Friday, December 31, 2010

The holidays

Everyone from Europe clears out of here. Leaving the place pretty dead. All that is around is the Australian, some Chinese students and me.
Christmas Day: Everything shuts down around here. Apparently it is supposed to be really cool to walk around a deserted London. I wouldn't know because the tube and buss lines were also closed. It's kind of funny that the people that yell for capitalism the loudest in the U.S. are usually the ones that are religious ones that think that no one should work on Christmas holiday. But the socialist government here (in comparison) has it as part of the tradition. OK rant over. Instead L. and I went for a walk down to the Thames river and walked along that until we decided we didn't want to slip on the ice any more and came home.
Apparently the tradition here is that Christmas is turkey and Brussels sprouts. Now no one likes Brussels sprouts, so no one eats them, but they must have them at every party since at least one person likes to keep the tradition alive. (I love them baked, but not the traditional boiled they do here.) The local Tesco ran out and there was enough of a riot that it made it into the paper.

Boxing Day: This is the equivalent to Black Friday (The day after Thanksgiving) in the U.S. The only problem: The tube workers decided to go on strike. To go on strike on the biggest shopping day of the year seems like a real "up yours" to the British economy. So instead L. and I walked to the local shopping center. When we got back they were having a little get together in the Village hall so we went and talked and had some mince pies. These little mini-mince pies are everywhere. Luckily I like them and have been munching on plenty. Even the British people didn't know why it was called Boxing Day, there are only rumors.

New Years: Some of my Chinese friends went into the middle of London to see the fireworks. They waited three hours standing with people pressed against them, no thanks. Instead L. and I went to a local dance club. When we got there at 10:30 there was only maybe 5 other people there. It quickly filled up and we had fun dancing to midnight then took the free bus home. (The Tube ran free all night too instead of closing at 12:30 like usual) When we got back we played games with some guys in the village hall. The card game here that is all the rage is called Fluxx. (Of course they are hard core settlers of Catan players too.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

British Christmas

Christmas parties are suit and tie affairs. (Not fancy dress, that would be costumes.) I just don't see any public Universities in the U.S. throw so many parties where all the guys show up in a suit and tie. I only had two Christmas parties, one for the student village I live in and the other for my research department. I had my suit but when I looked through my shirts I realized they were all old since I have not dressed up for years. I decided to get a shirt with the french cuffs and cuff links because you can get away with that kind of thing here.
Both of the parties had Christmas Crackers (The big tootsie roll looking things made from wrapping paper). I've always seen them but have never pulled one apart. At the village party they just went handing them out. Once you had one, you found a friend, each grabbed an end and pulled until it popped. Whoever gets the big end, gets the prize inside. There was a joke, small plastic comb, or other small toy, and a folded foil crown. So the rest of the party is everyone dancing around with crowns on their head. At my research party it was a little more formal (apparently there are some low end royalty funding our research so they were at the table with heads of the different groups.) Everyone was sitting at large round tables with a cracker on each plate. To pull on these crackers everyone at the table crossed their arms over their chest and held a cracker with the next person. Everyone pulls their arms toward them. The prizes inside these ones where silver pens or calculators.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Parties

Tis the season for parties.
Baking Contest: At my student village they had a baking contest. Since around this time I am craving persimmon pudding I decided to make that. The reason why is because the fact I found persimmons at the store which is what I thought confirmed my suspicion that it was a normal desert here as opposed to the U.S. where I have to explain it to everyone. (It's a British style pudding that is basically cake.) Nope, same thing here. No one had heard of it, but they all liked it. Enough that I won the prize. A British food cookbook. So now if ever need to make Toad in the Hole or Bubble and Squeak, I've got the recipes.
Movie Night: Every Sunday they send around an email of what movie they are showing. They line up all the couches with an overhead projector. It's such a homey thing to do. Some people bring pop corn. It's fun.
As far as student planned parties they are of course centered around drinking. Apparently all the saint days mean they are for drinking. They were talking about having a party for St. Andrews Day, which meant we needed to have scotch whiskey. Apparently St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. Which of course ties into whiskey from Scotland. See the problem is that the only one that carried over to the U.S. was St. Patricks Day. which is the time to drink Guinness. Only seeing one piece of the puzzle, I never would have guessed that every Saint had a special liquor for their Saint Day.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

To Busy for Tech Support

Well me being to busy has had its first casualty. I have decided I can't help anyone with tech support problems anymore. I know it seems like a rude thing to do. I have all this knowledge and I am being selfish and refusing to share. But up to this point I have justified how much I help family, friends, and associates with the idea that I was "teaching a man to fish" but the reality is that what happens is that I teach the person that I have the answer so they instinctively come back to me the next time they have a problem.
Imagine the most boring tedious part of your job; the part you hate the most. Now imagine not getting paid to do it, and that is the only thing that anyone and everyone ever wants to talk to you about. Friends that you could talk to for hours now only enjoy quizzing your knowledge about the hated topic for obscure facts. I say impossible quiz questions because in my case it usually ends up being something like what to do about an error message because a specific version of a driver for a specific item installed in a computer is conflicting with some specific software.
By the rule of association since I know about one computer, I know about all computers, then any electronics. From there it is anything that uses electricity, and for some odd reason from there it is anything with a motor. Yes, I have been told since I know computers, diagnosing a dead lawn mower should be no problem; but I digress. The best case scenario is that I fix the problem so it never comes back. Great, who do think that person is going to ask when the next problem comes up? Worst case scenario is an unrelated problem happens. Because I touched their computer I must have caused it. Now they think I'm obligated to fix a problem I had nothing to do with. It is a no win situation for me, either way leads to an increase of trying to help people. The worst part is that most of the time it seems like such a little request with an easy answer. But multiply that by the number of friends you have.
The reality is that I don't know all the answers, no one does. I have to look stuff up too. But because people have come to me in the past it is what they think of, and it is easier to ask me than to do a search on the Internet. I could be passive aggressive and start using "Let me Google that for you" for every request. (http://lmgtfy.com/. Want to try it? http://lmgtfy.com/?q=technical+support) Instead I am going to be upfront and honest. I am not going to play favourites or start charging people a market rate like some people I know have done. Instead I will just say "Learn to fish".

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Stereotyping British Teeth

Of course one of the fun things that happened to me just before leaving New York was my dentist finding that one of my fillings had failed. So with two weeks until my flight I scheduled a root canal and crown, finishing up the last of the visits a day before leaving. Now my dentist had cautioned me that while I could get the work done in the U.K. the mastery of skill she had seen on the teeth of patients that she had that had moved to the U.S.A. from the U.K. had given her reason to believe it was wiser for me to get the work done before leaving. I wasn't sure if it just marketing on my dentists part or not but I went ahead with it mainly because I didn't want to travel with a bunch of X-Rays.
When I got here to the U.K. while I was shopping for food the first week there was a woman giving out free samples of yogurt. When I smiled and politely refused any, her response was "Well you must be doing something right, since you have a beautiful mouth of teeth." I thought it a little odd but just chocked it up to culture shock on my part. I don't like stereotypes and I have had to deal with a lot of them about Americans while here. And, I thought I was doing a pretty good job about it too of not letting the stereotypes influence me. That is until I saw this picture in the window of an eyeglasses shop.

(No, in reality all the British people I know have teeth that are just fine. I'm not quite sure where the stereotype came from but I just thought the chain of events was funny.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving

I felt fine not celebrating Thanksgiving (which actually caught me off guard, I was expecting a twinge of home-sickness) but I had enough friends asking me questions about Thanksgiving that I decided to cook the meal and invite over some friends. I was able to find a six pound turkey that was about the same size as a Chicken. I also decided on making cranberry sauce, stuffing, candied yams, corn bread, mashed potatoes, and zucchini (courgette) bread for desert. (My friend from France had made us a french meal after returning from a trip and no one had ever heard of using courgettes for bread and couldn't understand how a vegetable could be made into a sweet bread so I couldn't resist a demo.) For all the people out there that think that zucchini bread does not a desert make will find it funny that none of the guests would believe me that the candied yams were not part of the desert either, sugar really is in more American foods than other places.
The friends that I had over were from Poland, France, and Taiwan. I had invited friends from Ireland also but they couldn't make it so I ended up not making the corn bread or mashed potatoes, which kind of made me mad because I had to go to 3 different grocery stores before I was able to find corn meal. (Corn, a very American food.) I thought I would have trouble finding a turkey this early before Christmas but I guess the grocery store keeps a few in deep freeze throughout the year for people's feasts. I was not surprised that when I looked for the jellied cranberries in the can (not because I like them, but I thought my guests would get a kick out of it) that I could not find them. Instead I just boiled dry cranberries in cranberry juice until it was jelly and it ended up being tastier than any cranberry sauce I've had before.
So of course all my friends wanted to know more about the "Thanksgiving rituals". I was kind of flummoxed because most of traditions that I know of center around strategies of how to eat as much food as possible then watching American football. The one tradition that I did have as a child and hated was to go around the table and say what you were thankful for before eating; but with the other tradition of skipping lunch I never felt very thankful for anything staring at all the food. They also wanted to know the differences between Canadian and American Thanksgiving and I was at a loss for that as well. Instead we ended up talking about soap opera similarities in all the represented cultures.
They were all impressed by my cooking but I felt like everything tasted a bit off. However, I just chalked it up to rounding errors from switching all the recipes to metric measurements. I did succeed in stuffing everyone enough so that the food they brought as gifts (Cadbury chocolate and sesame rolls) never did get eaten and I had a fun time explaining why I had "Christmas dinner" leftovers for my lunch the next day. (Yes, working on Thanksgiving and the Friday after were a bugger.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

More British Foods

  • Spotted dick: Tasty sweet desert. I had to try it just because of the name. I have a feeling that this is an old enough recipe that there are 100 different variations with some good and some, not so good. It is another pudding, and by that I mean spongy bread with raisins in it. The funny thing is that it would taste great with some "American" pudding on top of it but there does not seem to be an equivalent here.
  • Cornish pasties: I've bought them from street vendors and from the grocery store. It just seems like it is to easy to skimp on the meat and instead server a flaky crust full of grease. The locals I've talked to say "you have to go to Cornwall to get a good pasty but with nothing else to do there it is a long trip for food".
  • Mince pies: As soon as Halloween was over they replaced the shelves with Christmas food, and mince pies seemed to be the first on the shelves. They are small (usually two inches across) and sold 6 to a box. They are quite good (a little more spice tasting compared to American mincemeat pie) and cheap so I can see why they are popular.
  • Christmas pudding: Similar to fruitcake but the fruit is closer to mincemeat and raisins and it is moister from the sugary syrup it is soaked in.
  • Crumpets: It is pretty much half an English muffin that is fried instead of baked. (Or a very thick pancake that is only fried on one side; either explanation works). They work great when I make avocado pizzas since I'm not to much of a tea person.

