Posts Tagged Oxford

From Fact to Fiction: The Mystery of the Jade Avenger

6 July 2013

I’m taking a break from “serious writing” to focus on a new project: a children’s detective story called The Mystery of the Jade Avenger. The story takes place at fictitious Keeblewhite College in Oxford, England and revolves around an ancient Chinese sword that goes missing and two young detectives — Richard Reynolds and Antonia “Toni” Giordano — who try to discover who stole the sword and why.

Writing about Oxford is helping to take the edge off my England withdrawals, having spent the last six summers in Oxford as coordinator of a study abroad program. I’m finding that writing about a place that has become familiar to you enables you to see it in a very different light. I’m having so much fun with this!

Though the process of writing this book has been unexpectedly therapeutic, I am actually writing this book for an audience of one: my 9-year-old nephew Seth. He loves the Hardy Boys and I’m a lifelong Agatha Christie fan, so the book will have elements strongly influenced by both, I’m sure.

As mentioned, the setting is Oxford, England. The story takes place in modern times, though since it is Oxford, where things seem to change more slowly and some things never change, it might as well be the 1940s or 50s. The action takes place primarily on the site of Keeblewhite College, a college founded in the late 18th century. Other settings are the Ashmolean Museum, which is England’s oldest museum, as well as various “flats,” manors and cottages in the Oxfordshire countryside, and the Covered Market, one of my favorite places to go in Oxford because of the hustle and bustle and all the interesting sights and smells.

My goal is to introduce Oxford, one of my favorites city in the world, to a young audience. Oxford has its own vocabulary, quaint rituals, mysterious customs, and lovely old buildings — all of which I am looking forward to exploiting and exploring in my book. Below is the plot synopsis.

The Plot

The Jade Avenger, an ancient Chinese sword, goes missing on the opening night of an exhibition in its honor. The sword was on loan for a year to Oxford’s Keeblewhite College from a famous British museum, in an attempt to bring publicity — and therefore revenue — to the struggling college.

Upon the sword’s disappearance, suspicion immediately falls on the competent but ruthless museum curator, Dame Phillipa Scott, and the stuffy and unpopular college principal, Christopher Cummings-Price. The curator and the principal are the ones who seem to have the most to gain out of the sword’s disappearance: the museum and its curator will benefit from the theft in terms of collecting insurance money, while the principal will gain free publicity for his school — and as the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity.

But amateur detective Richard Reynolds and his sidekick Antonia “Toni” Giordana soon find the case is not as clear-cut as it initially appears. In the course of their adventures, they will track down a notorious gang, encounter a fierce Chinese martial artist intent on getting the sword back to its rightful owners (an ancient line of brave Chinese warriors), experience a kidnapping, endure a series of attempts on their lives, and unscramble a secret code before finally discovering the astonishing truth behind who stole the sword.

4th of July in England

4 July 2012

Happy 4th of July!

We would soon be heading out to the Boathouse where our Oxford RAs are preparing for us a dinner to remember. Who would have thought that 236 years after our little revolution, the Brits would be hosting us in a little barbecue to celebrate our Independence Day? Just a little twist of irony.

But not the strangest thing that’s every happened here. I think that award goes to last year’s Oxford program students Trey Ramsey and Alycia Graves teaching the Chinese students how to do the electric slide, after they’d helped us celebrate the 4th of July — a holiday they’d never heard of before.

I love these multicultural interactions. 🙂

Will have photos later!


View From My Window

26 June 2012

Western Road Rowhouses, Oxford, England

Sunshine in Oxford

25 June 2012

We had a sunshiny and — get this — warm day here in Oxford for the first day of class and the Welcome Tea. In fact (and this is a first-ever phenomenon for me) I got a little sunburn from sitting in the Hertford College quad for the better part of an hour. Sunburnt. In Oxford.

Yesterday’s lunch was chicken in a white wine sauce with a sort of rice pilaf, snowpeas and carrots. Chocolate cake for dessert.

Chicken in Wine Sauce

Walking back from class today, I made the mistake of taking a shortcut through the Covered Market. I came out on the other side with two flower containers and 3 bouquets of flowers from the discount bin!

Blue Flowers

Lilies in my dorm room


An English Breakfast: The Stuff of Dreams

24 June 2012

Ahhhhh! A traditional English breakfast. The smell wafted up to me on the top floor of Abingdon House as I woke up this morning, my stomach rumbling in anticipation. The fare did not disappoint.

