21 Oct 2015
Oxford unique lifestyles
University is definitely not just for studying to receive good marks to earn an excellent job after graduation. Of course, study was the most important aspect but besides studying for me university was to try things I didn’t have the chance to during high school or even didn’t dare to. I looked very much forward to making my dreams come true during 4 years of university. But there were also Oxford unique lifestyles that I didn’t know about but came to very much enjoy. I guess what I’m about to tell you now are the hobbies/ activities I have enjoyed and “achieved” besides studying.
I guess the best comparison for Oxford formal hall would be the Harry Potter style dinner with long vertical table rows and a horizontal table and elevated table for the professors at one end. Also very tall ceiling. Everyone wearing long black capes. That’s exactly what formal halls look like.
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Just to add in some details, these are mostly 3 course meal served by college catering people: appetizer, main dish and dessert + wine (optional). I can proudly say that Oriel formal was thoroughly high quality formal with a large variety of dishes that made me wonder where the English food stereotype came from.
It is not only the outlook of this grand event that makes formal hall special but also the tradition. Besides the traditional sub fusc that we have to wear, (if you don’t, the catering officer doesn’t allow you in), we also have the formal hall ‘opening ceremony’. Students are all seated by 7:15pm at which point the professors come in from an entrance different to the students and everyone stands up as the professors walk towards their designated seat. In the professors table, there is the hot seat right at the center reserved for the most senior professor. When all the professors have arrived at their seats (still standing), this senior professor bangs on the table out loud and starts a Latin prayer. After 4 years of attending formal halls, I think I will never forget the Latin phrase, “Benedictus Dominus” which means ‘kind master’ that is always first spoken in the prayer. When the prayer ends, everyone will of course say ‘Amen’ and sit down which is when the food serving begins.
For Oriel, Monday of every two weeks was the steak night (my favorite night) and the steak could really be of standard of a real nice steak restaurant in London (I’m talking about the thick ones that is pinky in the middle and chews very soft. But I have to admit, not all the dishes were of equal standard it was a big chance. If I received a nice piece, it was a high chance for the person next to me receiving a mediocre piece.
Most surprisingly of all is how cheap this formal hall is. Just 5 pounds for all these 3 courses! That’s because Oriel subsidizes the students’ meal. Is there such formal every day? Oriel did have this Sunday to Friday but different colleges have different dates. So did I go to formal every night? In fact, formal halls can take up to 1 and half hours dependent on the number of people present. And as a university student with task deadlines, spending one and half hours on dinner can be pushing it a little. Also when we go for formal, since we drink wine, we often end up going to bar afterwards so a formal night can take the whole evening.
There is one special formal night that really made me feel Harry Potter director film copied the idea from Oxford formal. Before the Christmas vacation, there is the Christmas formal which is the definitely hottest formal of the year and booking 2 weeks before is required to secure a place. I think it’s fair to say everyone drinks on this formal night. There is a second floor in the hall that the college choir uses to sing Christmas carols during the inter-course meal waiting times. The choir also puts on a very amusing and comical performance while singing ’12 days of Christmas’. In this song there are twelve verses and there is a word that appears once every verse. I forgot which one it is but whenever this word comes up, the choir people bottom up a full wine glass. Now drinking 12 full glasses of wine within 5 minutes is a big feat and it’s a challenge for some of the ambitious choir boys. It’s very funny to see and hear how this particular song gets louder and louder.
Also there is this tradition called ‘Pennying’ that is a drinking game. If a guy successfully throws or puts a penny into your wine glass, you have to down your glass. And this could happen at any time during the formal. So there’s unconsciously constant attack and protect the glass actions going on.
I used to invite friends and families from London and elsewhere for this special and meaningful event too.
Oxford Ball party
Better known as proms, Oxford ball are like the high class parties just like in James Bond casino films. There are two types of balls: black tie and white tie. Can you tell the difference between black tie and white tie?
Yes, in white tie balls, men wear tail coats while ladies wear the long dress to the feet. But you can decorate yourself as much as you wish. This is a picture of me and my buddy wearing a hat and holding a stick (we borrowed these for this picture from two very well prepared gentlemen.