A food custom that I am not used to here is that eggs are not refrigerated. Since I don't have space in the fridge and I eat enough eggs that they never last past the due date anyway I'm not to worried about spoilage. I am all to happy to deal with a shorter shelf life in favor of more space in the refrigerator. (That, and I felt really silly buying unrefrigerated eggs from the store them in the fridge when I got home.)
The only craving that I have had for American food since I got here was for pancakes; which is odd since I don't eat pancakes that often. There are Scottish pancakes that are sold here but they are sold pre-cooked. They aren't bad but pancakes need to be eaten immediately after being fried because they don't keep well. The mix that they sell for English pancakes is closer to crepes. It satisfied my craving enough that I don't feel the need to make pancakes from scratch but since syrup is so hard to find here too I ended up just buying some cheap strawberry jam and heating it in the microwave until runny. (Again, good enough so that I didn't feel a desire to make syrup from scratch.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Autumn activies

The first thing I had to get used to was saying Autumn instead of Fall.
The "Lord Mayor's Show Parade" exists because the Mayor has swear an oath to the crown every year. It's a parade that has been happening for the last 800 years. (They did cancel one year back in the 1600's because of some person's funeral). I wanted to see it because I figure if it has been going on that long they must be doing something right. For the most part it was a normal parade but there were a few things that struck me as odd. I've seen cannons in parades but this was the first time I've seen tanks and missiles. It was also weird watching military just marching. (Anytime I've seen them before now they were playing instruments.) I guess this is me admitting my insulated shock but it is just odd watching patriotism for other countries like kids wave British flags. Also, it felt weird to have soldiers dressed in the old 1700's red coat uniforms and have people cheering since I was raised on the idea that the "Red coats" were the bad guys. Other odd things were the women scantly dressed in carnivale in 5° weather and all the dignitaries riding by with puppets on their hands. (It just didn't seem like good symbolism).
The other thing is everyone (around 85-90%) wearing red paper poppies for Remembrance Day. (I originally thought it was for a Football match.) Apparently poppies grow better in disturbed soil, so when everything was leveled from all the shelling in World War II it actually made more poppies grow. A poem "In Flanders Field" is written and it becomes an annual tribute. Now people are complaining it is a requirement instead of a symbol (apparently there is another tradition of handing people a white feather for being unpatriotic if they aren't wearing their poppy) and everyone talks about the Royal British legion (Charity selling the poppies, so that's why they all look the same.) in the same way as the Salvation Army during Christmas.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Conspicous Consumption

It is weird being in such a rich neighborhood. There are so many Austin Martin DB9 parked on the roads they seem like every day cars. I see Bentleys, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis every day too. The hood ornament that keeps catching me off guard is the Maybach because it is just two M's and I can never remember the car name. When I see one it catches my attention because it looks like a hearse with the curtains that it has in the windows. There are a lot of roads where you have to take your life in your hands when crossing the road and the good news is the super expensive cars seem to be the only ones that drive slow enough to walk in front of. I can only guess that the probability of law suits of hitting pedestrians is a lower concern then denting their shiny cars but at least I get across the street.
Another thing I find amusing is the constant construction. I might be surrounded by mansions but they are still built "row home" style where there is no room between them so all the construction material has to be unboxed in the road before being carried through the front door. It seems like on any given day when I walk from the tube to campus that at least one person on each block is either getting a bathroom or kitchen remodeled. I just find it funny that having the money to remodel your house so often seems very inconvenient as far as enjoying having the money.
It does make it a little more depressing trying to be as frugal of a student as possible while there the level of rich eccentricities around me is so high. But, the upside is that I feel 100% safe walking to the tube at any hour of the night.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fashion

Something weird has happened when moving here. I am now feeling naked when I leave the flat in a T-shirt. (That is really saying something growing up in California.) It is just more formal fashion here. I mean there are undergraduate students wearing ties and suit coats to class. I've never seen that before. I guess growing up with all private schools will do that. However that being said I have no desire to follow some of the fashion trends here. I have no desire to wear pink or lavender dress shirts. For some reason there are lot of people that dress like that here. Another fashion trend that I find funny is using American college football colors. I see people wearing college football shirts or hoodies but it is obvious they are wearing them because of the colors. I know this because the teams with clashing colors have been changed. It was weird the first time I saw a UCLA hoodie with coordinating colors instead of blue and yellow.
The other thing I realized is that I have to dress different because of transportation changes. In New York I got into my car in the garage and only had to deal with the cold walking from my car into the building at work. Here, I use the tube so I had to buy a thicker coat and carry around a scarf and gloves.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Transportation

Bike: So the whole plan was that I would be riding my bike as much as possible. That idea kind of went out the window when I flipped my bike. I think it helped though. Riding for a week then taking a couple of weeks off helped to ingrain riding on the opposite side of the road. The way I see it, there is four stages. First stage is knowingly forcing yourself to ride on the opposite of the road. The second stage is to remembering to ride on the left side of the road but still swerve right when you are not thinking about it. I think I am at the 3rd stage, riding on the left, and actually swerving left without thinking about it but still feeling relived when you realize you made the correct decision.
Tube: While I was waiting for my knee to heal I've was using the tube. The price of riding the tube is about the same as it was in New York. For the Day Pass or per ride, and that is saying something since I am not in Zone 1.
Walking: Luckily I have been able to convince my mind to still look both ways for cars. I can't convince myself to switch to looking right first but as long as I look both ways I should keep myself out of the hospital, however I have had a close call of almost stepping into the road in front of a bike. Everyone asks me to compare living here in London to New York City. The biggest difference is cars actually stop for pedestrians. Not only that but when you approach a sidewalk and wait for the car to pass through before crossing, they will stop and flash their brights madly that you didn't just start walking.
Taxi: London Taxis are special built cars with a very distinctive shape, and luckily I now know there is a lot of headroom in London Taxis, and that is saying something for me. Taxi's here are expensive and I really don't think I would have taken one if it there had not been 4 other people with me to pay the fare. (Co-workers headed to a party)
Train: The train routes for London overlay the tube lines but make fewer stops. As long as you use an Oyster card it is basically the same price too. So as soon as I have the stops memorized for the tube then I can start working on memorizing all the train stops for all the express routes.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

British Technology

Of course since it is my field so I am going to notice how technology is being used differently here. That and I have grown to notice the little things over the years.
Since I am so far north all the satellite dishes are perpendicular to the ground instead of pointed toward the sky. I guess it is good when it snows. No snow can build up on a vertical satellite dish.
I was looking for a wireless router for my room. At the store they only ones for cable or wireless (BT = British Telecom) There was nothing for just the person that wants a router. I finally found one at a charity shop.
The ATM cards have a chip in them. It makes it possible to save the PIN on the card itself so more secure but people are a lot more paranoid about covering up their PIN when typing it in.
The size of electrical plugs really makes travel sized un-useful.
Part of the culture here is to format emails like letters. I must have looked so rude for the couple of weeks that I didn't add "Dear" in front of their name and Sincerely to Cheers at the end.I am doing it now but it still looks weird.
The security door around here have a button to release door that has to be pressed (ON THE WALL). I get quite annoyed since it is not built into door handle like the U.S. It seems like a fire hazard since someone might forget to press it before running out and get squished into the door so no one can press the green button. The also lock us all in when security goes home. I can get out because I have the badge, but again blocking exits seems like a fire hazard.
The secure doors around here have the green button on the wall to unlock the magnetic lock. It is one of those things that I am glad that OSHA takes care of in the United States since they make buildings build it into the door latch. It just seems like if there is panic and people run for the door they will not remember to press the button on the wall and there will be a buildup before someone remembers.