An English Breakfast

Eggs, “bacon,” mushroom, tomato, hash browns, sausage plus toast, croissants, fresh fruit and berries and several options of cereal, juices, milk and coffee. It’s the breakfast of kings. What a great way to start a Sunday morning!

Today’s Highlight: The Grand Cafe

22 June 2012

Already Day Three and it’s going much too quickly. Another thing that’s going quickly is my spending money!! Why is it so much easier to spend British pounds than American dollars? I guess partly because it doesn’t feel like real money.

Tea with my colleague Diane — and yes, that is a winter sweater in June.

Lots of administrative details to deal with today but the highlight of the day was probably tea for three at the Grand Cafe, the oldest coffeehouse in England (established in 1650). Had “cream tea” with my colleague Diane and her son: cream tea consists of delicious scones (nothing like the hockey pucks you get in the States!) with clotted cream, jam and — of course — tea. We had a great time discussing the cultural differences between the British and Americans.

Diane & son Josh at Grand Cafe

Another highlight was getting a pass to the Botanic Garden — my favorite spot in Oxford.

Botanic Gardens, Oxford

Our students arrive tomorrow!

Oxford Times Six

21 June 2012

Christ Church Cathedral

Oxford.There’s just something about this place that makes me walk around with a smile on my face.

One thing I love about it is that it changes at such a slow pace that everything is still familiar from one year to the next. Sure, students may sometimes have complaints about limited access or no wifi — I understand; I go crazy if I don’t check email daily, too — but this is Oxford!

I am hoping and praying that this year’s group will be predisposed to fall in love with Oxford; that they will be flexible and adaptable; that they will have a sense of humo(u)r and enjoy everything that comes their way here, knowing what a privilege it is to be here and how neat it is to be in England.

This is my sixth year to help coordinate the program and I feel like one of the luckiest (most blessed, in “Christianeze”) gals in the world.

Smartest thing I did this year: PACKED LIGHT!! Everything fit into a rollarboard carryon bag!

Dumbest thing I did this year: Didn’t bring a book to read. My reasoning was that I could buy something here but it’s the end of Day Two and still no book! There’s always tomorrow but it stinks to be without a good book.

Today, my colleague Diane and her son Josh arrived. They were tired from their trip but they were such troopers as I dragged them around town saying, “I promise … although this feels like torture right now, you’ll thank me later when you have the best sleep of your life tonight!” The biggest mistake people can make is to sleep during the day on their first night overseas. The quickest way to get over jetlag is to adapt immediately to the local schedule of eating and sleeping.

We had a pleasant lunch “in Hall” with Fatjon and some other members of the Hertford College staff. They are such lovely people! Each one so smart and sweet-spirited. After lunch, we meet with the International Programmes director and with Fatjon so that they could get to know Diane a little better.

Afterwards we took the “mandatory” Oxford sightseeing bus tour. I think this was my 4th time to go?? It beats a walking tour when you are fighting hard to stay awake but need to get familiar with the layout of the city. Then dinner, then grocery shopping, then “home.”

Goodnight! Will report again tomorrow. The fun shifts into high gear when students arrive on Saturday!

P.S. Blame any typos on the jetlag …

Oxford Prayer Room

17 March 2012

This video just fills me with joy. Can’t wait to be a part of this wonderful ministry this summer! I’m hoping and praying that our students going to Oxford this year will spend much of their free time praying for the city and its people.


Reflections from Oxford — Last Days

16 July 2011

The closing gala dinner never fails to move me. I’ll be smiling away as I eat my food, thinking to myself how glad I am that everyone survived, that I didn’t have to call any parents with the news their child had been arrested, that no one got run over for failing to “Look Left” when they should have looked right … and then I’ll look down the long wooden table at their happy faces, eyes sparkling in the candlelight, everyone alive with conversation, and it always brings tears to my eyes.

No matter how you slice it, Oxford is a life-altering experience. Each year that I come, I am changed. At the very minimum, it serves as a type of “reset” button in my life that reminds me that the way I look at the world 11 months out of the year is not necessarily the “right” way of viewing it or the only way of viewing it.

When I first arrive in England, I’m always astonished at the cultural diversity. It’s a bit intimidating initially, perhaps because of fear of the unknown, fear of causing offense to people with whose culture I may be unfamiliar. But walking down Cornmarket Street yesterday, weaving through a dense crowd of people from “every tongue, tribe and nation” it felt simply astonishing to be a part of this amazing and diverse tapestry — a little white Frenglish-speaking dot in a sea of colorful people. 

