Paris: Amélie, lights and crowds

Two weekends ago saw Fran and I head to the city of love: Paris. Quite the appropriate place to spend our one-year anniversary. But did I fall in love with Paris? I wanted to, and hoped to, but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would, mainly due to the anxiety-inducing hordes that roam the capital.

Regardless, there were some real highlights to the city. The first being a little surprise tour (courtesy of Fran of course) of the stand out places in one of my favourite films Amélie.

Strolling through Montmartre hand-in-hand felt like the romantic and pretty Paris I was hoping for. We started off at Sacré-Cœur, a prominent setting in Amelie, one which hosts the scene with the phone call and the little yellow arrows. Here we stocked up on bread, vegan tapenade, macarons, and crêpes at the food stalls, while taking in the view of the city. From there we strolled down to the famous fruit and veg shop from Amélie. (The one with that prick of a shopkeeper who Amélie truly screws over with her admirable wit and dark side.) Then it was down to Café des Deux Moulins where Amelie worked her magic and played cupid.

IMG_7168

 I have to admit: the hub of Paris is beautiful under the night sky. We got to see a snippet of the Eiffel Tower and The Louvre during the day, but both spots are stunning at night. Every evening (every hour on the hour) is when you’ll see the Eiffel Tower dazzle and sparkle, which in my honest opinion, is a little gimmicky. Five minutes later is when you see the iconic tower in all its glory, without those sparkling lights. The tourists were quiet again as they left our viewing spot, Trocadero. That’s when we could just stand there taking it all in.

I was much more impressed by The Louvre Pyramid though, which stood strong in all its modern confidence in the middle of the Palace grounds. The juxtaposition of the architecture is striking but I love it. It boasts confidence and stylistic flair in a city that still gleams the French Renaissance style despite the modern and urban turn that Paris, like most capitals, tend to take.

IMG_7178

Overall Paris is a lovely city to visit but the swarms of people put a downer on the experience, which is a real shame.

Lessons learnt: expectations don’t always match reality, seeing major sites during the night as well as the day is well worth it, I could eat French baguettes all day every day.

 

Advertisements

Our LDR: commuting between England and Spain

In a few days I’ll be in Paris with my boyfriend celebrating a year of being together, officially. It will be exactly a year since I asked him out in a pub in Winchester, that first weekend we spent together. He does like to point out that he thinks we’ve been together for longer though seeing as our first two dates were in August last year, plus there’s been something between us since 2015 when we both swiped right.

For us, it’s always been a long distance relationship, where we commute between England and Spain, between my student house in Southampton (and now my family home in London) and his shared flat in Madrid. We’re lucky we’re not as far away from each other. It could definitely be worse. Imagine if we’d hooked up before I went on my year abroad in Mexico. That would have been real tough.

There are advantages to this type of relationship. We both love travelling so going to Spain three times over summer and visiting different towns and cities was lovely. Then there were other times where we would be at his family home in Álora and everything would slow down for the both of us. Not only do we get to see more of Spain together, but we’ve also seen more of the UK, from days in Brighton and Winchester to weekends in Bristol and Cambridge. We’ve also been to Porto and Lisbon, and we’re heading to Paris in a few days. (Even with these trips, we still haven’t actually taken a flight together.)

We’ve met each other’s relatives and friends, been camping twice together, enjoyed live music together, and we’ve even played house in Fran’s dad’s flat in Benalmádena. Yet the longest we’ve ever spent together in one go is seven days. So in November we’ll be playing house again, when Fran will be here for two weeks keeping me company, flat and job-hunting while my parents are away. Am I excited? Fuck yes. Am I nervous? Not as much as I have been.

We’ve definitely had our ups and downs over this year, aggravated by a few life changes from me graduating and moving back in with my parents and trying to find a career, to Fran finishing up a job contract and being on the lookout for a new one here in London.

LDRs can be tricky to manage and maintain but to be completely honest, I think we’ve done a great job so far. We speak almost every day via Hangouts where we watch Friends, That 70s Show or the occasional film, we make the effort to see each other regularly, and we have plans for our future.

Our relationship may not be ‘normal’ or ‘conventional’, but it’s ours.

IMG_20170722_121924

A Blessing in Disguise

I write this post almost two weeks after finding out that I didn’t get that HarperCollins trainee role. Yes, I’m gutted but I’ve moved on. Getting that rejection email has actually been a blessing in disguise.

A few days before the final assessment day at HarperCollins I met with a woman named Salma who works for Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA). We chatted about my future and why I’d want to volunteer for a non-profit organisation like LAWA.

