Day 5

Just like the other day our itinerary was jam packed.

Our day began when we were brought back to the 1940s and World War Two when the British were fighting with their Allies against the Nazis.  But it wasn’t preparing for battle with bombers and tanks but revealing Britain’s best kept secret: Bletchley Park.

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Bearing up to the cold, we began our tour around Bletchley with a breath taking view of the frozen lake. The sunrays beamed down and lit up the lake like gold glitter. We were awed at the beautiful, movie-like scenery – a perfect opportunity for Tumblr snapshots.

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The company of some feathery friends, swans and ducks further made us bubble in excitement since many of us have probably never seen ducks and swans before.

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Our trip to Bletchley Park was to introduce us to how mathematics helped win the war. We were told how the Bombe, the codebreaking machine contributed to the end of World War Two. The machine was designed by Alan Turing and his colleagues to aid in codebreaking the German ciphers.  When the first machine worked successfully in 1940, it used the most advanced electrochemical technology available. Many of the routine Enigma enciphered messages were heavily stereotyped so clues such as the call signs, time of transmission and the length of message often enabled parts of the cipher text to be inferred correctly. Often, the deciphering of these codes required informed and logical guesses. Unfortunately, their informed guesses sometimes turned out to be wrong though they were generally accurate enough to be used as the basis for regularly breaking the German’s Enigma cipher with the aide of the Bombe. Standing at about 100 metres tall and the length of three Samsung LED screens put together, I was amazed to see the various wheels and wires connected together like a spider-web. Imagine how this huge machine was the key to Codebreaking in the 1940s! Just the thought of a hundred of these machine secretly stored in Bletchley made me wonder how much effort and hard work had been put in to end the world war. The direness and unrest that the world was going through at that time sent chills down my spine, and I’m glad that I was born a millennial.

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After the tour, we had a codebreaking workshop – a special treat for many of us who were inspired to unravel the secrets of code breaking upon watching the movie, The Imitation Game actored by Benedict Cumberbatch. From codebreaking activities to learning more about the various ciphers to getting down and finally to understanding about the billion permutations British intelligence had to go through just to break a mere code, it opened my narrow worldview to coding, discovering how codebreaking actually works and how difficult it actually is for the British in 1940s to break the Enigma code. Even though the workshop only lasted for an hour and a half, I can gladly say that many of us ended the workshop feeling fulfilled and inspired by the rich mathematical history left behind. Hopefully many of us will be motivated to do math justice when we return to school!

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Sadly, the man behind the triumphant achievement of breaking the Enigma code was largely forgotten – Alan Turing.  Condemned for being a homosexual, Turing spent his last days under medication to ‘calm his hormones’. Eventually, Turing died of cyanide poisoning when he ate an apple which had been tainted with cyanide. Interestingly Apple’s logo today was designed in remembrance of an unsung hero who created the world’s first computer. Perhaps even before judging individuals for their differences, I believe society should acknowledge the efforts they contributed?

 

After Bletchley we headed back towards London. It was a long drive to Stratford the venue of the British Olympic Village in 2012.

Stratford has come a long way. In the far past, Stratford was just a small village, a farming area, that remained rural for many centuries. It eventually became the site of many industries but by the 1970s the area was depressed with unemployment rife. Industries shut down and the area was poor and lacking in facilities and infrastructure. However the Olympic Games and the decision to use Stratford as the main site has proven its redemption.

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The Olympic Games provided economic opportunities first from the construction of the Village to the carefully planned in structure and services that would remain in the area which have been (post-Olympics) developed. There has been the construction of a mega mall Westfield as well as the start of a series of urban redevelopments to create financial and banking hubs which continues until today.

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Being an economically driven society, I was not surprised that London would invest nine- figure sums to the urban development which will ultimately contribute to Britain’s overall economic prosperity. What struck me was the countless bright red construction cranes found in almost all corners of the area,  the frequent sight of metal and white washed hard board barricades surrounding construction sites, a reflection of how rapid Stratford’s development. Economic success as a result of seizing the opportunity offered through the Olympic Games. It also taught me how important opportunities are and nothing in life comes by chance. If not for the Olympic Games, Stratford will certainly be vastly different from what we saw today.

Having seen more traditional plays at the Barbican and at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, our  last theatre experience was an example of Fringe Theatre. The play, Whose Sari Now? makes use of the sari as a useful metaphor to lift the veil on the oppression of women and the cultural rigidness of society . Through the actress Rani Moorthy’s animated gestures, the intonation and word stress that she employed, the shine and deep intensity in her dark eyes as she paced the small stage and said her lines, her attention and engagement with the audience transported me to another dimension, journeying beyond the surface to delve deeper into what society today is culturally and socially to explore women’s roles in a male dominated society.

Never did I imagine watching a play unfold in small, black room at the back of a restaurant could have such an impact. Never did I imagine that a performer would be able to perform a variation of characters and at the same time retain the raw and genuine emotions which makes up each one of them.  Never did I imagine all this time that I had wrongfully stereotyped plays and the different forms in which they are presented. I had been limited and uninformed I was about plays and dramas as a Literature student. Plays and dramas have so much more to offer to every one of us than what we may possibly assume.-

-Rui Shan

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