Thursday, June 27, 2013

Going on hiatus!

For a much needed holiday.

Yes, please do the math. When was that last time tSH went on a holiday?

...think, think very very hard...when was the last time I failed to post more than a day late?

Twas December. January perhaps. Yus, I have almost made it 7 months without a holiday. This is what I do. This is a terrible thing to do to oneself. Especially considering the rather astonishing fact that I got all of my holidays at the beginning, as soon as I moved to the UK, so there was no real reason to do such a blind leap of faith into my work (other than the clear and obvious fact that I am utterly, truly, and unrealistically devoted to it...clearly I love it a little too much).

Anyway, it's time for a break. I need to get away from the grit, grime, rudeness, and horror that has become London.

...it's not that bad. But I do need a break. This city has worn me down in more ways that I can truly say (though I'm sure it's become fairly obvious given the posts I've been putting up).

Where am I going? Sunny Croatia! German K and Hong Kong P will be joining me for a week (German K for slightly less, as she needs to get back to work sooner than us).

I look forward to this so much. I'd like to pretend that this is what I work so hard for...but truth is...I don't need to work so hard to get to this point. I just do it because I love it.

So cheers to that, I'll be back in a week readers.

Adieu until then.

Sincerely and most loyally yours,
tSH

Lunch update

So I finally made to the farmer's market with cash like a food winner. Yes, this plan to slowly gain a little bit of the lost weight was looking quite sunny. And as luck would have it (or depending on how you look at it), I had an entire weekend to do nothing but cook and be by my lonesome and figure out my plan of action regarding fixing that status.

What did that equal? Making lunches. And a lot of food. What did I make?

A few standbys and some new things.

On Friday, before I went to the farmer's market I went to my default comfort food (a lot of weird things had happened in the week and I was in need of a little reassurance): fried rice. No meat unfortunately, since I still didn't really have any and I was too lazy to chop up pan fried eggs, but whatever. It was a medley of veggies. Still tasty, little too much dark soy. Not bad for a first attempt back at real cooking. Something easy.


The next attempts after the farmer's market were incredibly more successful, and I can feel my body responding beautifully to the influx of food. My run on Sunday was full on easy. So this is what it feels like to properly nourish one's body...

Anyway, I was a food winner and had been a little overzealous in my purchasing. This is what happens when you go to a farmer's market on an empty stomach. Sigh. Lesson learned. Eat before you purchase. I knew this already about grocery shopping. It should only have been all too apparent that this would carry into farmer's market shopping as well. Oh well, it's all good stuff. What did I buy you ask?

  • Avocados
  • Vine ripened tomatoes
  • Green grapes
  • Mushrooms (white, button, but huge)
  • Matured cheddar with bleu veins running through it (local cheesemonger)
  • Local butcher-made pork sausages with caramelized onions
  • Organic locally grown wild rocket (my favorite, omg this went so fast...into my stomach)
  • Spring onions
I also went to Lidl down the street to supplement my purchases because unfortunately my farmer's market isn't big enough to support all of my grocery needs and I had gotten myself into a buying frenzy (hard for me to do in the first place, so I was going to go with it as long as I could). I also bought myself some additional proteins (ground beef, peanuts, cashews, mixed seeds), head of lettuce, and a jar of korma sauce. What the hell, live a little.

The total I spent that day: around 18pounds. Not bad for a 2 week grocery bill. I won't need to go shopping for another 2-3 weeks because this was sooner than my normal grocery shopping habit. Yeah, I'm still that 2-3 week shopper. Though after killing the wild rocket in 3 days I might decide to go every week just to get more rocket. Gotta love that rocket (which is also called arugula or rucola, depending on where you're from...it's my favorite leaf).

When I got home I didn't know what to do with myself I had so many choices of things to eat and cook. One thing I did know though: I was going to eat. So I cooked up the sausages (since they were amazing looking and smelling) and did away with those. I had purchased four and didn't want them to have any chance of going bad.