So why should I be surprised that such a life-altering experience brings out the best and sometimes the worst in each of us? It’s difficult to be faced with experiences that challenge us to the core of our being, to have a mirror raised in front of our faces and to see ourselves as others see us, to see our blemishes as well as our “beauty marks.” Even things like the fact that the hot and cold water come out of two separate faucets can be a seemingly insurmountable challenge to someone in the habit of having only one. But that’s when creativity can kick in! That’s when you realize that just because you’ve been doing something one way all your life doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it.

I feel extremely blessed to be here and I’m so thankful to everyone who made this trip possible (now I feel like I’m giving an acceptance speech!). I’m thankful for each one of the students who decided that this was the year they were going to Oxford, and I’m thankful for each of their individual personalities that helped make the group dynamic and interesting. Thankful, too, to the RAs — Dan and Gabi — who worked so hard and so diligently to make sure that everything went smoothly and that there was no shortage of fun or educational activities for our spare time.

And now the time has come to say goodbye to Regent in Oxford. We woke up to a cold, steady rain this morning and the mood was rather gloomy as we said goodbye, put people in taxis, then Gabi, Dan and I went around to each room picking up ethernet cords, keys, and taking down name tags from the doors. I went back to my room, feeling rather melancholy, and took a 2-hour nap (none of us have been getting much sleep!). When I woke up, the rain had passed and the sun was shining brightly again. Though it’s sad to have to say goodbye, we all have lives “back home” to lead. But now we have these rich memories to go back to in our day-dreams.

One Perfect Day in Oxford

5 November 2010

With over 800 years of history, Oxford is a remarkable city that masterfully combines the old and the new, embracing modern advancements while holding on to centuries-old traditions. The University of Oxford, housed within the city, consists of 39 individual colleges with a total of over 20,000 students from around the world.

St. Mary the Virgin

8:00 am  — Start the day with a leisurely croissant and coffee breakfast at one of the local shops. I recommend the Starbucks on Cornmarket St. — not because it’s Starbucks but because the second floor windows allow for some of the best people watching in Oxford.

9:00 am — Climb 127 steps up the tower of St. Mary the Virgin for some commanding panoramas of Oxford’s famed “Dreaming Spires.”

10:00 am — Book an afternoon tour at the Bodleian Library. Browse the free exhibit while in the Bodleian’s courtyard.  

10:30 am — Have a look around the Oxford Information Centre, ask questions, buy souvenirs, and grab some brochures.  

10:45 am — Take a pre-booked University & City Walking Tour led by an experienced Blue Badge Guide.  

Walking Tour

12:00 pm — Explore the sights and smells of the historic Covered Market near the site where goldsmiths, tanners, and mercers would trade in the Middle Ages. Grab lunch at one of the quaint eateries like Brown’s Cafe or Sofi de France.  

2:00 pm — Take a tour of the Bodleian Library, one the oldest libraries in Europe.  

3:00 pm — Time for a photo op! Take advantage of all the beautiful landmarks in the “heart of Oxford” like the Radcliffe Camera, the Bridge of Sighs, and the Sheldonian Theatre.  

3:30 pm — Change your shoes for a “smart casual” look and head over to the Randolph Hotel. Relax in the quintessential British atmosphere of the Drawing Room as you enjoy traditional afternoon tea complete with warm, buttery scones, little cakes and pastries, and specialty tea sandwiches.  

4:45 pm — Cross the street to the oldest public museum in Britain, the Ashmolean Museum. Allow more time or schedule a return trip if you are an avid museum fan.  

6:00 pm — Attend Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral for an unforgettable experience that defies description.  

7:30 pm — Do your research ahead of time and book tickets for one of the many concerts in Oxford’s historic venues such as Holywell Music Room (where Handel performed), Exeter College, New College, or the Sheldonian.  

Aka. The Bird & Baby

10:00 pm — Grab fish & chips at The Eagle & Child where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their fellow Inklings would read and discuss their unfinished manuscripts. This is a great place to chat with Oxford locals.  

A Note About Reservations: If you only have one day in Oxford book your reservations for the walking tour and the afternoon tea at the Randolph in advance either by phone or by email. Booking for Bodleian tour must be done in person on the day of the tour.