LAWA offers free support to Latin American, Black and minority ethnic women and children who are experiencing, or recovering from, domestic violence. They pride themselves on being inclusive, welcoming women from any background, ethnicity, sexuality or ability, including trans women. As well as having a safe place refuge for these women and children, they run English classes and activities and offer legal and financial advice to further support them.

Women’s rights have always been important to me, but only in the last few years have I realised – or rather, learnt – that BME women suffer in a different way to white women. Feminism may seem all-encompassing but the foundations are based on white, middle class and able-bodied women without the mention of BME women let alone those in varying financial situations, those with different migratory statuses, different languages or cultures. This is where intersectional and black feminism comes in. LAWA is based upon these theories and prides itself on being inclusive.

The work they do is what attracted me to them, as well as the fact that the team is made up of wonderful and talented BME women speaking Spanish and/or Portuguese.

When Salma and I had that initial chat it was up in the air as to whether or not I could join the team due to the upcoming HarperCollins assessment day and if I were to get the job or not. I would have to commit to one day a week, but this of course would not be possible with the full-time traineeship. So when I heard that I wasn’t chosen for the traineeship, I was initially disappointed and disheartened. But it has actually been a blessing in disguise, as now I can commit to working with Salma and the team for one day a week as a Monitoring and Evaluations Assistant working alongside the Knowledge Officer. We’ll be collating information about the women and children who use LAWA’s services, reporting on key information, and organising focus groups to find out just what these service users think about their time with the organisation.

I’ll be acquiring new skills along the way, working in an office environment which is pretty new to me, as well as learning more about intersectional feminism, domestic violence and the importance of the work that LAWA does.

 

 

Tapping into the world of Publishing

A few months ago I wrote this, a post about being an undergraduate and facing rejection from the world of work. I’m glad and proud to say that I’m no longer an undergraduate, but have now graduated in English and Spanish. But am I still being rejected from jobs? Yes and no.

Applying for jobs and being let down is something we all have to deal with. Apart from that one lucky buggar who struck gold with their first application. That wasn’t me. However, I have been extremely lucky with some of my contacts. One of them put me in touch with the Head of Content at their company, and now I’ve found myself in a freelance Online Content Writing role where I get to decide how much I’m paid. Not bad for my first job as a graduate. It seems to be going well, and fits in with my main worry of trying to get a job in the Publishing sector. After quite a few applications and rejections, I came across a traineeship that could be a great way for me to tap into the world of Publishing.

HarperCollins, one of the Big Five in the Publishing world, launched a BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) traineeship last year to much success. Schemes like this highlight the fact that the social and ethnic makeup of companies’ employees don’t reflect the diversity of London. HarperCollins are very much aware of this so this year, they’re running the scheme again. I stumbled across a tweet about it and decided to apply. Lucky for me, I got through the first round, and now the second.

The first was a video interview that wasn’t actually face-to-face, but rather me looking at the screen and waiting for a question to pop up. 30 seconds later and I had to conjure up a decent enough answer to put me through to the next round.

I’d almost forgotten about it all until I received an email from the HR intern inviting me to a half-day assessment at HarperCollins’ swanky new offices in London Bridge. So that’s where I went just a few days ago. With a talk from one of the directors, and one from a current trainee, us 40 applicants got a real feel of the culture of HarperCollins, the programme, and what was expected of us on the day, in between lots of mingling.

The interview itself was informal and short, and didn’t actually require any preparation at all. The first comment from one of the interviewers set the tone: “I wish we had longer than ten minutes because I wanna hear all about Mexico!” Another question which was actually really fun to think about was the dinner party scenario: if you could invite four people to your dinner party who would they be? F. Scott Fitzgerald because of Gatsby and all that, Emer O’Toole because she’s one of the best current feminist writers I’ve ever come across, Michael Eavis for making Glastonbury what it is today (and to also chuck in how I volunteer for Bhopal Medical Appeal while there), and Arundhati Roy because, honestly, I wanted to throw in a BAME writer.

Ten minutes and four questions later, I’d given my two interviewees an insight into me, my personality, my interests, and my character. I had actually enjoyed myself, smiled practically the whole way through, and spoke a whole lot about my love of different cultures.

So from 40 they had to cut us down to 15. We were to be informed a week later whether or not we’d be one of the final 15. But to our surprise, we all received emails the next day. At that moment I was working at The Queen’s Club stuffing envelopes (fun, right?) so it completely took me by surprise when I found out that I’d been invited to the next assessment day.

