monday.} {I mention this here because I am trying to use my mind control powers to get Phil to realise he needs an amazing audio-typing asistant to move across the world with him.}

So, yeah, I thought the Highlands would be fun, and good, and there's a tour I want to take that leaves early on a Friday morning, and thus was impossible for me to take whilst working. But since I am now not working, that is where I will go.

I'm also going to Liverpool and Norwich, but that will be much later.

February 17, 2006

Time after Time

On the one hand: oh my god, I only have seven months left in Scotland! That's not nearly enough time at all!

On the other hand: It's seven months till I get to Australia! It's an *eternity!*

(Thanks for the advice to get my Visa early rather than late... and I will totally be stopping in Singapore for a week at least. *smile*)

I'm currently trying to make a list of things that are really important for me to do while I'm here, and comparing/contrasting that with the list of things that my mom, my friends who are coming for visits, and the friend that's moving in all want to do, so I do things that are important to me alone on my own, and things they want to do with them... but it's hard to narrow down a lot of stuff.

So, I guess I'll ask: what do *you* think I should do in my last 7 months in the United Kingdom?

February 16, 2006

Food for Thought

So, with that sudden realisation that I only have a limited amount of time (a mere seven months!) left in Scotland, I decided to do something I had been avoiding doing.

I decided to try pineapple flavoured cottage cheese.

I *like* cottage cheese, you see. I loved it back when I was in college, and would eat enough of it that when there was this cottage cheese fad diet going around, I thought I could handle it (I couldn't - only fad diet I ever tried, and never again). But cottage cheese in Canada does not come in flavours, let alone in pineapple flavours. (Sour Cream does, though, and it doesn't seem to here.) But so, when I saw it in the store today and I was hungry and not wanting anything else, I picked it up.

Which leads to the question: how do you make something generally bland and flavourless (but with fun texture!) taste awful but with pineapples?

Even the texture was all wrong. Just... ew. Ew. EW. It was awful, and with pineapple.

And that's my latest foray into attempts at food in Scotland. I don't mind tatties and neeps, I like haggis, I *love* deep fat fried mars bars, but I think I'll avoid fruit-flavoured cheese for the next little while.

February 15, 2006

Best V-Day Ever

You know what true friendship is?

It's giving someone an Australian Guidebook for Valentine's Day - even though you don't want them to go.

And I love my new guidebook. It's Rough Guides, for those who care about such things. (My guidebook to the UK is Lonely Planet, the one for China was Rough Guides.) It's full of information and prices and advice and great things, and I once again find myself flailing around as though I'm leaving next week instead of in 7 months.

(I'm torn - do I apply for my Visa really early, or not so much? I want it sorted out before summer at the latest, but I don't plan on leaving till September.)

This isn't getting into the sudden "Oh my god, I'm going to Australia" that hit me on the bus home today. (Right after I bought a blender. Who buys a blender when they're planning Yet Another International Move? I mean, besides me.) I'm so excited about this, but in a really abstract way. I think "Ooh, Australia!" and then my brain turns to mush and I just think of sunny beaches and what happens at Christmas time.

I know a bit of what I want out of the experience, and I know what living overseas is like and I'm pretty prepared mentally for that part, I think. I just need to calm down.

Still... 7 months.

Till I leave Scotland.

Oh dear. Now I'm sad.

February 13, 2006

Dead Burying the Dead

First and foremost, I wonder if I'll ever stop being amused by being invited to sit down for 'tea and biscuts' instead of 'coffee and a cookie' at work. There's this wonderful combination of accents and this thing that sounds so... so... old world classy to me. It's odd.

Also, tea and biscuts are yummy. And can fix anything.

VictorianBut mostly I wanted to write about the Victorians, and sarcophaguses. Sarcophagi. Sarcophagus plural. I've been seeing them in all sorts of places, and always wondered what they were, these big stone coffins that seemed so out of place in various abbeys that I went to. I usually just assumed... well, I assumed they were big stone coffins of some sort, really. And I suppose they are, but they aren't from the era I thought they were.