I'm bad at cooking raw sausages. I'll put it out there right now. The butcher had said I could put them in the oven for 25-30 minutes at 150C or so or I could panfry them. I'm not great at either one of those options because I'm always nervous about knowing when they're done and not overcooked, so instead I put water in a frying pan and sort of blanched them instead. Needless to say I still needed to check them twice before being convinced they were fully cooked (they're pork, after all).

And how were they? Absolutely incredible. I'm never buying sausages from anywhere else ever again. Local is the way to go.


It looks weird because I've already eaten the ends and the big gaping hole is where I cut into it to make sure it was fully cooked. This is also my wild rocket and parmesan cheese "salad." Basically eating it raw. It was glory. Btw this was after gorging myself on green grapes. The grapes of glory.

Anyway, after I'd had my fill I decided to cook myself some lunches (which unfortunately I have no good pics of). This week's menu? Veggie korma and mushroom frittata. Looking up in the world. :)

So at least I'm bringing hot food into work now and the weight is slowly being put on. I've also consciously tried to stay away from the gym as much. I think it's working. I feel better. This might also be because it's finally "warm" and sunny here in London. I'll take what I can get. :)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Trying to date Don

Generally speaking I am open to dating guys. I was in Helsinki and I am here in London as well.

Similarly it has taken me a long time and much unfortunate confusion trying to figure out the dating culture of this entire thing. New country, new rules, new dating culture. Unfortunately having to learn the game, all over again. This makes for some horrifying new situations that I didn't expect myself in again.

Things like thinking a guy is flirting with me but not being 100% sure because the British tend to be really polite. Is he flirting with me or just being really nice? Is that niceness even genuine? 

Such is the round and round conversation that is going on in my head all the time since I've arrived. Nice British guys, everywhere.

I'd been warned before I moved that London men, in particular, are very hard to date. Why you ask? Because there are lots of single, young men out there. There are also lots of single, young women out there. Lots to choose from and look at, everyone thinking that there will always be something better and that they are indeed, quite a catch. Such is the way of big cities apparently. Hong Kong P assures me that the dating game here in London will be similar to the games she had to deal with in New York. 

I am slightly terrified: what does that mean? I am a country bumpkin when it comes to dealing with big city games. If I like someone then I'll try to be as straightforward as possible in being clear with my feelings.

...but I have noticed myself slipping away from this since I moved here. I've seen that people aren't straightforward, and in turn I've started to be less straightforward as well. There's a lot ado about face here and people really care about how they're perceived by other people. Although this is still not one of my main concerns, I am aware that people are thinking about it all the time and it makes me uncomfortable and quiet. This, unfortunately, works against me a lot of the time. The British, if anything, are conversationalists. And how do you flirt with someone? By talking to them. There are nonverbal ways to flirt, of course, but mostly, it's by talking with someone. The little conversations where things said are really other things being said, etc etc etc. 

So being quiet doesn't help me. The additional problem is, even when I do get the courage to speak, it's usually the wrong thing to say. Not only is American humor not as well accepted here (British humor is dry and a bit weird...I've been exposed to it since childhood and I do find it funny but it'll still be awhile before I'm able to create it on my own) but there are constant "lost in translation" moments. Here is a fabulous example:

Them: Oh it had a really strange texture, like a more bready scone. But it was salty.

Me: Oh you mean like a biscuit? 

Them: No.

Me of course thinking of the American version of a biscuit, which is a bready, savory dinner roll that is usually served with gravy. Unfortunately they were thinking of the British version of a biscuit which is basically a cookie (sweet, flat, usually served with tea). They like to think of American biscuits as "savory scones." I think of this as a fair though somewhat disgusting description of biscuits.

So the quest for a potential mate continues. I have a feeling the translation errors will be continual and there will be nothing to do about it except face my fate. I will be single for a very long time.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Building a better lunch

Since I've not talked about my lunches in awhile I guess it was time for an update...literally.