Monday, November 08, 2010

City Smells

One thing that I have noticed is that every big city has a different smell. London is no different, here it smells like laundry detergent walking down the streets. I can only guess it is because all the washing machines have dryers built into the same machine here. When the two machines are squished together and then further squished so it can fit under the counter in the kitchen like it is in most homes I just don't think that it can be that efficient, and can't wash all the soap out of the clothes. At least that is what I am guessing since I feel like that is how I smell every day. But anytime I'm walking or riding my bike it is the same smell.
I was thinking what other cities smelled like:
New York City- It smelled like wet dust, even during the summer. It was somewhere between fresh earth and wet cement.
Los Angeles- The use of ice plant is used all over the city as a ground cover and the smell of it mixes with all the push carts selling mexican sausages.
Beijing-It was the smell of disinfectant cleaner that was supposed to smell like roses. I guess the same cleaner is used all over the city. It was funny, when I was in Chinatown in New York, it had the same smell.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

British Foods

  • Yorkshire pudding: This one is basically a pop-over. As far as I can tell it is a tasteless fluffy thing that is just there. It does not really taste like anything but it is included in different meals, represented in different sizes.
  • Devon cream: It's Bavarian cream, but it is served hot or cold, on sweet or salty foods. I bought a little pudding cup to try it, and I couldn't stop thinking that I was just eating the inside of a donut.
  • Brown sauce: I guess it is just my American tastes but I really don't see why everything needs a vinegar taste. It is basically Ketchup with more of a vinegar taste to it.
  • Marmite: Start with brown sauce, then cram as much salt as possible in it until it becomes a paste. The British people I've spoken to swear by Marmite and hate Vegemite. The Australians I've talked to swear the opposite. I can't tell a difference between the two, they both taste like pure salt to me.
  • Treacle tart: Autumn standard treat. It tastes just like a pecan pie without the pecans so I'm not sure why it is popular in Autumn (saying Fall will have people look at you weird).

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Guy Fawkes Night

So the idea behind Guy Fawkes Night (or Bonfire Night) is celebrating the overthrow of the plot to blow up the parliament building. The best I can figure is that since the same government has been in charge here for around a thousand years they really don't have an Independence day, so this makes up for it. The only problem was that the Fire Brigade threatened to go on strike. Honestly, if the fire department went on strike for the 4th of July, then everyone would be angry. (Luckily they called it off).
On Friday when I was riding my bike home I saw someone burning a bonfire. I know part of the tradition is burning an effigy but it seemed like they were going to burn down half the block with how big the fire was.
On Saturday they had a special trip to the Guy Fawkes celebration for the student village I live in. There was a carnival which I was not expecting so my friends and I walked around for a while then went to watch the fireworks. (There was not bonfire since the strike was called off at the last minute.) Since there is not as much patriotism attached to the holiday there was no patriotic music to the firework show. Instead they played songs like Ghost busters, Superman, Flash Gordan, and my favorite A-Team theme song. I didn't realize how used to patriotic or classical music I was for firework shows. The tube workers did not call off their strike so we had to take buses home. The buses were so busy that we walked about half way because all the buses were full. We were finally walking by a bus stop when a non-full bus stopped so we only ended up walking about half the way home.
Once back they handed out sparklers for everyone to play with. after waving them around for a while of course everyone felt like 8 year old kids. So the logical thing to do was to take pictures while trying to spell things. We got the name of where we lived. But we couldn't wave out hands fast enough for the camera for "Bonfire 2010". We still had a few sparklers left so we ended up with the warden drawing cock with his sparkler.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween

I was trying to make my costume as cheap as possible so I revived a classic that I did a few years back. I went to the the charity shop and bought 11 stuffed animals and sewed them onto the clothes I wore when I flipped my bike. (They were already ripped, so I added a few more rips to add to the effect.) I went to the home improvement store and bought a little bottle of red paint for blood and my costume was done. When I was in the U.S. it was "When stuffed animals attack" but since here they don't have those kind of videos I just told everyone it was what it would be like if your toy box attacked you. In total it only cost £8 and everyone liked it enough that I won 2nd place in the costume contest.
I had heard previously that the pumpkins outside the U.S. were small so I was expecting it. All the pumpkins were labeled large and were about 6" to 8" across. But they had a pumpkin carving contest so it was still fun to carve them and I finished the first one so fast that they wanted me to carve another. Since I didn't know what to do I carved the world. It was fast and the pacific ocean was way to big but I guess they liked it since I won a £5 certificate to Amazon and a trophy as first prize.
The party itself was fun. Because of the low light and everyone wearing costumes I didn't recognize anyone. Of course just from my height and not wearing makeup everyone recognized me so I ended up talking to everyone. I'm still not used to the idea of school sponsored parties with free alcohol but there was. They even carved radishes with an olive in the center to look like eyeballs for the drinks. I am not guessing they would taste good but I guess it does not matter when someone is drunk. There was apple bobbing and trying to eat donuts hanging from a string as games. I was pretty surprised at how fun it was.
Since the school part was actually on Saturday the 30th. I was trying to get caught up on Sunday (Halloween). But while riding the tube I got to chatting with some guys in costume and they invited me to the party they were headed to at a nearby club. Caution to the wind and I went. It was pretty fun but I didn't have a costume. I saw an inflated skeleton that was stuffed under the table so I tied the arms around my neck and had an instant costume. It was pretty funny the reactions that I got just from doing that. Everyone started referring to the skeleton as my date so I just played off of that.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How Americans are Viewed

It is funny how there is a dichotomy here. On one hand American culture is spread through movies and TV shows so it is not considered foreign to anyone here. So things like the pizza sign make sense since it is really American Pizza and not Italian that they are serving

But just because people are familiar with it on TV does not mean that they understand what American culture is really like. When I have asked people what they think of for American stereotypes the two things they all seem to agree on is guns and religion.
Some people are scared to visit the U.S. since they think it is dangerous enough that everyone needs to buy guns to defend themselves because there is no law outside the law at the barrel of a gun (yes, they really thought this). I've had to explain that, no, it's not because it's dangerous that everyone arms themselves. That people feel strongly about being able to own guns because it is in the Constitution and they feel that people are trying to take the right away from them, so they buy guns to show they can buy guns (and to have them should the gun laws become stricter). The last time that I was here I couldn't convince an old man that it was the conservative viewpoint in the USA that wanted to defended the right to keep guns. According to him "The USA will not be a civilized country until they can get rid of the idea that they need for so many guns." I really don't know how to explain this one to people around here because on one hand they all see American movies where, of course, everyone is shooting at everyone else.
The other big one is religion. Of course Europe has a much lower level of people that identify themselves as religious so signs like the following are everywhere:

They see the American government under the influence of Christian fundamentalists to the same extreme as say the Islamic fundamentalist countries like the Taliban. That the U.S. laws are set by Christian biblical precedent instead of rule of law. For example the idea of "dry county" laws to make it harder to drink alcohol and gambling bans are the religious majority spreading their religion by force. They do not believe there can be separation of church and state while at the same time it is tradition to have the president sworn into office on a Bible or have "In God we trust" on the money. So basically my main arguing point that I keep coming back to is that Texas is not the United States.
The other stereotype that I have heard from a lot of the other students is that Americans don't know geography. While there is a good chance that Americans might have problems naming where Latvia and Moldova (Those are the two I got messed up on.) I have already been asked how many states there are (people here have a hard time deciding between 50 or 51) and most don't know which states are where or which countries are in South America so I am chalking that one up to unfamiliarity with the continent you are not living on.
There are good stereotypes too. Apparently every American that travels abroad are the friendliest people there are. So other traveling Americans, thank you for making it easier for me. That being said if you don't want to stick out like an American tourist according to the locals here, don't wear tennis shoes (or as they are called here "trainers") and don't wear any T-shirts when visiting. (The main reasons why I personally don't like looking like a tourist is a lower chance of being pick-pocketed and getting hassled less by people trying to sell tours.) But hey, if you want wear a t-shirt with white basketball shoes to show your patriotism then have fun.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Getting Used to a New Language

When I first got here I was hitting an unknown word about every 2 hours. It really causes my brain slow down with the extra time it takes to process it. I hear all the right words but it just doesn't have sense so I find myself asking people to repeat themselves and they just say the same thing over again. The problem is that everyone understands me because of the pervasiveness of American Movies and TV shows so they don't relise I don't understand them. None of the British people I've talked to believe it is that big of a deal. The only people I get any sympathy are the ones that were taught American English in school (Taiwan and Chile at least) so they see all the same differences, but they (rightfully so) don't think it is as big of a deal as having the double problem of it being a non-native language and different accent.
When I have talked to some of the british people and they get mad for other British people not using the right words ("cello tape" instead of "scotch tape") they blame it on the American movies ruining the Queen's English. My argument has always been that there are two languages, British English and American English, and as long as they are seen as that there isn't a problem. I see as much as of a difference between American English and Scottish English as there is between Spanish and Italian, but because English is tacked onto the end people are expecting a similar language.
Sometimes it is just a different term, like saying excuse me (people don't move) instead of pardon. Some words I figured out what it was when I heard it (ladybirds = ladybugs). A lot of the words are when I go grocery shopping. If I can't find what I am looking for on the signs I'll think of what it would be next to. I found dish soap (washing up soap) to be next to the other soaps. A lot of vegetables are like this: Eggplant = aubergine, zucchini = courgette, cilantro = coriander, canola oil = rapeseed oil; so it just takes more time when I shop. (There are more, those are just the ones I've bought so far)
However all this cultural experience is all fun and games until I got hurt. When I flipped my bike I walked into a pharmacy (Chemist) on my way home when I saw my knee was bleeding pretty bad. I asked for band-aides and she stared at me, so I asked for rubbing alcohol and I saw her eyes dart towards the liquor store across the street. Frustrated, I finally asked for disinfectant and she pointed me in the right direction. I now know that band-aides = plasters here.
Also, I have been trying to pick up the right words from listening to everyone I talk to and movies. British English adds an "e" sound to a lot of words, so Television becomes Telly and present becomes presi. But, if I didn't know any better I would end up using the racial slur of calling Pakistani people Paki (from watching a British movie). A "telly" show that I did watch before coming here was "The Mighty Boosh" to try to learn some of the language. When I tell people here that they laugh since apparently one of the guys uses a lot of Irish words.
Another problem is that most european countries teach British English along with the British accent from a young age so just because someone has a British accent could mean they are from Belgium, The Netherlands or somewhere in Scandinavia. As far as my American accent, British people don't really have a preference (They prefer a strong southern Georgia accent) But the rest of the Europeans that have English as a second language can't tell one American accent from another so to them I sound like I have a drawl so they like hearing me talk. I've lived in enough different places in the U.S. to not really think I have an accent from any specific place so when people tell me that they like my accent it throws me off.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Measurements