So on 11th September I’ll be returning to HarperCollins’ offices for a much longer interview, a presentation, and a group task. Seems pretty daunting as this is something I’ve never done before, so I’m undoubtedly nervous. However, I’ve got this far so at least I’ve got the potential. Whether or not I become one of two trainees for HarperCollins, I am sure that the whole experience will be a learning curve for me. I’ve enjoyed it so far, and I intend to make the most out of 11th September regardless of how it may or may not go.

All I can think right now: I’ve actually jumped over the first two hurdles of a rigorous selection process and haven’t fallen flat on my face.

Toledo: walls, synagogues and marzipan

Half an hour away from the hot and dry Spanish capital Madrid, lies Toledo, a city that fits elegantly within the tall, sepia-toned walls taking you back to medieval times of walled in castles and forts. The city, which is the capital of the autonomous region Castile-La Mancha has been declared a World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why. Its little winding streets – reminiscent of Mexico’s Guanajuato – let you walk up and down to the centre with views of the cathedral, and its monasteries are romantic and peaceful, It’s not only this beauty that makes Toledo a great city to visit; Toledo is also culturally, historically, and religiously rich with architecture and customs reflecting Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Toledo’s Jewish quarter is very popular with tourists. Santa María La Blanca is considered the oldest synagogue in Europe, and can be found there. Its white walls and golden decoration lend themselves to Moorish architecture, giving the synagogue characteristics of a mosque. It’s cool and peaceful inside, making it a great place to take a breather from the Spanish heat.

IMG_6379

Toledo is also hugely famous for their mazapán. Apparently this specifically Spanish type of marzipan – made of almonds, sugar, honey, and eggs – was invented by nuns at Convento de San Clemente to feed the undernourished people of the city suffering from famine. Toledo is also known to shape these little sweets into figures of animals. Head to the convent to try the original mazapán still made by the nuns, or to the shop Santo Tomé which has a wider variety of marzipan.

I just wish they were vegan.

Lucy Rose at Rio Cinema, London

Last year, English singer-songwriter Lucy Rose put her trust and faith in Latin American fans and accepted their invitations to play in their hometowns for free and stay with them. Some of her flights were paid for by fans that just could not last another minute without seeing Lucy Rose in the flesh.

Lucky for me, I was in Mexico at the time and travelled from my small flat in Colima to beautiful Puebla to stay with a friend and introduce her to one of my favourite artists. We were all blown away as we sat cross-legged on the courtyard floor staring up at Lucy Rose as she performed an intimate acoustic set for us.

Fast forward 12 months and Lucy Rose has released a documentary narrating her travels around countries including Chile, Argentina, and Mexico, and has been visiting independent cinemas around the country to screen her film as well as a play a little gig. I’d never been to a cinema gig before so this was a totally different experience for me.

IMG_6025

Beginning with her documentary, which was highly emotional, Lucy Rose took a little break before heading back on stage to play a set that encompassed all three of her records to date. Both the documentary and her performance were stunning. She is one of the most humble artists I’ve had the pleasure to listen to, and the privilege to meet. Hearing her wonderful anecdotes about fans that she stayed with, and seeing just how much the trip impacted her, brought me to tears. Before playing ‘I Can’t Change It All’ from the new record Something’s Changing, she explained that the song was actually written for a fan. She wanted to do something for him after realising, to her disappointment and shame, that there was very little she could do to improve his situation. So instead she wrote him a song, the album closer.

It becomes clear that Lucy Rose returned to music after going through some self-doubt and lack of confidence because of her fans and the way they have welcomed her with open arms, introducing them to their families, and the way they have experienced her music in such a personal way.

Her shows continue to reiterate the power and influence of music, and the reality that the industry doesn’t have to be completely commercial and consumerist, and can be for just the artist and their incredible fan base.

Watch the documentary below.

Thoughts on Glastonbury 2017

This year at Glastonbury was my third; my third time litter picking on the Pyramid Stage for Bhopal Medical Appeal, glimpsing the oddities that Glastonbury has to offer between watching talented artists perform, and sampling the festival’s vegan eateries. This year was a lot quieter on the music front compared to back in 2015 when I had a packed schedule and had to run from stage to stage to catch the likes of Rae Morris, FKA twigs, and Everything Everything. This year left me with some thoughts on the music scene and the chaotic festival itself. 

Polaroid CUBE

Where’s the rain?