I don't know if I made this clear earlier, but since my parents left there was an interesting argument I had with myself about the quality of my lunches. Since my mom wasn't around to make them for me they could go one of two ways: they could either get significantly fancier, since I was more in control of what I wanted to eat and I love to cook, or they could get significantly poorer since I work a lot and there was no one who had bunches of time to make them for me.

What was the verdict you ask?

Well, considering that I'm still a failure at grocery shopping more than once every 2-3 weeks (actually it took me a solid 4 weeks to grocery shop for the first time on my own after my parents left...my excuse is that I actually wasn't around for most of that time and was instead being a WT as I am normally)...as can be extrapolated from the appropriate information: my lunches got...interesting. I wouldn't say they got poorer in quality, but quantity certainly took a swan dive and so did my weight.

What was I eating during that time, you ask? Well, I still wanted to save money because Britain can be an expensive place to live (I'd finally turned off my heater though so at least I wouldn't be paying a ridiculous amount for electricity anymore) but also I wanted to be really healthy, similar to how I was in Helsinki. Unfortunately there is no subsidized lunch. There is also no culture that says I can't make my own lunch and bring it to work. People don't ostracize you (as much) for bringing food from home. In Helsinki I did it a few times and realized how weird and out of place that was. Never again.

Anyway, after my parents left they loaded my fridge with all of the things I said I wanted and would eat in their absence: raw veggies, a hell of a lot of hummus, and some nuts. There may have been a frozen loaf of bread in there somewhere and some eggs. I think that was the bulk of it. I'm a simple person and don't require much from my diet, despite the whole running thing. Take from that what you will.

So my lunches were...raw veggies. Literally. Oh, and hummus. I started making my own homemade hummus after the storebought stuff ran out, which isn't as hard as it sounds, especially after my parents did a spectacular job chasing down tahini for me at a nearby Turkish supermarket. Very excellent stuff. They even found a cheap source of canned garbanzo beans (as well as other beans like white beans). Fabulous stuff.

So that's what I'd been having for lunch for the last several months.

Unfortunately as I ramped up my running and exercise habits, as tends to happen as I work more and more and go out with coworkers more (it's my way of dealing with stress), I also started getting less interested in food again and my weight really started to dip. Severely. Oh starvation abroad, you follow me everywhere it seems!

So I made myself a vow: eat more, if possible (this is a hard thing for me, because I find it hard to find the time and energy to go out and buy myself more food...just look at my grocery buying habits), and of the things that I do eat, eat better.

The lunches were going to get a revamp. I was actually going to be home for the foreseeable weekends, allowing me lots of time to actually make my lunches ahead of time. More time than just making homemade hummus (still great stuff but maybe should spread to something more than just the variety of veggie crudites).

What was on the menu then? Well, my first week of exploration: Israeli couscous (also known as pearl couscous) with fresh veggies and basil-infused cold-pressed olive oil (a delicious gift sent to me by my bestie Rhinda).



Not too shabby, I'll admit. It was pretty quick and painless as well. Three day's worth of lunches made from a single batch. I included red bell pepper, cucumber, and the usual sprinkling of olive oil, salt, freshly cracked black pepper, freshly grated parmesan cheese, and a splash of white vinegar. Boof! Done. Lunch is served.

Granted I still get stares at work for only having that for lunch so I'm going to beef things up for the next round of lunches, but I feel this is a good start and a step in the right direction.