These things (and they keep getting stuffed in odd places... this photo is from the ruins of a leper hospital in York) are actually Roman Sarcophagus..es... From what I understand, the Victorians found them at various times, dug them up, looted through them, then dropped the empty things wherever they could be bothered to. There's quite a few of them in places throughout England and I've seen one or two in Scotland as well (Kelso comes to mind immediately... I don't recall any anywhere else right now). They're always just there, as part of the landscape, just accepted.

I am intellectually aware that the Romans were here, and I know all about Hadrian's Wall and Constantine being declared Emperor of Rome here, but I keep forgetting how far back it all goes. And whereas I know that there were civilisations in Canada just as long ago, and that there is a great deal there that I have to learn about... I don't know, it just somehow seems more overwhelming to me that the Romans were here.

(This is a huge blind spot in my education. I must do something about it.)

But here's the thing that gets me worked up:

For all that we have some knowledge because of foolish Victorians rushing in and digging things up where angels fear to tread... they wrecked things! For crying out loud, the people in York don't have a clue where these things were dug up from. They know there was a Roman graveyard someplace, that it would have been outside the Roman city walls, but other than that... not a thing.

It makes me want to scream.

February 12, 2006


I think one of the things I find very surreal about living in the UK is that I can go places I've read about, studied, or in some other way have seemed unreal to me. Places that have just existed for me in abstract concepts actually exist here.

For example, the other day I was playing Civ III (or II or something), and built the city of York, and then spent the rest of the day giggling because I had been to York.

I think the fact that I've been really ill the past few days may have had some influence on that.

Part of that being ill involves rereading a lot of my favorite books, and that's always fun, too. Rereading my copy of Sunne in Splendour, and getting to the part where the heads of Richard, Duke of York, and his son Edmund are placed up on Micklegate Bar... and I've walked through that bar, and it all becomes so much more real.

I keep meaning to write up a long post about the Museum Gardens in York, but that involves going through all my photos again, and I've been too tired to do anything of the sort. All I've been doing for the past four days is sleeping and drinking juice.

February 8, 2006

The Sweetest Thing

I had the oddest sensation of being caught up in China today.

pic 15I remember being told that scent is the strongest link to memory, and today I could have sworn I was in China. There was this scent on the air that I could smell so often when I was there. I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was, but it smells like cooking food, and I really do associate food with China. Street food was everywhere (I managed to never get sick, but poor Paul!), and some of it was amazingly good. I was a regular with quite a few of the street vendors there (and man, did I ever get suckered into paying too much - I learned, eventually), and the smell of noodles cooking in the open air always brings me back.

I suspect when I leave Edinburgh, it'll be the smell of the brewery that makes it all come flooding back - fermenting, but not like yeast.

Sadly, I can't think of a single scent that brings Edmonton flooding back.

February 7, 2006

Scotland: Not the Outback

So, as I mentioned before, I have a friend who's coming over to live here, and every other day or so we have a conversation like this:

Her: Should I bring my hair dryer?

Me: Well, you'd need a plugin adapter and a voltage adapter, so it's probably better to just buy one here.

Her: Oh... what about my curling iron?

Me: Well, you'd need a plugin adapter and a voltage adapter, so it's probably just better to buy one here.

Her: Oh... what about my hair straightener?

Me: *sigh*

Her: Okay, okay... but maybe I should bring some collapsable clothes storage! And my duvet!

Me: You know, it's not the Outback. They do have stores here. It's only one bus to the Ikea, and there's a mall behind my flat.

Her: Oh... they have malls?

I love her like a sister, I really do, but some days I just want to scream. It's not that scary! They have *fire* here now, I'm telling ya!

But seriously, I get that she's scared and nervous and full of anticipation. I remember feeling that way myself... and that whole 'oh god, what do I pack?' freaking out thing. But it's rather surreal being on this side of it.