We’re not Brits if we don’t talk about the weather, right? The day we arrived, Wednesday, was an absolute scorcher and although the following five days weren’t as warm, the lack of rain made this year’s experience wholly different. Litter picking around the dusty tracks of Glastonbury as trucks drove past wasn’t pleasant, but at least we didn’t have to trudge through the mud for six hours. Instead, punters were in a much better mood this year dancing under the sun, sitting up on Stone Circle until the stars came out, and watching their favourite artists perform.

Corbynmania

Glastonbury was extremely political this year with more and more people heading to the Left Field to catch leftist artists and speakers make some noise for politics that actually make sense in today’s society. Beans on Toast, who played in a tiny tent at Common People back in May, attracted a huge crowd at Left Field as he sang about political puppets. The politics of Left Field moved to the Pyramid Stage on Saturday afternoon as Jeremy Corbyn spoke to thousands of Glastonbury punters. Chanting ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ to ‘Seven Nation Army’ at the Silent Disco was a surreal experience. Corbynmania took Glastonbury by storm.

White white white

Over the last few months I’ve become more aware that the music scene – or at least the music I tend to listen to and enjoy – is saturated by a white population, mainly men or those fitting the criteria of heteronormativity. This year at Glastonbury I found that our little group made of up of friends made on previous years volunteering and family was mainly non-white, leading me to observe that we were one of very few Asian groups amongst the hordes at Glastonbury. Why is it that Glastonbury remains so white even with a fairly diverse line-up bringing different genres, identities and cultures together?

Vegan heaven

Festival food is great with its diversity in cultures and tastes, and I knew that as a vegan I’d be okay with the variety of options. If ever in doubt at Glastonbury head to the Green Fields area and the Greenpeace Café for a small but tasty selection of vegetarian and vegan food. Somewhere between there and the Healing Field I grabbed a soya Chai and a hearty falafel pitta, sat cross-legged on rugs and taking a breather from the rush of Glastonbury. A stall I was keen on heading to before even stepping on Worthy Farm was Club Mexicana, which opens its stalls in various markets around London. Tofish tacos and BBQ jackfruit burritos were the highlight of my Glastonbury foodie experience. Even my omnivore brother was impressed. 

It was great to be at Glastonbury again this year especially having missed it last year due to being on my Year Abroad, and a pleasure to work alongside BMA volunteers clearing up the Pyramid Stage. Love The Farm, Leave No Trace.

 

Not quite hitting the mark: a common theme in the story of an undergraduate

Undergraduate life can be pretty tough on the soul. From getting A*s in 3000-word English essays that you spent all of Year 13 on, to learning to deal with bashing out an essay in a week and only getting an average 2:1, our work just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Over my four years of studying I’ve said on multiple occasions: “as long as it’s above 40%, that’s fine”. Never in my life have I set myself up to just about scrape a pass for assignments than at university.

However, it’s not just that we’re not as bright as we thought we were when we aced our GCSES with A*s and As or got A*AB at A-Level, it’s everything that comes with being a finalist: ruthlessly filtering through graduate schemes, internships, and part-time jobs, to end up flat on our faces with a chapter in our lives entitled “Rejections 1-242098”.

As my fourth year as an English and Spanish undergraduate began, people didn’t hold back to continue asking the same old question: have you decided what you’re doing yet? And with this question comes the inevitable sheer panic as we compete with our peers for a graduate scheme that we’re not even sure we want. The pressure to have nabbed a grad scheme by the end of the year was overwhelming and exhausting. It didn’t even matter that you didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life; apply for a grad scheme anyway. Luckily, I came to my senses and spent my time reminiscing about sunny days in Mexico as a tanned Year Abroader.

A few months later and the worry set in again. My friends and peers were suddenly getting their shit together and figuring out their lives while that future chapter of my life sat on the backburner with barely any structure let alone an opening line.

Opportunities started coming my way, and I went in search for them resulting in applying for a social impact programme based in India and organised by the uni. My wanderlust was becoming uncontrollable and I wanted to cure just a tiny bit of it but heading back to where my roots lie. Of course the programme sounded extremely engaging and challenging, and with most costs paid for, I’d be a fool to not apply. But inevitably, I didn’t quite hit the mark.

We have received an unusually high number of applications and the selection process has been very competitive this year.  After reviewing your submitted application, we have decided that we will not shortlist you this time. Due to the large number of applications, we are not able to provide individual feedback on your application.

Okay, that’s fair enough. But, really? Not even a few lines to say what was missing from my application, what made me not quite hit the mark?

Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and I get another rejection email, this time for an internship at Penguin Random House. At least this time I received some feedback, even if it was a bit halfhearted. I actually answered questions pretty decently on the online application, and I scored above average for a number of things they were looking for like passion, persuasiveness and communication. Yet, I still didn’t quite hit the mark.