Part of my disorientation has been because of the change in how things are measured. People weight is in stones, buying things at the store is in measured in kilograms, but everything else is still in pounds. Distance is still measured in miles but now that it is getting colder it does not help that I am now seeing all the temperatures in Celsius (lower numbers look a lot colder). When I'm buying liquids, British gallons are different than US gallons so I buy my milk in 4 pint jugs instead of gallon jugs. You would think that the one constant in all of this would be a two liter bottle of soda, but to fit in the smaller refrigerator they are taller and skinnier.
I knew it would be different but I was not expecting so many conversions in my head for comparing prices in my head for groceries or trying to find the right weight at the gym (switching from pounds to kilgrams is not a good idea since I took a month off while dealing with the paperwork to use the gym at the school for free, those extra .2 pounds add up quick when you're out of shape.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bike Accident

Originally my idea was going to be to ride my bike everywhere and save money by not needing to buy the monthly pass for the tube. For the first week it worked like a charm but the second week I had a crash. Since it all happened so fast the best I can figure out is that I felt the chain slip as I was peddling away from a stop light. Since I was standing up and peddling when it happened my left leg went down a lot faster than it should causing the bike to swerve right and me to flip with the bike going up and over me. I'm guessing this because I have bruises on my elbow and my knee got pretty scraped up and I remember thinking "crap, the bike is on top of me". The part that really scared me is that as the thought "crap, my chain came off again. Hey that bus is coming right at me, I better sit up." I was luckily still cognisant enough to look at oncoming traffic and quickly sat up pulling the bike out of the way of the bus that also happened to pulling out of the stop light. All of this happend within a matter of a second and a half. If I hadn't sat up I would have been OK but my bike would have been run over but it was still quite un-nerving quite the same to see the bumper of a bus coming right at me. While this bus driver watched I pulled the bike to the corner and was looking it over. There was a lady there at the corner that kept repeating how scared she was that she saw the bus coming right for me without stopping. I didn't want to relive my brush with mortality through her so I told her I was fine a couple of times, gave my bike one last look to make sure it was just the chain that came undone and started the walk home. It was not until I had gotten a few hundred yards that I realized that going fast enough to flip a bike usually isn't that good on the body. The adrenaline rush had worn off and my knee was really hurting. I was too mad at myself and my bike to even check to see how my laptop had survived in this whole ordeal as I knew checking now or later would not change any damage done. (surprisingly it was was undamaged in my shoulder bag) but my knee would need to be looked at to make sure I could walk back home. I set my bike aside and rolled up my pant leg, to see that while scrapped pretty bad I hadn't broken to far into the skin so I could walk home without worrying about loss of blood. I stopped off at a pharmacy along the way and found out that band-aids are called plasters here.
I would have liked to have called it a day, but I was headed to campus for a weekly meeting with my advisor and since I had missed the first one because of not having Internet access to check the meeting time. So I had to go to this one. I walked as fast as I could to the tube stop and made it to the meeting. When I got back home, I realized I had bled through the bandage so everything was replaced and washed. Surprisingly I only lost one pair of jeans to the whole ordeal. My jacket and laptop were OK. So the moral of the story is that transporting a bike on an airplane has a good chance of messing up the alignment of the rear derailer on a bike.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Disorientation

Since I've got here I feel like everything has been just slightly off. Like I am living in Bizarro world or something. I don't know how to explain it because I don't really feel like I am in a foreign country since I'm surrounded by other nationalities. I don't really feel like there is a huge cultural difference from New York City. I guess there is no more of a jump from New York City to London then there is for every-town USA to New York City so it doesn't feel like I am in a totally foreign culture but there are all these things that keep throwing me off. Everything is just enough off to make feel like I am retarded.
I feel like I have developed a speech impediment because of the extra time trying to remember the right words to use. I feel a little deaf because I have to ask everyone to repeat themselves because I understand all the words but the sentences they use them is seems like random words strung together. I feel a little slow because I need to do so many conversions for money and weight in my head. I am a little clumsy because the keyboards at school are all the british key layout and I have the U.S. layout on my laptop so typos are constant when switching between the two.I feel clumsy because everything around is smaller so I am a giant. I don't feel like I can trust my vision because all the paper is just a little different size (A4 instead of 8.5 x 11). I don't feel like I can trust my internal sense of direction because none of the roads are straight and it is so easy for me to get lost and every time I try to cross the road all I have to force myself to look both ways since I can never keep straight which way the cars are on the road.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Assimilation

It was weird when I felt it. I didn't know when I would start feeling like this was home. I was just sitting at the kitchen table drinking my morning protein drink but the difference was that I had found a hand blender so I could blend in some frozen fruit with it. I guess it's the same feeling of warming up with a cup of coffee but that is what it took for me to start feeling like this is really my home.
Later that same day it was movie night at the student village I was living in. The movie they showed was good (The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo) but it caught me as weird when I saw they were driving on the right side of the road (In Sweden since it was not a U.S. movie). So I know that my brain is starting to switch over. I just think it is weird how fast the brain starts to readjust the norm. I mean I have only been here a couple of weeks and yes I have been trying to force looking left when crossing every road but I was not expecting it to become a base reaction any time soon.
There are so many more times when I feel like I have to make a gut decision while riding a bike then when I have driven a car here, so swerving left is a weird feeling; even more so when it has started to happen naturally. The first time I swerved left instead of right it was such a relief but also a weird sensation that I actually pulled over and went over it in my head a couple of times that I really had the right reaction.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Alcohol

One of the things that I find so funny here is how different the view of alcohol is. In British culture pubs are social hang outs. I realize that in a place that is soggy and gray most of the year having somewhere to hang out indoors is required so pubs became the part of the culture to serve that purpose. They have choir practice at the local pub along with their own football team that play against other pub football teams. (Pub culture does have some weird side effects. While shopping I witnessed some kids excited about this year's model of darts just arriving.) As opposed to American bars where people either go to drink or pick up people. So I've tagged along since there is always something to do besides drinking.
As for the school, for starters, there are multiple pubs on campus. One in the student union and one just for post-grads and professors. There are school sanctioned pub crawls for club activities and at the student village I live in. For a few of the big parties thrown at the student village they supply the alcohol. I have never seen any of these things at schools in the U.S. There does not appear to be a worse rate of alcoholism either but I have not been around the undergraduate housing on a weekend. (When living in Oregon, we referred to the street separating student housing from the liquor stores as "drunk alley".)
One of the funny things at the store I've found are 2 and 3 liter bottles of hard cider. It really makes a "40" look puny. (and yes, it is 5% alcohol so similar to beer) Apparently they are the drink of choice for alcoholics and under-age drinking because it costs about £1 a liter. Also when I told them that I used Guinness to cook corned beef on St. Patricks day they said that is all Guinness is good for in America. Apparently it does not ship well, so even the Guinness here in London isn't at it's best. For that you have to go to Dublin. I have not told any of them that I have toured the Guinness factory and did not drink while there. I don't think that would be considered a passable offense.
As far as hanging out with all the different nationalities, everyone says a different nationality can drink you under the table. Be it German, Irish, English, French (as long as it's wine) they all individually admit they are not good at holding their liquor but "such and such" nationality can.
The largest pub crawl is using the tube. Every stop on the circle line you go to a pub. However trying to drink 27 pints in the time from the pubs open to when the tube closes is not an easy task. It is one of those fabled activities that everyone knows about, but no one knows of someone that has accomplished it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Impressions While Shopping

Everything is smaller. I already feel like a giant, and having the tiny fridge, stove, and cars around me I feel like I have grown a foot. (However, with most of Europe having health care for everyone, or different diet, or something there are a lot more tall people. I've never seen three people taller than me in one day but it has happened here twice already. And no, they were not just a bunch of Swedes.) The lack of space has caused some things to be merged together, like the washer and dryer. However I was not able to fully figure out if they were advertising what they really said they were, and if it was good idea when I was in a home electronics store.

