Saturday, February 26, 2011

Freedom of speech and beer

Here’s what my itinerary has looked like in the past few days:
  • S: London: Speaker’s Corner, British Library, church
  • M: Walking around London, say bye to Rebecca Leung; train to Nottingham: meet Katrina Marshall, go to hockey game, go to music pub
  • T: Attend classes, walk around castle, go to oldest pub in England
  • W: Go take a Bath*
*Bath is a city. More on that next post

Speakers' corner

This is where the British come to exercise their right to free speech. It’s a corner of Hyde Park where people gather to debate about anything they want. Yes, you can yell anything you want. You just can’t attack (physically) the other person.

The guy who's standing above everyone else is the speaker

Since it was a cold day, many speakers didn’t come. Many of the ones who did were religious, preaching some (sometimes very distorted) Christian message. This guy (I call him “the Texan” was reasonable though, but he did say "shut-up" too much. Several observers I talked to said they were atheists, but liked this guy because he was responsive and listened to the audience.

A little excerpt. Note the mocker with the speakerphone to the right

Everyone said this woman was racist (she might sound like it in the video), but her message is something more complex. I tried talking with her later and from what I understood, she believed that traveling outside of one’s homeland was genuinely a chaotic and bad thing to do (though how you define that homeland is another matter....).

Let me just reiterate, that this is not my opinion! Think of me as a journalist :).

Part of the culture here at Speaker’s Corner is to raise your voice, say “shut-up, all in a supposedly fun (?) way.

Let’s watch the Texan again

The man on his left is his “mocker”, the guy he argues with. They seem pretty at odds right? Apparently not. I talked to the Texan’s wife, and she told me part of it was for show. For example, her husband often has civilized discussions with his atheist mockers afterwards. Part of it is to play up the entertainment value of arguing for the tourists. Though apparently they do apologize (to audience and God) occasionally when they feel they crossed the line.

I didn’t really believe this until...

A teenager walked up, stuck a ice cream cone at the Texan’s behind, and walked away! 

The Texan showed the crowd his stained pants. Surprisingly, his mocker started chiding the boy: “Come here boy! If you have something to say, say it! ...was that a gentlemanly thing to do?... Is your mother proud of what you did?” (turns out his mother was there). 
The mocker was defending the very man he was arguing with! I guess there is some kind of higher order of ethics at work here, even in Speaker’s Corner. All the guys seem nice at heart I guess. 

Either way, I don't think Speaker's corner is the best way to convince people of your opnions. I’m sure 95% of the people go to speaker’s corner just to have a few good laughs, so anyone who actually has good ideas are automatically viewed thru the lens of comedy.

British Library + King’s Cross

Hm... looks like Harry Potter right?

How about this?


In planning my trip to England, I wanted to go to a not-so-touristy place. Conveniently, I had a high school friend, Katrina Marshall going to school there. Thanks Kat!

She cooked some kind of pie, whose name escapes me:

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We also went to a hockey game between the two rival universities in town. At the beginning of the game, they sang the national anthem (though probably with more heart perhaps than when we sing our anthem :) )

It wasn’t the highest quality game in the world, but immensely entertaining. I felt like I was in America: hamburger stands, cheerleaders, yelling and cheering, corny music and entertainment in between the slightest of breaks, school pride shirts, trash talking... Later Kat told me that the hockey game was probably the most “American” thing I could’ve done in Nottingham.

This photo sums up my experience in Nottingham

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You have the history (Robin Hood lived here!), the students (2 universities in town),and the bars (there’s a drinking culture here as big, if not bigger than the college drinking culture in the U.S.


I attended two classes at UNottingham: a logic class, and an econ class (where we proved that veto-based delegation is optimal).

I also talked with some students and profs there. Seriously, I wouldn’t be able to tell (by classes or student life) that this wasn’t a university in the U.S.

They had lecture and required homework here, so the teaching style is different from that of X.


I went to the oldest pub in England*. Like I said, drinking is a big culture here. Even bigger than I thought average in the U.S. (my big university friends, do your classmates go out to bars on Mondays? and Tuesday nights?). 

Yes, a 1000-year old pub in a cave! This is my “cool thing of the week”

However, pubs  (vs bars or clubs) are generally more moderate places. I got to meet some interesting people:
  • A Belgian and Englishman talked to me about the English economy
  • I talked with a group of uni students on their perception of the U.S. They asked me the same with respect to the U.K. Apparently I’m a good neutral outside critic!


  1. I think your friend's pie might be "shepherd's pie." Does that ring a bell? Meat and vegetables with mashed potatoes on top?

    What American food do you miss (besides your mom's potstickers, which don't really qualify as American food)?

  2. Salut Mrs. K!

    Ah shepherd's pie. That might be it.

    I miss:
    - steaks (they like things cooked very rare over here)
    - the occasional brownie

    I think that's about it. I can buy pretty much everything at the supermarket (every hot dogs!), so theoretically I could eat as "American" as I want.

    However, my taste buds have probably been tainted by eating cafeteria food for the past 3 years...