Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mexican Party

Save Chinese New Year, all the other parties are very British. I couldn't really throw an American party though. It seemed odd but what parts of American culture would I bring out. Not to mention that I was only one of two Americans in the student village so it would not really be very appealing to the students at large. So how about a Mexican Fiesta!
This was really an excuse for me to make some Mexican food that I was craving. I had never made my own tortillas before and with being so hard to find them here I thought I would have a hand at it. Growing up in southern California made Mexican culture second nature to me but it is the border culture, completely different from central Mexico. So I enlisted the Mexican students to help plan. This expanded into including pretty much all the south American students. But hey, I was happy that it was a non-european party!
The thing that excited most people was the piñata. They had all heard of it but never tried to hit one. After searching at a few places I finally found a party store that had them. I bought two since everyone knows something always goes wrong when you have a piñata. I was worried where I would find refried beans but finally found them at Whole foods of all places. I also bought an assortment of hot sauces for a tasting.
Of course this was still London so alcohol was still involved. I knew nothing about Tequila but  I went to the one off-license that was famous in London for having all the weird types of alcohol and basically bought £100 of tequila on their advice. I also made some horchata for those that did not drink (also a first time experience but it was tasty.)
Everyone had fun. Everyone dove for the candy and I made sure to grab the stick so no one was hit. I was glad I had bought two piñatas since the first one was killed after only a few hits. The south American students took care of the music since I had no clue and after seven different tequila tastings a lot of people were dancing the tango. But most importantly I took care of my craving for warm tortillas.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Politics of Writing a Paper

There are two conferences that really matter for what I am studying. The problem is that the deadlines for both of these are a week apart. This meant that everyone was spending every hour they had to get either results or paper done by the deadline.
I had been working on the intranet for the group so much and had run into so many problems that my own research had not had my attention it needed. Just as I was getting started my advisor told me instead of trying to submit my own paper I would instead help someone else to submit their paper.
I emailed out to co-workers and only one emailed back that he needed help. So I moved over to temporarily sit in the desk right next to his. The problem: the co-author of the paper was someone that no matter what I tried did not like me (based on me delaying his experiment when I first started my PhD). So it went, I asked multiple times a day how I could help, what I could work on, what I could contribute to the paper. Only to find out the writer I was sitting next to had stopped by the other guy's office and had ended up having a meeting without me so the direction changed and I went through the whole process of asking questions again.
I came up with ideas that got past major hurdles that was stopping significant results, programmed where I could, and wrote or corrected the paper through every revision. I knew that the co-writer was talking bad about me behind my back but I felt like if I did everything I could he would see I had contributed, change his tune, and bury his grudge.
In the end though, I felt like I could have got more done had I worked on my own paper. There was a lot of time I spent puttering with nothing to do. Since the only time I was being included in meeting was when I staked out  offices or jump up when I noticed the writer wasn't sitting next to me for to long. I tried talking to the co-writer. But to my face he said he didn't have any problems and denied saying anything about me even when my advisor confirmed he had been talking to him.
So I did the best I could in the situation I was stuck in. I was glad when the paper was done and I could go back to working on my own research. A lot of other people in the office still had the later deadline so for the next week there were still no one in the office. After that we all went out and enjoyed a nice dinner at a Chinese restaurant and I ended up spending more on on meal (£20) than I had spent while living in London.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cultural Differences: Standardization

I guess you don't really think about standardization until you experience a different standard somewhere else. Of course there are the standards that everyone knows about like flipping the switch down to turn lights on here, imperial vs metric measurements, and driving on the left instead of the right but it is the little things that are unexpected.
Beds: Single beds here are what I would think of as the width of a cot. They don't really have twin beds. The next size up is a double bed which is literally the size of two single beds, so a little wider than full size bed but not as big as a queen.
Gas ovens: This was the big one for me. My oven has the temperature in Celsius but apparently judging by cooking instructions on packages there are ovens out there with 6 settings. So directions just say set you oven to 4. I guess it's easier to remember than 350.
Windows: During the summer I didn't like waking up at 4am with the sun so I went out to get some curtains. Apparently there are a limited number of window sizes because when I went in with the measurements all I need to know was that I had a size 3 window.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cultural Differences: Plumbing

The British use the terms toilet and loo, but the only place you will see reference to a water closet is W.C. on the very old public toilets. Toilet paper is called a bog roll and yes, they get amused when I slip up and call something, without a bath in it, a bathroom. The thing is I live in a very international village. I can think of around 30 countries people are from off the top of my head. And the one thing that everyone seems to complain about is the plumbing.
Toilets: indoor plumbing was introduced hundreds of years after buildings were built here that are still standing so the standard toilet's waste pipe coils around and exits above ground (as opposed to American toilets which require a hole in the ground for the toilet pipe.) While this means a toilet can be put in room just by bolting it down, there is just not as much suction. Which leads to:
The Toilet Brush: The British students complain that the Chinese students don't know the proper use of the toilet brush in a similar way you would complain about someone not knowing how to use toilet paper. There is a toilet brush next to every toilet public and private and with British toilet design it is a normal thing to require its use.
Sinks: British sinks have hot and cold spigots instead of mixing them to a normal temperature. So, especially during the winter months, the cold is completely ignored and hot is used in short bursts for as long as scaldingly possible. I have not been able to get a straight answer as to why this is.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


It was a 8 hour coach (bus) trip from London up to Edinburgh. We left at 10pm so we got there at 6 in the morning. I had to get everyone checked into the hostel then T. and I headed out for breakfast. We found a little American greasy spoon diner in 50's style complete with chrome and jukeboxes. The funny part was that we had haggis and black pudding as part of the the full scottish breakfast.
From there we headed down the royal mile. I had been to Edinburgh before and the castle seemed overpriced for what it was worth. Instead I wanted to see the modern architecture of Scottish Parliament. I was interested in seeing the sharing of power; how the local government worked when England wanted it to have as little independence as possible. We couldn't take a tour so we decided to go for a walk in Holyrood Park. We ended up climbing to the top of the smaller of the two hills. I enjoyed the hike more than seeing any sites. I had been in London so long that I had not realized how much I missed being outdoors and hiking. That night we found a Mexican restaurant. I found it funny that I could order a haggis burrito but I have to admit it tasted very good. The spicy haggis was very similar to chorizo.
The funny thing is that Edinburgh is built on many hills. Walking around the city requires going up and down many times. The next day everyone was complaining of sore legs. We took it a lot easier and instead went to a few museums. There was a few people that didn't show up for the bus ride home when we left. We ended up leaving a few people to find their own way home.