One of the other things I have found while shopping is a store called Argos. The entire store is just catalogs. You write down what you want on a slip of paper, take it to the cashier and pay for it. Then wait for your number to be called when they have put your order together from the back room. I guess it saves the space of having a large display floor but it feels like Internet shopping but with instant gratification.
I have been trying to save money since getting here. I originally thought I would buy things like dishes from charity shops (thrift stores). However all of them have ended up being more boutique stores so they have not had the every day items needed. The other funny thing about charity shops here is they are named after the cause they are trying to help ("Age concern", "Families Relief", and "People's Dispensary For Sick Animals") making them harder to find since I don't know the names. Instead, I have turned to the equivalent of the dollar store. Here they go by names such as Poundland, Poundkingdom, and Poundstore; but the idea is the same.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Food Shopping in Merry Old London

It is really weird when the concept of environmental responsibility is not considered a dirty word in the culture. The largest grocery chain Tesco labels most of the their food with the carbon footprint on the packaging. (Yes, delicious avocados have a pretty high footprint since they are coming from South Africa and the grapefruit juice for my sore throat is from Israel.) The idea of Walmart having carbon footprint reduction as their main advertising would just be unheard of; but the reality of living on a foggy island is that it's going to encourage environmentalism for cost reason more than anything else.
London is compact. So instead of having 7-11 or bodegas for convenience stores the grocery chains have tacked on code words so you know how big the store is. For Tesco it goes express (convenience store), metro (this is how big grocery stores were when I was a child), superstore (normal grocery store), extra (in the U.S. a superstore, where they sell non-food items). Other chains like Sainsbury's and Waitrose have their own code words that I am still trying to figure out.
Growing up in California I have always liked Mexican food. I had heard getting Mexican food here was going to be a problem. I have found a small shelf though in the local grocery, and the California craze of "wraps" has spread further than just the United States so it is pretty easy to get tortillas. The only mexican fast food I've found here are quesadillas and nachos and they did get some of the words wrong calling the hot sauce creole sauce; and while it isn't the best (They add sugar and malt vinegar to the salsa) it does satisfy the craving I have for now.
Everyone is familiar with the publicised cookies = biscuits but I was surprised that English muffins are still called English muffins. (But I bought crumpets because they are easier to find in the stores. If you are not sure what crumpets are, think half an English muffin with the nooks and crannies all the way through.)
It is bizarre, but I can tell which foods are subsidised by the government differently. In the U.S. it is the corn and soy so most of the cheap food is the prepackaged stuff. Here, I am guessing, it is the wheat and milk because it only costs £1 for loaf of bread or 4-pint jug of milk. This makes me happy since I don't go for much pre-packaged food so my food bill should be cheaper and I can drink plenty of milk.
Of course I feel the need to try the local food too. So, the first one was Soreen malted bread. It caught my eye because it said it was full of squidgy energy. It was quite tasty; a cross between raisin bread and an energy bar, I've already bought another loaf (their small mini-loaf size).

The other food I've tried was All Day Breakfast in a can. It is not as bad as it sounds. The normal English breakfast is baked beans, roasted mushroom and tomatoes, with as many types of meat on the side as possible. So in the can was the baked beans with mushrooms but the meat was a couple of pieces of sausage and hotdogs which I've never had before when ordering an English breakfast. It was OK, but I don't think I will be buying it again. When I saw Wensleydale cheese, I had to try that too (Wallace and Gromit reference). It tastes very similar to Mexican Queso Blanco so I was quite happy.
It seems like a lot of the dishes that British food are known for are greasy. For the first week I was eating a lot of prepared or frozen food and I'm sure it is the same in the U.S. but after every time I ate it felt like I needed a nap. Between the sausage, ham, bangers, and sautéed mushrooms for breakfast, the Cornish pasties for lunch, and the frozen dinners I got that billed themselves as "True British dinners". I guess it has just been a while since I have eaten like this, and to judge a country's food by what is in the frozen section of the grocery store is unfair. But the U.K. has a problem with obesity too, I'm just surprised that they are not on par with the U.S. if this is the normal diet.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My first week

The first Sunday morning the student village I lived in had a shuttle going to the Tesco Extra (Think Super Walmart) for people to buy needed stuff. Really I was just trying to get what I needed to get me through the first week, then I felt I would have a better idea to buy actually needed items. I had made a list of the things I would need back in New York, Bedding, toiletries, TV dinners, and other sundries (or as they refer to them here, bits and bobs). Since this is Europe, you can't get a comforter or a blanket, they are all Duvets. And, since a lot of students were also buying bedding it filled up the shuttle's luggage area rather quick.
For orientations I had one for: International students, PhD students, Computer Science students, the student village, and my medical research group. Needless to say, with that many orientations I feel no more oriented now than before. However I did get a fresh stack of papers and paperwork from each one that I have been slowly going through.
I knew that I would get lost easily when first here, however there were a lot of things that added to it. My watch broke right before I left so I was disoriented by not knowing the time. I had decided to go with a cheap phone company (giffgaff, £10 month-to-month for unlimited texts and Internet, and 150 minutes. There is no way they would exist in the U.S.) but I had to get my SIM card through the mail and configure my phone to work on their network. It took me most of the first week before I could use the GPS in my phone. For my luck there was a subway workers strike the day after I arrived. The closest I could get to campus was from an unknown stop so luckily my internal compas worked with all the curvy streets (cloudy skies don't help with getting directions from the sun.) I made it to campus both days without to much getting lost.
There have been activities every day for the student village to get people meeting each other, and scavenger hunts and pub crawls to familiarize people with the neighbourhood. It was also weird to have one of the pushes to be registering for a doctor since the health care is just there and the hard part is getting people to use it. Everyone here is different nationalities. So far I have only met one guy out of the hundred or so I've talked to that is actually English. I've also met one other American, there seem to be a fair bit from Ireland and France with the rest of the world pretty evenly distributed.
When there were sign-ups for social groups I thought- hey I'm finally one of the international students, but alas, there is no American student group. However, since this is a pretty premiere engineering school there were some pretty nerdy groups such as a Magic card group and World of Warcraft along with the more normal stuff. I did sign up for the robotics group should I need a reference for some of my research, the bike club to get access to tools should I need them, and the glider club with the hopes that should I have enough time I can fit in some gliding. (Hey, I can dream can't I.)
The first two days I took the tube to the campus. But when I wasn't in a hurry and didn't have to worry about getting lost I rode my bike. Luckily there were bike lanes most of the way. Bikes are seen as a normal mode of transportation here and I fit right in on my folding bike. (Apparently there is quite a folding bike sub culture here and I already had one guy ask questions about my bike since it is different from any others.)
Everything here is linked to a RFID chip in the ID card. The problem is that my card got lost somewhere in inter-office mail. So I spent the first week following behind people into all the buildings, or asking people walking past to swipe me in. While I had no nefarious intent it is obvious that the cards don't provide much security since I was able to get into the bike cage and even the most secure medical areas with, at most, a few minute delay.
By my first full weekend had enough time to do some more shopping for dishes so that I could cook (and clean up after) instead of buying take-out or frozen dinners. It tasted great, but I realized after eating I realized I hadn't bought any containers to store the left-overs.
I have also switched my spell checking over to British English since I need to start writing letters and papers here. So if things start looking spelled weird, that is why. It is not because I have succumbed to British pub culture.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Touching Down in London

Well, I guess this is the start of my new life; I am in London. I had a surprisingly easy time getting through customs. I guess I arrived late enough to miss the really long lines. Once the border agent saw my visa and verified my fingerprints to the ones I had done earlier in his computer he waved me through. I did get a chuckle though that there are enough U.S. tourists that think they should get their own line like the European line that they had to make a sign.

While walking to collect my luggage there was a SIM card vending machine. I was quite relieved since I knew I would have to call the housing office to get my key and my phone still was not showing any signal. It cost £10 for a SIM with credit already on it. I used my credit card since I had not changed any money yet. While waiting for my luggage I asked the woman at the American Express booth for a paper clip which she asked, "For your phone?" Apparently she gives out a lot of paper clips.
All the luggage came up the belt soaking wet, I guess it was pouring outside. I locked all my bags together and started to head out when the bag handle holding my bike ripped totally off. I just wanted to get on the tube and I didn't feel like dealing with it right now so I just dragged my bike with one arm and the other 3 suitcases with the other.
I thought I should get off on the right foot so I bought an oyster card, I was so out of it that the cashier laughed that I had such a long flight I couldn't remember which stop I was getting off at. Heathrow Airport was the end of the line so I didn't have trouble getting got all my suitcases onto the train car but realized it wouldn't be the same case at my stop. While riding I asked other riders which side of the car was going to open for my stop and they helped get my stuff onto the platform when the stop did arrive.
I had planned to unfold the bike so I could walk it along, instead since it was pouring rain and the bag the bike was in was the only waterproof thing I just laid it on top of the other three suitcases that were locked together and walked down the platform. There was a taxi station at the stop but when I talked to the dispatch he said no taxis were within an hour radius. Instead I walked the half mile dragging my train of luggage behind me. I knew my way to the housing because at some point while bored I had walked through the trip using "Google Street-View". It was weird having a very déjà vu moment for a place I had never been to before.
By the time I arrived I was so soaking wet I couldn't make a phone call because my iPhone kept registering the water droplets as fingers. Luckily I had brought along a cheap backup phone so I was able to call and get the keys to my new home for the next year. It was furnished but there was no bedding and blankets were one of the things I had to eliminate because of the space contraints on my luggage. So I laid out a bunch of T-shirts on the bed, rolled up one of my dry jackets as a pillow got all the wet stuff out of my suitcases and laid them out to dry. For all the things that could have gone wrong I think I lucked out with only a wet walk home. None of my luggage was lost of damaged, I didn't get lost, or exit at the wrong tube station, breezed right through customs, and there was someone there to give me a key when I arrived. I passed out as soon as I laid down.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Iceland