Those are only two out of a series of rejections I’ve received, and I know that as a whole, us nearly-graduates have been subject to thousands of disheartening emails showing us, once again, how we’re not quite hitting the mark.

But I can’t leave without saying, like good ol’ Ross Geller does: ‘you’re gonna go on like a thousand interviews before you get a job’. So don’t lose hope.

Back to therapy

Before heading off to Mexico for my year abroad I was in a particularly bad place, something that I’m still coming to terms with now. The stress and anxiety of even imagining myself living in another country was throwing me off completely; I was working myself up, lashing out at those I love, and dwelling on the negatives. In the past month or so I’ve noticed myself inching closer and closer to this bad place.

It’s always been difficult for me to talk about my feelings to people face-to-face; I feel my eyes welling up, my face reddening, and my heart sinking seeing those I love upset when I try to voice how I’m feeling. (Probably one of the reasons I find it far easier to write a blog post than to call up my parents.) So a few weeks ago I built up the courage and booked myself an appointment with my GP to talk about my options, then went to Enabling Services which was so dishearteningly disappointing. Speaking with my GP was much more helpful and easier, and maybe this was because she, a middle-aged Asian woman, made the correct judgement about our shared culture: there is still a much larger, more prominent stigma in Asian communities about ‘hidden’ illnesses, manifesting the idea that if you can’t physically see or touch the problem then it just doesn’t exist.

Skip forwards a couple of weeks to today and I’m back to therapy. This was a decision I made with my practitioner over the phone, after coming to the conclusion that the one-to-one CBT I had right before my flight to Mexico proved beneficial. It was evident from the call that the NHS are facing huge problems, which has obviously been going on for a while now, but it had never fully occurred to me until my practitioner said I’d have to wait eight weeks for one-to-one CBT. Two whole months! That just did not seem to be an option for me. So instead I’ve opted for CBT workshops that are interactive group sessions – but not group therapy, I should add – held at the church centre just walking distance from my house and campus.

So far we’ve looked at different ways to address those bad habits we all may take to lighten the load, and let us forget about our worries like resorting to alcohol or smoking, binge eating, and withdrawing from social activities completely. Over the remaining seven sessions we’ll be talking about controlling temper, how to address lack of motivation, amongst other topics. I’m feeling pretty positive about the treatment, and I would encourage people to definitely give CBT a go if you haven’t done so already. Although I haven’t had any experience of medication, I would rather steer away from it if I can and focus on my wellbeing in a more natural way. But, it’s always good to keep your options open.

A minority on the outskirts

As an ethnic minority I’ve always found it intriguing to have a little glance around me at concerts to see where I stand within the crowd. With my choice of music including that of indie/rock – a genre traditionally saturated by white men – I always find myself as even more of a minority as I’m both Asian and female.

I’ve been attending concerts for years with my gig-going history including the likes of Biffy Clyro, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Arctic Monkeys, and Glass Animals. Every time I go I find myself even more aware of the lack of diversity within the crowd, and more conscious that myself and the people I’m with (usually my aunt and/or my brother) are one of extremely few non-whites.

A couple of days ago I was with my brother, uncle and his mate (also Indian) seeing Bloc Party at The Roundhouse, which is one of my favourite venues in London. I found myself on the outskirts of the main centre of the audience, fully conscious of the fact that I was surrounded by predominantly white men. Any women I saw (also white) seemed to be attached to their significant other. This doesn’t tend to make me hugely uncomfortable, but recently it has made me question why there is still such a lack of culturally diverse people attending live concerts.

16731646_10210702638355872_959403359_o

On a slightly lighter, less political note, I also found myself as a minority with regards to my knowledge of Bloc Party’s discography, only familiar with the band’s latest album, HYMNS. Hard-core fans of theirs who stuck by them since day one are not keen on this record at all. It presents a shift in the band’s sound that some people are not willing to accept. I’m all for a band adapting their sound, whether it be to suit the current times or whether it be a natural step in a group’s progression and evolution. (Other examples include Arctic Monkeys with AM, Two Door Cinema Club with Gameshow, and Kings of Leon with WALLS.)

So not only was I a minority fan on the outskirts of the venue singing along to the likes of ‘Different Drugs’ and ‘Only He Can Heal Me’ while “true” fans bitched about Bloc Party’s new musical direction, but I was also one of very few women, and one of very few non-whites.

I’ll just add that lead singer, Kele Okereke, was born to Nigerian parents and does not fit heteronormative ideals. The band also has a female drummer.