Wednesday, March 9, 2011


St. Paul's Cathedral, London, at dusk

To all readers of my blog,

You've been an wonderful audience, but I have officially stopped writing this blog for personal reasons.

Bonne journée!

Just kidding! I’m hoping that this joke will help make up for my not having blogged in more than 10 days.

I’ve been back in France for a week now, but I haven’t had the chance to write about Oxford, my last, and favorite, stop in England. Full of old buildings (which I’m not going to write about), and interesting people (which I will write about).

At the request/advice of several readers, I’m writing (somewhat) shorter blog posts now. Hopefully more frequent.

I stayed with a family friend, Tyler. We went to different high schools, but our parents know each other very well. Tyler and his roommate Orlando both went to West Point, and are at Oxford for a year as Rotary Ambassadorial scholars. They study African studies and Global Policy and Governance, respectively, so it was a good break from all the technical minded people I’ve been hanging around recently (or rather, the past 4 years; yes, Oliners, you’re well-rounded, too, but it’s not quite the same!).

Me and Orlando. In case you’re wondering, the London-Paris overnight express did exist before the Chunnel, with the help of train ferries!

Tyler was not there, but he and Orlando generously let me stay at their (very well equipped) apartment in Oxford.

Read on... First up, the atheist priest.

Richard Dawkins + the atheist priest

One of the things I wanted to do here was just go to different talks. So I went to a talk on the brain’s plasticity, organized as part of ThinkWeek by the Oxford Humanist + Secularist + Atheist organizations.

The student introduced the speaker, and at the ended, thanked the Richard Dawkins foundation for supporting this event. I was about to ask the guy next to me if Richard Dawkins was a professor here, until I realized Richard Dawkins was just sitting a few seats to the left of me!
At the end of the talk, I got into a long discussion with an elderly gentleman (very young at heart though!), David. David told to me he was an “atheist riest”, and we were off. We talked for five hours. He and his wife even took me out to tea, and explained to me the fine etiquettes of English tea time.  

This cafe is right next to the Eagle and Child where C.S. Lewis + J.R.R. Tolkein met frequently.

This short essay he wrote explains better his beliefs and life than I can. It's worth a read before reading on.

We talked about many things:
  • Is religion good, bad or harmless?
  • His ministry in helping the homeless before retiring (he was a Vicar in the Church of England).
  • He became a priest 50 years ago even though he was atheist at the time
  • I quoted something from Mere Christianity, and he said something to the effect of “yeah, I used to have lectures with C.S. Lewis, and I didn’t think all his arguments were sound”
  • On a lighter note, Indian, and Chinese culture.

I learned a lot from this talk. Not that I agreed with him (although I did agree on somethings he said about helping immigrants and homeless people, and appreciate what he did when his was Vicar). But the fact that we were able to talk 5 hours, and part as friends, was powerful.

I knew I wasn’t going to make him change his mind (though maybe he thought I was young and moldable :) ). But I knew I could listen to what he had to say, and ask him about it. Such is the power of listening...

Our speaker is late...

Orlando and I went to a talk by Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defense staff of the British Armed Forces. One of the best talks I’ve been to, because instead of talking about abstract ideas, he talked about his life and how he got were he was.

I thought it was ironic when the organizers announced at 7:30 (the talk was supposed to begin then), “We’re sorry, but our speaker is late. He just finished an emergency cabinet meeting with the Prime Minister”.

How old is your school?

I met some of Orlando + Tyler’s friends, and one of them asked me where I studied in Paris:  
  • Me: “Ecole Polytechnique”.
  • Her: Confused Look
  • Me: “’s the oldest engineering school in France...”.
  • Her: “How old”
  • Me, excitedly: “Over 200 years old!”

At which point I realized how little that meant to an Oxford student.

Modern art

On the way back to Paris, I stopped in London at the Tate Modern. I really liked the main exhibit, Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower seeds. 160 million individually created and painted porcelain sunflower seeds.

Coolest thing so far I think on my trip.



  1. You really got me with that intro. I was so sad, then so relieved. I really love your blog. Your organization of thoughts is very accessible. I don't usually read blogs this long, but yours is so digestible.
    Reading about your adventures(and the folks in Singapore + Israel) has suddenly caused me to think seriously about studying away next spring.