These white tie balls typically start from 8pm till 6am the next morning, with drinks and food throughout the night. However, the real nice drinks, cocktails and champagne, i.e. the expensive ones, are all gone by 2 hours into the party. Also there would usually be several performances (dance, music, magic) and even flying balloons!
There’s often the challenge (quite difficult) to stay till the very end and eat the ball breakfast. I stayed till the end just to get the most out of what I paid. The fee for white tie ball is very expensive indeed around 180 pounds. I’ve been to 2 white balls during my 4 years of Oxford. First time was at the end of my first year at St. John’s to experience what a white tie ball is and second was at the end of my final year at Oxford.
Punting is another thing that I didn’t know about before coming to the university. There is a river that almost circles the Oxford city center that is narrow and not too deep. We use long metal poles to push off the ground and propel boats just like the Venice gondola.
In summer, this is a very popular hobby amongst not just the students but Oxford citizens and tourists. During 1-2 hours of punting, in a group of 3-5 friends, we will take turns in steering the boat and sit under the sun, eat, drink and chat (sometimes throw biscuits and breadcrumbs to ducks and ducklings)
I remember once in a while doing a very large group punting with friends and splitting up into two groups and doing race with one another. I would say if I needed to pick two must dos for those who have friends from Oxford would be punting and formal.
Inter college competition
One of sports not much found in Asia, I participated in and thought was very special and cool was mixed lacrosse. It was cool because this was a very active sport that had both boys and girls equally competitive.
Lacrosse is basically football expect you are throwing a smaller ball with net sticks. High net stick skills are needed to ‘dribble’ through the pitch.
I joined Oriel lacrosse team. We practiced twice every week to get newbies like me level up to be good enough to win the cuppers. ‘Cuppers’ is what we call the inter-college competition in Oxford (university team level players aren’t allowed to compete). I very much like these cuppers because these are completely student organized: the match scheduling, score recording, competition progress notification and etc. Therefore, these matches would often happen on Saturday or Sunday mornings to suit everyone’s timings. One of the things I like about Oxford is precisely this. A lot of people really live very efficient life, achieving so much in the given time that involves both studying, pursuing personal interests and having fun with friends.
I am not sure if it was that our team was good or other teams were bad that made us come 2nd in my freshman cuppers. Yes, Oriel team came second. Having said that, some of the teams were really bad. I remember playing St Edmund’s all which is famous for rugby where their team’s whole defense line was pretty rugby players (they were actually dressed up in rugby uniform). They didn’t know how to dribble, but just pass throw and run. But because they had muscles, it was ok. A number of them were hunger over too.
Oxford is very active with rowing with the famous Oxbridge rowing match every summer. This also means rowers are very popular too. Rowing is a sport that isn’t very accessible because a river, rowing boat, boat house and 9 other rowers is not easy to find in one place. Given the ease to access rowing in Oxford and the fact that I’ve never done it before meant rowing was a must try for me. It looked very fun anyway.
So something that I really admire rowers for is the training process for this sport is very unique or at least for Oxford. I signed up for the Oriel fresher’s rowing for the Christmas fresher’s race in December. I was in the B team and we practiced either in the gym on rowing machines or out in the river. Obviously, what I looked forward to was the outdoor practice. But wow, outdoor was one requires one hell of an effort needing to get the river by 6am, get the boat out from the boat house, practice for about an hour, get the boat back by 8. Each college has its own boat house or shares one with another and we have to get the heavy boats out ourselves every time we need to use them. Also, it was terribly cold towards the race time. Why so early? They say it was the only time that everyone didn’t have other commitments, so easy to agree on scheduling the practice time. What I imagined was rowing in summer under nice weather. I would have given up on doing early on if it wasn’t for the race – I wanted to proudly say that I participated in a rowing race.
College Bop party
Every college has its bar for its students and other students to socialize in with very cheap beer and alcohol events. One of the special events is called ‘Bop’ typically once every 3 weeks per term. These parties always have a theme and often have special dress up themes.
The one below was Christmas theme. Of course lots of Santas. I dressed up as a Christmas present box, one hold for my head, two for my arms. It took me 3 hours to make this.