I'm also trying to scale back a little bit on the exercise in an attempt to not be so nuts about it. I don't need to live at the gym, merely deal with my stress better. Maybe more time in the sauna, a little less running. :)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fashion plundering and blundering

So what did I do for the rest of the bank holiday weekend? A surprising amount of laying on my sofa and watching Boardwalk Empire, my new favorite show. This is something that I've noticed happens with shocking regularity whenever I find myself with alone time and not a lot of plans. I've been back in London for about two and a half weeks with no travel plans and I have no idea what to do with myself. I have flipped through the British guidebook my parents bought for me as a housewarming gift and nothing really comes to mind. I kind of want to see a few things but alas, everything takes a solid 45 minutes to get to. So...I get lazy. And laying on your couch is such a luxury sometimes. It really is.

Anyway, on Monday I did finally find the motivation to roll off my sofa and get out of the house. I was already going to be meeting Sweets and then later the rest of the gang (Specs, Spaz) so there was reason to get out anyway. I decided I would treat myself to some shopping in Shepherd's Bush as there were some things still on my list that I hadn't fulfilled: a proper carry on bag for weekend trips (I planned to start my weekend excursions with German K and Hong Kong P again soon), a new bathing suit as the summer was supposedly coming at some point in time and all of mine were ancient (plus I'd started swimming at the gym though this is a very secondary reason), and a few other items of clothing that were missing from my otherwise decently small closet. So there you have it, a few items on my mission list.

I went, feeling good about myself because of the surprisingly sunny (though still windy) weather, and dressed to the nines. I felt I would go out with panache and show the world that I was ready to face it - Don had been beating me down a lot lately and I was ready to fight back.

Shopping was going good until I stepped into Banana Republic. What I saw in there stopped me cold.

I...

...matched with everything in their entire summer line.

...I was mortified.



My white jeans, cork wedges, striped tank, blue cardigan, straw purse...everything about it screamed their entire summer line. I didn't have the courage to take a picture of their real line (so I've taken a photo of their petites section, which was a little less matching and therefore less offensive).

I couldn't get out of there fast enough. Since when did I start being fashionable enough to match with a store's summer line? The strangest part of all: none of the clothes I was wearing were from BR. None of them. And yet...everything matched perfectly. What the heck is going on?

After I browsed the last remaining stores I had on my list I went home and changed.

Okay Don, you win this time. I was unprepared for that. I'll be ready next time.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Milton Keynes

It was time that I got out of London, but this time I was staying in the country, strangely enough. This time I was escaping to the suburbs. This time, I was visiting Ozzie L and British C. Pretty extraordinary stuff.

They had very awesomely invited me to their housewarming/birthday bbq. They'd purchased a sweet little home out there and were ready to show it off. Well I wasn't going to miss out on that opportunity!

So after a Friday of drinks out with Sweets, Specs, Spaz, and a few other coworkers, I headed out Saturday afternoon to meet them in their fair countryside home. It actually wasn't far from London, despite my reckoning (which isn't much, given that I still don't understand the layout of London at all and the surrounding areas...ho boy, understand even less those areas).

In any case, it only took me about half an hour by overground train and I was there. Ozzie L very awesomely picked me up from the train station and we waited for another friend to arrive before zipping 10 minutes in the car to their abode.

Milton Keynes is an interesting place. Unlike most suburbs of London it was planned and built about 50 years ago, making it a pretty modern and new community. Most British really judge it for this reason, citing that it's a weird combination of all things new and its planned grid-like logic makes it unfriendly and fake somehow. I beg to differ, but then again all of the communities I've ever lived in have been like this...I'm from the States, where all of our cities are like this.

Example: all of the houses are built in rows and off roads in a logical manner. The trees and greenery were all planted with intention. The roads were laid down with the explicit idea that there would be as few traffic lights as possible, cutting down on city electricity consumption and traffic during rush hour times. This means when there actually is a rush hour because people are returning from work in central London, there is no stop and go pattern because traffic is allowed to free flow through the multitudes of roundabouts. Someone actually thought about this. There are literally only two traffic lights in the entire city. It's genius.