It felt like I had been preparing for this point forever so when I got everything done on my list I headed to the airport early; very early. I ended up getting there before the gate crew did so I couldn't even check my luggage, but it was fine since I found a comfy seat with a nearby outlet to charge my laptop and phone. As luck would have it another London college student sat down next to me with a few hours to kill. I was able to pick her brain for all the details for living in London. When I was able to check my luggage I found that my bag had ripped that was carrying my bike but it turned out to be a good thing because the gate agent saw it was a bike and only charged me half of the suitcase rate (I didn't know there was a cheaper rate for bikes) once she saw my visa she didn't hassle me for being oversized for my carry-on weight.
I gotta say, I like Iceland air. I don't have to sit spread eagle because the seat was far enough away, and there was a USB port in every chair so I could charge my phone. As soon as we were airborne I was out cold until we started the decent.
When I saw I could have a 9 hour layover in Iceland and I took it. Getting through Iceland customs was the easiest experience I have ever had. All I said was hello and he stamped my passport. I had reserved a car and had opted out of the extra insurance. It was dark and raining when I got the car and of course once it was light I found a dent and a scratch that were not declared. I thought for sure when I turned in the car I, along with every person before me that refused insurance, would be charged highly for the scam of the same dent. The rental person had said to call her if I found anything when it got light but my phone was not picking up a signal for some reason and I think it is the first time I was dependant on pay-phones and realized that they do not exist anymore even at gas stations or hotels. The person I turned the car into ended up not seeing the dent so I just made sure to get a final receipt. But, that didn't stop me from kicking myself all day for trying to save a few bucks instead of peace of mind.
I had been so busy that all I had time to do as far as planning things to see was to just ask on an Internet forum what other people liked that had gone. I started out by going to the state cathedral Hallgrímskirkja. (It was on a hill and easily seen and I realized that the map that came with my guide book was crap so it was the only thing easy to find without a GPS.) Once I had my bearings, even without a GPS, it was pretty hard to get lost since Reykjavik was small enough that I could just head towards the water and get to a known point. I had planned on going to a museum but kept getting mixed up instead. The first time I ended up at the furthest point west for Europe and the second time I ended up at a Saturday swap meet. Both things I found cool and I don't think I could have found had I been trying. I drove down the famous shopping road Laugavegur but did not see any stores that looked interesting (All expensive tourist traps). For lunch I ended up at a shack in the harbor that was recommended from the forum (Saegreifinn / The Sea Baron). I had mink whale kabobs and Iceland lemonade (it was orange). Whale is tasty, mostly like steak, if not a little tough. While in the city I guess I fit right in because even in the touristy areas when they greeted the person in front of me in English they used Icelandic for me. (I always try to look non-tourist and I guess it works.)
For how plain European Reykjavik was, the scenery was amazing. I didn't have enough time to drive to the volcanoes but I could see them in the distance. The lava flows made it look like I was driving over a lunar surface and the thick green moss on everything just added to the other worldliness. I drove to the Blue Lagoon. The minerals in the steam and pools of water gave it the most beautiful blue color to offset the green moss. I wanted to stay longer but knew better than to push my luck.
Driving to and from the airport and while being lost I listened to a lot of radio. Icelandic sounds like a cross between Dutch and Swedish. The music was almost all recognizable even if it was covers of songs they were still sung in English.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Reducing Down to Zero

So I'm leaving today, and thinking back the most annoying part is trying to reduce all my stuff down to nothing. My brother-in-law talked about it as something wistfully romantic; someone who can pick up and leave without anything tying them down. Well, it isn't. Anything that had sentimental value that I did have is stored at my Dad's house. So anything that is going with me is basically 2 suitcases and a folding bike. The problem is the weight. The suitcases are only allowed to be 50 pounds. I added up all the numbers and between the suitcases and carry-on I have about 200 pounds going with me. I realized that is around the same as I weigh and I have about the same amount of stuff at my Dad's so I have about two people worth of stuff to my name right now. I also realize this is probably the least amount of stuff that I have had in my whole life (just think of all the stuff that is associated with babies.) And, there within lies the problem: Modern life requires stuff to be efficient. I am trying to meet some very conflicting goals. I will be spending all my time working on my PhD so I want the modern conveniences to make my life easier. Not all of them will fit into my luggage, and I don't have the budget to buy all of when I am London. There is nothing wistful or romantic about getting rid of stuff you need.
Everyone has been asking me if I was excited to go. In all truth, I've had a list in my head of all the things that I needed to get done before leaving. Now that the list is down to reducing my luggage weight as the last remaining thing it has hit me for the first time that I am really moving out of the country. Knowing that all that is standing in between me and leaving is a few pounds of stuff is what gives me the motivation to go through my luggage yet again and get rid of more stuff.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Selling my car

Our other car had been broken into while I was visiting my friend previously and now that I was living with him I have seen other cars broken into. Every day I came out to the car I just kept dreading that it would be broken into making it that much harder to sell. Not only that, but the inspection sticker expired about a week ago and it is not like I can park it off the street so as to not attract attention. This means that I needed to drive it to work every day since they check the stickers when checking alternate side parking. (My friend got a ticket a day when his inspection expired.) But, since I already had switched my drivers licence over to my Dad's address it would have also led to a big ticket if I got pulled over since my licence didn't have the same state as my plates on the car so I was paranoid when I did drive. Basically I had every reason to sell it as fast as possible.
Trying to get my car sold has turned out to be much harder than I thought. I knew it would be a little harder to sell a convertible at the end of the summer but I was still expecting some responses. The first week I got nothing. I split up the hard top and the car so that I could list the car for lower and I got lots of responses for the hard top. The one person that did test drive it admitted at the end that he just wanted to test drive a Miata to see if he wanted to buy one one day. I did end up selling it for $500 less than I was expecting ($1000 less than I originally listed). It was only three days before I was leaving the country so I cut it a little close. The woman that did buy it had brought along a mechanic friend who could tell that the car was in excellent shape so they were able to look past the 220,000 miles that I think stopped others from even calling.
Once sold I had to turn in the licence plates to the DMV and get a code that I could not cancel my insurance until I had it. It would have been near impossible unless my friend had lent me his car. It makes me wonder what people do after they sell their car that don't have transportation to the DMV.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Avena

I've found something that is one of life's little pleasures. It is called Avena. Really it is just a drink made from oatmeal, cinnamon and cloves, but knowing that there are things that taste this good out there really help get you through the day. I live in a part of Brooklyn right now that has a heavy dominican influence and it is just how they have oatmeal, and I'm sure it is chalk full of sugar but it still hits the spot for me on a Sunday morning. You just can't beat it for breakfast when it is only two dollars.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pulling One's Self Up by the Bootstraps

The term boot when referring to computers is short for the bootstrap process. The concept of starting out with nothing and at the end of it getting a fully functional computer. (It was thought to be as easy as being able to pick yourself up off the floor as pulling hard enough on the straps of your boots.)
I feel like I am going through the same process in moving to London. They do not want anyone to arrive at student housing until Saturday. Since I am arriving Saturday night it gives me one day to become familiar with a completely new area where I don't know any of the store chains to buy the things I need that won't fit in my two suitcases before school starts on Monday. Then I learned that the Subway workers are going on strike that day. Luckily one of my pieces of luggage is a folding bike.
I thought to create a list of the things that are most important that first day, and what I have been using that I am currently taking for granted. The stuff that I will need to start with is so I can wake up the next morning for school. I hate eating fast food but spending all my time buying plates and pans isn't a good use of time. Really the top thing on the list is SIM card for my phone. With the built in GPS it will do the best job of making sure I don't get lost. From there it is bedding and toiletries. I also need to get a power adapter for my clock (It is the only thing that plugs in that I can not just use a plug adapter for.)
I figure that during the first week I can visit charity shops (I figure I might as well get in the habit of using new terms.) and fill out my kitchen needs. It is still up in the air if I will succeed or spectacularly fail (I would consider getting lost in the latter category) but that will need to be in a future post.

eBay is Not Worth the Cost or Time

I hate eBay now. What can I say they do just about everything they can to make it hard for users to anything without being nickeled and dimed for every little expense. I of course sold a lot (30) items on eBay trying to get some money for anything that was worth something but the experience has turned me against a company that I used to use all the time.
Since they own Paypal they are double dipping on the charges of selling something. (Between listing fees without any extras and Paypal they charge around 10% of the profit.) Trying to sell something that does not accept Paypal is quite impossible too. The User-interface to list items is awful but eBay has no incentive to make it better since the majority of their profit comes from large sellers that use custom built programs. What this means is that all the advertising they show of finding antiques and one of kind objects no longer apply since pretty much everything is from bulk sellers that are listing stuff from China. It averaged about 20 minutes per item listed to fill in all the check boxes correctly.
The next thing is the return policy. On items I stated quite clearly there were problems. The buyer admitted they did not read the description and eBay forces a refund through Paypal since they hold the money hostage. So I loose money but eBay looks good, I don't see why any independent sellers would use eBay if they were not already a monopoly.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

International Paperwork

I have started to get a taste of the problems of dealing with international issues. The problem started with the need to prove that I had around $10,000 for my visa. After all the issues with L. last year we no longer had it in the bank. So I applied for a school loan so that I could have a little piece of paper that says "I'm good for it" on my visa application.
One of the little known facts is that the way that student loans are handed out was changed as a rider on the health care bill this year. The way student loans were changed was a good thing but it makes schools need to use a different system. Of course going to an international school means it is not a high priority to learn a new system for just a few students. I became the "go-between" for the school financial office and Direct Loans. When there is a 5 hour time difference I had to make sure to make all my calls in the morning to get anyone in London. As time passed I was worried that I would not get the paperwork in time to turn in and get my visa before the start of school. (Of course I had already bought my plane ticket before reading the visa application that says: Do not buy the plane ticket until you have your visa.)
Anyway I mailed in all my visa paperwork with what I did have (around 30 pages) and then received the final approval for the school loan (Since this is my first time through the system I was not sure what paperwork I would get that was needed for the visa.) The British Consolate called me while I was up near my work for a dentist appointment so I was able to fax them the extra documents. I received my visa with two weeks until I fly out. If I had waited for the final document before mailing in my visa then I would have not got it in time for the flight and would have started school late. In this case ignorance helped the situation.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