She thinks I'm brave because I did it myself, when I went to China.

I haven't the heart to tell her I was leaving freaking out comments in people's blogs in the hopes that *someone* would tell me if I should bring water purification tablets or if they'd sell them in China or something. (God, so green... they do bottle their water there, by the way. Or boil it.)

Thus, I don't mind her asking.

But really... there are stores. And fire. Honest.

February 6, 2006

Clifford's Tower

Octagon This is all from memory, and of course may be incorrect.

Clifford's Tower is on the top of a high hill, difficult to climb. Originally it had a moat, but nothing seems to remain of it now. There are many many many stairs to the base of the tower, and several more to the top. It's not a tower like I think of them, which is tall and thin and goes up a lot higher. This is only really two stories, but with the hill underneath it, there are some spectacular views of the city.

Or, so I would believe. I'm scared witless of heights. Absolutely witless of them. (You should see me flying. Or maybe you shouldn't....) I did manage to get myself up to the top of the tower, and I will admit that it's lovely up there, but I couldn't get myself to really enjoy it. I may think I'm not going to fall - it may be impossible that I'll fall - but I believe that I'm going to go crashing to the earth and that'll be the end of it all.

I was advised against climbing to the top of York Minster after this. *smile*

Clifford's Tower has some incredibly nasty stories told of it. The first is why it's named Clifford's Tower. According to the Ghost Tour I went on, a Lord Clifford was hanged to the side of the building and left to rot.

Let's leave the image, shall we?

The other story is quite horrific: In the 11th century, there was an uprising against the Jews in York. They fled to Clifford's Tower (then called York Castle, and a tower made of wood) for protection. The leaders of the uprising demanded that the Jews renounce their faith and give up all their wordly possessions, or they'd die.

They chose to die. When the door was forced open, they found every man, woman, and child of the Jewish community dead, and everything they had brought with them burning in the center of the room. In impotent rage, they left the tower to burn, leaving the bodies to burn as well.

Not that High... Really! I took this next picture when I had safely returned to the base of the tower. I looked up and said, "Hey, it's not that high..." The people who had seen me at the top, shaking and trying not to look down, found that rather amusing.

I'm glad I went here, as it's not only pretty nifty, it's part of the English Heritage sites, so I got in for free with my membership. However, I'm not quite sure I'd recommend it to other people. It's interesting, but there's not a lot to it. It's not really big, and very little of it really survives. The view is nice, and I guess that's what you're really paying for. (It's not that expensive, if I recall correctly.)

There's quite a bit here about the Jewish Massacre. For centuries, Jews wouldn't live in the city at all, until Cromwell invited them to come back. I know there's been formal apologies and formal acceptances of those apologies. There is an official memorial stone at the base of the hill, as well.

I just can't get that image out of my head, about how hopeless (or brave, or faithful) one must be to decide to kill your child, your wife, yourself, in order to escape from a fate you think is worse than death.

WitlessThis photo is me, standing at the top of the tower (obviously). My friend says to me, "My, your shoulders look strange in that photo." I said, "It's because I'm so scared I'm about to fall suddenly to my death."

I haven't had much to say over the past week or so because I've been pretty busy. I got another job through the agency, and it's fun and interesting. I've been baking for the bake sale, and doing other things. But mostly I've been sorting things out with a couple of friends that are coming here to live for a while, and it's been stressful and tense. I'm looking forward to them coming, but if I were anymore nervous about it, well... my shoulders would look funny.

I'm beginning to feel better now because I *think* everything's been sorted. Hard to say, yet, and there's still time. They'll be here in early March.

February 4, 2006

Thing I Learned Today

Don't wear a Cthulu backpack on the Royal Mile when there's a rugby game.



I need a drink.

About February 2006

This page contains all entries posted to Anna Overseas in February 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2006 is the previous archive.

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