Similarly there are walking and biking paths along every road, allowing people to exercise wherever they want and keeping them safely away from cars and other dangers while enjoying the planted greenery. This is unheard of in London. Most of the time bikers just have to deal with the dangers that are the road and figure out a way not to get hit by cars. Not here. There are dedicated gravel and dirt paths for walkers and bikers that are off of the roads, similar to what we have in California. Boom, instant increase in quality of life. Again, someone thought about this.

There are also dedicated areas of the city for certain things. E.g. you want to have a fancy night out, so you go to the section of town where all of the nicer restaurants and wine bars are. They're all grouped together in the same area so you can drive there and stay there until you're done. You can also have a more casual night out in the less expensive pub area if that's what you're interested in, located in a different section of town. There is also a theater district, if you want a different kind of entertainment. I'll say it again: someone thought about it.

Instead of having a high street, which is what most communities have (including mine), they have a city center. Their city center is the biggest indoor/outdoor combination mall I have ever seen in my life. If I thought the Shepherd's Bush Westfield was large (and it was the largest mall in Europe until another mall (I think in France?) beat it recently), this is gargantuan. This is probably one and a half the size, if not bigger. The actual layout is also puzzlingly logical. It's single story so there's no confusion about what store is where, and laid out in a grid. The paths that go between stores are actually streets so you can easily guide yourself should you need to get somewhere. The center is so big that there are two or sometimes three of the same store in the entire thing, just in case you've entered the center on one side and want to go to a particular store so you don't have to walk an entire mall to get there. Yeah, there are like three Nando's at this place. Anyway, the idea of this place makes complete sense though - you need stuff? Why have a high street when you can have an entire mall at your disposal? Boom. Done.

This town's one hilarious and slightly nonsensical but definitely whimsical aspect: they have something called the SnoZone. It's basically a huge facility where they make enough fake snow for you to downhill ski. Yeah. Downhill ski...indoors. The concept is mind-boggling, to be honest. I would have never thought such a thing would have ever existed. As being from California you just need to drive five hours and you're in snow, why would anyone ever make that? Obviously it's taken me awhile to realize that not every country gets snow, even the miserably cold ones (apparently when it snows in Britain everyone gets really excited and then horrible things happen like all of the airports freak out and close down, the latter of which I have unfortunately experienced firsthand).

Anyway, that's Milton Keynes in a nutshell. Most British people scorn it and I loved it. It felt like a little slice of home in the middle of Britain. A little American suburb. I totally get it, it makes sense. It was purpose-built and well-executed for what it was made for. Logic, planned out.

So back to the visit with Ozzie L and British C. Lovely friends I met in New Zealand. They were having a bbq in their backyard. They have an actual backyard, which is more than anyone else can say who lives in London. Another perk of living in a suburb - a well-planned suburb at that.

Needless to say fantastic conversation ensued and a great time was had by all. I got to meet the community of friends they had made in Milton Keynes (since not too many people other than me and a select group of others are willing to come up from London, despite it only being a half an hour train ride and pretty cheap). They have a wonderfully diverse group of friends and it was wonderful meeting them all. Lots of professionals doing interesting things in their lives. Many characters. I hope to see them again when I'm visiting sometime.

And bbq. Oh blessed bbq. Ozzie L, being an Australian (obviously), knows his bbq. Bbq glory. He has the largest grill I've seen outside of the States. It was beautiful. I have no pictures, unfortunately, since I have once again failed to photo-document anything, being too distracted with good conversation and wonderful wonderful food. There is just something about a house, a suburb, the gathering of good people and warm conversation that just makes me want to eat. And overeat. This is the first time I've overeaten since I was in America. It felt...strangely comfortable through the discomfort.

Back to the bbq. So much meat to behold! Apparently Costco is an actual thing in Britain (much to my surprise, though I guess it shouldn't have been if I had thought about it - Japan has it, why not Britain?), and Ozzie L and British C had definitely ransacked the place with their car the day before. Costco hamburger patties and buns galore, the most tasty sausages I'd had in a long time, and an entire chicken (cut in half) were put on the grill. Not to mention grilled veggie skewers and mixed veggie chicken skewers. Oh glorious meats. There was also an incredible spread of chips, dips, noshables and snackies of all kinds. I was in munchers heaven, and so I continuously ate for what was probably a solid five hours.