5 years

I have been writing stuff down for 5 years now. My goal has been to average at least one post a week, some months I'm under, and some I write a lot but I find it funny that after 5 years I'm only 7 posts over the average of one a week.
I started this out using blogger, switched to iWeb in 2008, and am now switching back to blogger since I want to be able to update the site from more than just one computer. (keeping notes and writing them in later has been a huge pain.)
The blurb explaining this site says it is for me to read when I am old and senile but there is a lot of stuff that even now I only remember when I read it so I guess senility is here early. I am glad that I have been able to keep up this habit though even with just a perceived audience of one. I explained to my friend that it was the mythical invisible online reader waiting for more (that I know does not exist) that makes me write more. Otherwise this would not be online.
When I started this 5 years ago I was just starting grad school. I never thought I would be up for starting my PhD in London 5 years later. I also never saw all the medical problems coming last year for my wife and looking back 2009 seemed to be a pretty sparse year for posts. But the good, the bad, I'm glad I captured it when it was still semi-fresh in my mind. (Because it sure aint now)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Beach Days

As much as I have been dreading it, I know that cooler weather is coming. Once it cools off here I will be moving to London where there is nothing but cool weather so I felt like I needed to enjoy the heat while I could. What better way than to go to the beach. On Saturday I took the subway down to Coney Island with my friend E. The idea of not being able to stash my wallet in the car made me just bring $10 and my subway pass. I brought the wrong subway pass so had to pay for the subway ride. When we got to Coney Island I thought it would be fun to go one last time to Nathan's Hotdogs since it is part of the Coney Island experience but I felt like a little kid again making sure I had money for lunch and still have enough for my ride home.
After we ate we jumped right into the water. As we were wading around (there were no waves and lifeguards wouldn't let us go to deep because of the rip tides) the water felt lumpy. We realized that there were small jellyfish in the water. I guess they were to young to sting us but it felt like we were swimming in bubble tea. E. got out of the water as fast as she could saying "Eww eww eww eww" We sat for a while and got bored watching people dance to some Puerto Rican music so we went into the water again since no one was getting stung. Knowing that what we were feeling were jellyfish (basically clear marbles) we didn't stay long and just headed home.
On Sunday we drove to Far Rockaway beach. There were waves so my friends D. and E. and I bobbed up and down with waves ranging from 2-4 feet. There was also enough wind that I was able to finally try out my contraption I had built to hook up a camera to a kite (it is called Kite Aerial Photography). I can't believe it worked so well. The kite didn't bounce around like it did at burning man so there was no problem launching the kite then tying on the camera when it got high enough. The only problem was that there was only barely enough wind to keep it up. I launched it twice and it came down gently both times. While it was up it balanced perfectly and the camera pointed at just the angle that I had built it to so I was pretty happy with the results even if the highest it got was only about 50 feet.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Brooklyn Pool Hall

As much as I like playing pool I've never been to a pool hall. (Usually I played at people's houses or at school where there is only one or two tables.) So when my new neighbor asked I was more than happy to go. It had a very 70's feel to the place from music the DJ was playing. Which is really funny since any Brooklyn pool hall in the 70's would not have a live DJ.
He taught me things I never would have thought of for a pool hall, such as finding the best table, the importance of the weight of cue stick, the best way of setting up the next shot, and the rules of 9 ball (which I really had a fun time playing.)
He also showed me a great mexican food place across the street from the pool hall. I am really liking this since the cheese tamale and Conchas (Mexican Sweet Bread) really reminded me of home. I knew that it would be hard to find good Mexican food in London so I had no problem gorging on the smoothness of the guacamole and tasting the tangy lime in the pico de gallo. (Both things that I have not tasted outside of California.)
I couldn't resist going back and playing pool and eating cheese tamales there on Saturday by myself and dragging my friend D. along on Sunday for both activities.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dim Sum

After cleaning out my old apartment I moved in with my friend in Brooklyn until I left for London to try and save up some extra money. Near his house is a bar that has a lot of old 80's arcades. So when I arrived we of course had to go there in celebration. Playing a lot of these old games brings back a lot of memories for me and since they are all still just a quarter dropping $5 for a couple hours of fun is half the price of going to a movie. It is funny how I never would have thought dropping $5 in quarters into arcade games as a kid.
Anyway a New York Times article talked about an arcade that was still in existence from the 80's in Chinatown. We had to go to compare it to the local place. Since we were headed to chinatown I had asked some of the guys at work the best Dim Sum place since it was something that I wanted to do before leaving New York City. My co-workers referred me to place called Jing Fong.
Chinatown is in the old part of the city with very narrow streets and the restaurant did not look like that much from the outside. but once through the door the escalator led up to a second floor dining hall that had to be 100' across and 200' long. It was packed with tables and around 30-40 Dim Sum carts getting pushed around by old Chinese ladies that pretty much only knew enough english to say the names of the type of Dim Sum on their cart. Everything we got was delicious, although we did pass up on the duck tongues and chicken feet. The walls were covered with red velvet and the ceiling and pillars were covered in the gaudy shiny gold that only a chinese restaurant can get away with and there was family style we had some experts that sat down next to us. They hunted out the carts with their favourite dishes among the 100's being offered instead of pulling stuff off the nearest Dim Sum cart. They came back to the table with shrimp wrapped in these white see-through crepes and giant rice balls wrapped in banana leaves. We left stuffed with it only costing $20 for three people. An unheard of low price for Manhattan. We also picked up some dragon fruit from the street vendors and I gotta say that stuff is delicious. It tastes like a cross between kiwi and watermelon.
The arcade we came for actually ended up being quite a let down. All the games were from the 90's so they were all a dollar making it loose the cheapness fun factor. We did have fun playing Dance Dance Revolution (I thoroughly embarrassed myself at how bad I did.) but the rest of the place seemed a little depressing with how many of the games were broken.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

London Paperwork

I have hit a big snag. One of the big things that changed when all the healthcare was passed was that they also restructured how student loans are administered too. There will be no more public banks handling student loans, just the government. That is great for cutting wasteful spending but the school I'm going to is not registered with the U.S. government to handle loans. I'm pretty sure that everything isn't fully in effect until 2014 but as a foreign school they are not letting any U.S. students register for a student loan until their paperwork is in order with the U.S. government. The main reason that I need to get a student loan is because for the student visa you have to show around $10,000 in a bank account to show you can pay for living expenses. As much as I'd like to say I've got that much stashed away just waiting for school the whole thing with my wife being out of work most of the last year from her being sick dampened our money saving ability. I did everything I could to fill out the paperwork, send it in to the school, get my research statement approved so that it matched up with the paragraph that the school submitted matched for my background check, and submitted all that paperwork to the school I'm not really sure what they checked on me, but since computers could be considered a "weapon of mass destruction" I have to pass through extra security as compared to say, a lit major.
To get my visa I have to submit my background check, paperwork for my loan, and a magical secret number that proves that a real school wants me to come over. With those forms and questions on the application like questions "have you ever been involved in or committed genocide" with the very next question: "Have you engaged in any other activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character?" I got to submit finger prints and my photo to a federal building in Manhattan. I just keep being worried that I am forgetting something and it will delay me past the start date.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cleaning out the Apartment

L. had taken what she needed and wanted, and anything I cared about was stored at my Dad's house now. So all the stuff that I came back to in the apartment needed to be sorted into throw away, donate, pack for London, or stuff that was forgotten and needs to be mailed. So anything that wasn't going into a suitcase for London needed to be processed. It felt like I was trying to pack the house into a suitcase and anything that didn't fit had to go. The problem was that all I had was the Miata Since I had about a month I figured if I worked on it every weekend a little then it would not be that hard of a problem. I could really only take a load to Goodwill on weekends anyway since they were so strict about no donations after 5PM. They also didn't take furniture so I found a local thrift store that did take furniture so anything that was skinny and tall I donated to them. It was actually weird how we had book shelves, display shelves, display cases, CD cases that were all tall and skinny. These people were also a lot nicer so anything that was nicer that I wasn't going to sell I donated to them too. The rest of the furniture I just put out on the curb when some other neighbours were having a garage sale. They wanted it all so I helped them move it across the street where they added it to their garage sale. I was fine with that, it was all in pretty bad shape and if they wanted to stand around and wait on the off chance that someone would want to buy it then it saved me the trouble if the trash men didn't take it.
As far as the stuff that I was taking with me to London but first it needs to go to NYC while I live there with a friend. There is a large suitcase and my folding bike that I had to take in separate trips because only one would fit in the passengers seat at a time. I figure that as soon as I move to NYC I will not want to deal with parking my car every night so I want to sell it as soon as I move. To get from the train station to work for that last month and a half I decided to finish a project bike I had. It had been hanging on the wall for a year and a half. I had rebuilt my old bike with larger parts because I wanted to see what it was like to have a bike big enough for me. I had finished it except for the bottom bracket (the bearing between the pedals.) I had put my bike tools in storage so I had to take it to a bike shop. Oh well it's fixed and I'll get to try it out for a month before selling it.
One really annoying thing is the land lord keeps trying to get us to move out early. He keeps saying there are people interested and if they rent it then he would refund us from the time they picked up the contract. In reality it is obvious that he does not have anyone lined up and wants up out so he has time to turn the apartment around while he is still getting us to pay rent for it. Me moving out slowly has played to my advantage. because I let him know I could move out on a days notice since there really isn't anything left so..... as soon as they sign the contracts. Unsurprisingly the prospects disappeared. I moved out a week early and will be living with my friend for a month in Brooklyn to try to help save up some money for London.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Visiting Family

My Parents
One of the things I needed to do was to renew my drivers licence since it would expire while I was in London. Instead of registering it for a place I never lived I decided to switch it to my Father's house. We visited them and enjoyed going to the beach and driving to all the places we had lived. As for visiting at their house, I ended up helping rewire stereo. There is always tech support of some kind when I visit my Dad.