We ended up staying up and chatting (and continuously eating and drinking) until around 1:30am. Pretty excellent considering we started at 4pm. :) Bbq of champions.

The next day was breakfast and walking around the town center before my return to sooty ungreen London city. A great reprieve from city life. Nice to know there are wonderful places outside of the city. Sometimes a girl just needs a break. :)

I look forward to seeing my friends again when Sweden comes to visit in another week. New Zealand friends, unite!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Couchhosting, a second time around

The day was upon me faster than I'd like it to have been: the day my second pair of couchsurfers were to arrive. I had agreed to meet them in front of the Boots Pharmacy in Paddington Station. Somewhere central and easy to get to. We had pictures of each other just like the last time so I'd be able to identify them.

To be honest I was a lot more nervous about hosting this time. They would be over for a lot longer than the Swiss girls and they were a married couple. They were also relatively new to couchsurfing and had been on the road for the past 4 months living out their travel dreams together. I should have done my homework more, I berated myself, thinking only the worst things could happen. I've been taught to fear the unknown in this way and it is this quality among others that I wish to root out. So I erased this thought from my mind as much as possible and walked steadily to Boots to meet them.

I'm also probably the worst hostess in the world - little to no edible food in the fridge (we're talking some expired eggs, some juice, beer and cider, and a entire crap-ton of raw vegetables...not exactly a snacker's delight), no cooking or sharing of that kind of time, no time in general...really weird and unaccommodating schedule. Sorry, I'm basically the place that you come to crash, maybe shower, and leave again to see the city. This is how I live my life.

Granted this is probably way awesome for most people - they are here traveling, after all. But still, this makes me feel terrible, since I do, at the heart of things, like hosting and making people feel comfortable when they are in my house...and it makes me nervous to think that my living quarters are somehow below par in some way.

I met them at the appointed time and nervously helped them buy their tickets to my train station. Mostly they (Paulo from Brazil and his wife, Carolina from Mexico) seemed tired. They were on a 4 month whirlwind tour of the world - they'd already been to countless places (India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Holland, France, Italy, and others). When they wrote me originally they told me about the blog they were keeping about their travels: www.likepirates.com. It was the blog that actually won me over more than anything. I think someone who is willing to share their thoughts with you in this way is easier to relate to than perhaps others...but perhaps I'm just biased.

My first night with them was pretty easy. They were tired but very interested in what I was doing in my life and especially where I had traveled. We exchanged stories and I learned more about them.

They'd been living in New Zealand (Queenstown, of all places - the home of my first bungy jump and other extreme sports activities) when they decided to literally give up everything but a small backpack's worth of clothes each and set out traveling. This is more courageous than anything I've ever done and I told them as such.

Carolina admitted to me that it wasn't as easy as it sounds. She, like most people, had attachments to the physical things in her life and it was the clothes that she had the most trouble getting rid of. When they started the trip and met at the airport she had a large suitcase full of everything she thought she would need for four months. Needless to say, she was not a light packer. Unfortunately though, given that they were traveling as budgetarily as they possibly could, this was unacceptable to the airline they were flying with and she was going to be forced to pay for her luggage for every leg they were to fly. They couldn't afford that, so just like that, POOF, half of her clothes had to be thrown away at the airport. She told me she cried over it. It was hard. I understand the difference between giving up something willingly and overtime, knowing that you'll need to give it up ahead of time. Having to give something up unexpectedly is...quite different.