My Wife's Family reunion
Because of all the people at my wife's reunion traditions have sprung to deal with the number of people. The area that is usually the garden gets turned into a tent city. Enough camp chairs and plastic lawn chairs are placed under the large tree that at times they can be ordered into several circles for smaller discussions to in rows for meetings. It starts off with signing up for duties (such as which meals) and the Porta-potties are delivered. Each of the children's families start off with a talent show. This allows for all the families to be in one place at one time so that everyone wanting to take pictures has a chance and not everyone is forced to stand around forever like a normal picture event. Another tradition is a pool party in the middle of the reunions to make sure that everyone gets for showers. As for myself, my favourite was playing with the kids and having plenty of babies to hold.
It was such a dry heat as compared to what I was used to on the east coast so it was nice that L's uncle worked for an ice cream company. The company's freezer had broken so there was a whole freezer of frozen treats to help deal with heat.



My Family Reunion
Since there was no way that I would be able to visit all my family while I was in town they all came over my brother's house and we had a taco night where we each brought an ingredient. Since I was moving to London my brother had me sit while everyone sat around me and talked about me. It felt like a wake. I'm not quite sure what the big deal was since the last time that I saw all them was 3 years before and that is how long I will be gone for again. I just wanted to visit with everyone so when they asked questions I would try to go deeper and ask what they thought about it. But the subject would get changed to fast and someone was asking me another question.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Road trip

When we were packing up all the stuff in the house that was going out west there just happened to be a heat wave while we were packing car. We ended up deciding to sleep and wake up early. We ended up leaving at 4 A.M. but by 2 we were to tired to go on. We left at 1 A.M. and made it to my sister's house by noon. I had been promising to visit since we moved to New York. I hadn't seen her for at least 6 years. The next day we drove through a deserted town called Cairo. There were still people living there but a factory must have closed down or something because 19 out of 20 buildings were boarded up. It was very spooky driving through a modern ghost town. While driving through the Bible belt area we saw a camel on the side of the freeway surrounded by small concrete camels. Neither of us could figure out what it meant. In Tennessee there were still flooded soccer fields.It was pouring rain as we crossed a lot of plains. The storms would come on pretty fast and made it so I had to slow down the truck to not get blown over. We stopped for the night at a camp ground in Kansas since it hadn't rained there. While floating in the pool my campsite owner came over and asked: "So, what do you know about Tornado's?" He explained that a tornado had touched down about four miles away but I should keep an eye on the sky in case I saw any clouds start to swirl. The only thing I could think of was, "Kansas is not the place to go camping". We tried to make it the rest of the way the next day but the mountain pass in Colorado made me so tired that we had to sleep there. I am glad that we did because driving through the pass during day was beautiful.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Memorial Day Camping

5-31-10
We had been talking back and forth about different things to do for Memorial day weekend. I wanted to go to the beach but the chances of huge crowds made it so L. didn't want to do that. I had the idea of finding some famous waterfalls that were supposed to be close where we lived so I tried finding them on the Internet but came across a website for a private campground and desided to tell L. about it as a joke. As it turned out L. jumped at the idea of going camping and since it was a private campground it hopefully wouldn't be as crowded as a state or national park might be on Memorial Day weekend. In preperation I cooked Bananna bread and Zuchinni & blueberry bread to keep them from going bad and to give us something to eat besides MRE's.
I decided to look up all the private campgrounds/resorts in area to find best one instead of just the one that I happened onto. I noticed that the few websites for resorts I did find all had the same symbol on their websites as part of an association. I just went to the association website because I for some reason it was impossible to find close campgrounds through Google. L.'s only requirement was a Juccuzzi. The place I ended up choosing was because it was the only one that had a lake, waterfall, and pool table but also had to pool and Juccuzzi like the other ones. (I know really roughing it.) The clincher was when I called to make a reservation we were able to reserve a campsite right next to the restrooms for L. We chose to go on Sunday and Monday because there was no rain forcasted. It would have been nice to make it a three day weekend but neither of us wanted to deal with Saturday Thunderstoms while camping so instead we basically had two weekends together. Friday and Saturday were spent doing errands and chores which allowed for a Sunday and Monday of pure relaxation. Since the campground offered so much and we were not planning on doing anything besides relaxing it was weird being able to pack so light.
Sunday morning we got out the door by 8:00 but of course we had to stop at Cracker Barrel, which for some reason has become an east coast traveling tradition as much as Waffle House is in the South.We got there earlier than we expected, and we had to go through a security gate and check in at the front office first. Since it was the first weekend of the season they were training new people at the front desk so it took forever to get the people processed while in there. It was kind of funny that since we were under 40, and it was our first time there the price for camping and day use of the resort was only $42. I guess they are trying hard to keep it a family resort and not just for senior citizens. Since it was out first time to the campground we were given a tour of the grounds. The place was huge at 450 acres so the camp representative just unceremoniously left us at our car while he went to get a golf cart. The tour showed us around and how some people had built vacation homes here so it felt a little like a time-share sales pitch at the same time. But everyone waved at us as we went by almost like everyone was purposely being over friendly for us to join the cult. But after the tour was over everyone was still just as friendly so I guess people that own or rent homes there for the season at a resort really are relaxed and therefore friendly and not just putting on an act. I was kind of disappointed to find out that the "waterfall" was pretty much a trickle but their website showed a video of people playing under a one foot thick flow of water. Oh well I guess brochures are always better.
We figured out our campsite was different than the one then we had said so we were not shown were it was on the tour. After starting to drive our car up a trail that was only supposed to be for golf carts we found the correct camp site by total luck and mistake. We moved our car to the parking lot (which also happened to be right next to our campsite - it really was the perfect camp site, close to everything but hidden in the middle of trees.) we set up our tent and unpacked the car and headed directly to the pool. After an hour or so of lounging in the pool just commenting on all the different body types. we headed back to camp to eat lunch (which ended up being muffins and fruit since we both had a big breakfast) and relax. A guy from a nearby campsite commented on the fact that we had a "University of Oregon" sticker on our car and it ended up he had lived in Portland. After lunch we headed back to the pool and met the same guy and his wife. We ended talking for a while and had quite a few things in common. From there L. and I decided to take our own tour of the place so we went for a swim in the lake out to a small floating platform. (which was still cold but warm enough that it was bearable.) Walked over to the small trickle of a waterfall (so much for playing it that this weekend.) then headed back to our tent for dinner. MRE's are the best thing for camping and we still had some left so all the more reason to use them up. It was L.'s first time of eating the full MRE (as opposed to just the main course which is what we had done up until this point) so I showed her the ritual of heating up the main course while opening all the "surprise presents" of side dishes. With the sun going down we headed back to the pool.
The pool was heated but it was still pretty early in the season so we alternated between the pool and Jacuzzi to keep warm. We met up again with the same couple and talked back and forth. The best part was that there was a kids dance in going on so there were no kids in the pool. (In fact it was just us it was just us and the other couple with maybe one or two other people alternating). Some other people had complained about how crowded the pool had been earlier which we laughed about since neither of us thought that 25 people in a 40 ft x 50 ft pool was crowded. When the kids dance let out we decided to abandon the pool and head back to our camp to relax. (But we still spent 8 hours in the pool.)
When camping you rise with the sun. L. has the un-natural ability to then fall back asleep, unfortunately I don't so I relaxed and meditated for a while then decided that I had to meditate out on the floating platform. I gently told L. where I was headed and out. By the time that I was done putting on sunscreen L. surprised me by deciding to show up at the lake ready for a day of lounging around. After helping her with sunscreen I swam out to the floating platform. Now I gotta say, I don't think that I have had much happier, perfect moments than the one where I was able to just sit on this floating wooden platform in the middle of the lake and meditate while feeling the sun shine on me and wind flow around me. L. says I was only there for a few minutes but to me it felt like hours to half the day before swimming back to the shore. We decided to have breakfast at resort snack stand instead of having MRE's and met up again with the same couple and talked over breakfast. We talked about the list of things that we wanted to try out before leaving and started by playing pool. For how long it has been since the last time I played I was surprised that I made so many of the shots I was planning (as opposed to them just going in after bouncing around enough.) I just wanted to go for a hike while there but the mosquitos thinking we were outside of the campground quickly made us go back to just walking on the road but at least being on the trail made it so that we didn't know which golf cart road we were on so we had fun finding our way back to where we knew where we were. We tried to play tennis but could not find any spare rackets and shuffle board didn't really impress either of us so we decided to go out on the lake on a paddle boat. Now, as much as I like our kayaks packing them to a place is a pain, so the fact that we could just untie the paddle boat from the dock and peddle away made it all the more fun even if it was slow and almost impossible to steer. We decided to eat lunch there to give us some more time there since neither of us were looking forward to the drive home and we were enjoying our stay so much. After lunch we couldn't help but go for one last swim in the pool.
We drove around the traffic so all tension was gone out of my body when we got home. I was to relaxed to unpack the car so we just left it until the next morning. The funny thing about the trip is that we did not plan on talking about our marriage but being so stress free and relaxed just naturally made it easier to check up on things that need to be talked about from time to time. I realized while meditating on the floating platform was that I needed to work harder (who doesn't) and amazingly L. decided that she is all up for doing more of the crazy types of things I suggest we do. So with the vacation being so stress free and there being so many friendly people this ended up being one of our best vacations ever.