As they traveled further and deeper, into poorer and poorer places, she embraced the traveler's life. It got too hard to carry a loaded backpack day in and day out. So over time, over places, over experiences...things just got left behind. Worn out. Cast aside. Until all they had were single backpacks each (these are the size of school backpacks, btw, not mountain backpacker's backpacks). That's it. The only thing that is consistently bought in every country - food (of course) and bar soap (since it doesn't surpass the liquid requirements and can be cheaply and easily dumped at will). She said they originally started out with bottles they could refill everywhere with liquid shampoo or bath gel but that became a real inconvenience. So it was abandoned.

Of all the places they went to and of all the things they'd seen, the one remark that they completely agreed on (since their favorite places were individual, just as they were), was that the best sights were always the ones no one talked about. The unbeaten path - the gloriously untouristy and free beauty of something unappreciated. The Sistine Chapel? Sure it was great and all, but it was disappointing after the four kilometer walk and hour of waiting. Much more worth it was the free basilica just a block away that no one was visiting.

I've found this particular observation to be true myself. All of the best things I remember about my travels are never the main attractions, the big bold highlights in the guidebook. They're always the small things, the publicly forgotten things. The special way it was that time for you.

One of my favorite quotes from reading (ever), has been:

"As an adult, I have often known that peculiar legacy time brings to the traveler: the longing to seek out a place a second time, to find deliberately what we stumbled on once before, to recapture the feeling of discovery. Sometimes we search out again even a place that was not remarkable in itself - we look for it simply because we remember it. If we do find it, of course, everything is different. The rough-hewn door is still there, but it's much smaller; the day is cloudy instead of brilliant; it's spring instead of autumn; we're alone instead of with three friends. Or worse, with three friends instead of alone."
Seems this is true. Not to say main attractions shouldn't be experienced, since they should be. But maybe experience the unbeaten path a few times and see which you like better.

Talking to them and describing my life made me realize a lot of things, as it did with the Swiss sisters.

  1. I really do work a lot. Work seems to dominate my life and I'm not sure I ever remember making the conscious decision that it should be so.
  2. I exercise a lot. Though I know this is a conscious decision because I have some mentality that the more I exercise the longer I'll live, it really does seem out of proportion the more people ask me about it and I respond honestly.
  3. My eating habits are hard to explain. Are you really that girl that only eats raw vegetables and fruit at work and doesn't eat dinner? Most of them accept it and maybe even slightly applaud me on my self-restraint, but the more I've thought about it, the more I've wondered if there is something else the matter.
  4. I travel, a lot. This I already knew, of course. But when compared to most people who travel maybe once a year, whereas I traveled to four countries in one week with less than 24 hour turnaround times...it's a lot. I travel a lot.
  5. The people in my life travel a lot as well. Or are well-traveled. Seems all of my local friends are just as travel-bug bitten as I am. I was describing my, German K, and Hong Kong P's plan to meet up once a month in a new country and realized that...normal people don't do this.
  6. I am supremely fortunate. I have always known this, but I know this and feel this now more than ever.
  7. I am only as alone as I think I am.

They are lovely people, and I look forward to talking to them the next few nights. I think when I am ready again, I will open my sofa bed up once again to couchsurfers. Until I can get my own life under control though, I think I should leave it offline.

It's amazing the things you can learn from people. I hope I am always open enough to keep learning.

And on a related but hilarious note, this gem.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Can you believe it?

This is even hard for me to believe but...do you remember readers, when I mentioned all the design initiatives that I was joining a few months ago? Well one of them is here at work and they gather designers of different disciplines to do various things outside of work. I love it - it changes the culture of the workplace, allows you to network with various coworkers you would have otherwise not have worked with, and pushes you to think outside of the box (or at least the box that you are normally thinking in). Great stuff, really fun.

Anyway, I did my first project with them several months ago, when I first moved here. From that we did our project and there was a continual steady communication about the results we had created and what potential next steps might be.

...apparently one of those next steps pushed us to submit a patent.

...and that patent has been accepted by the board.

That's right readers - you're reading from a new patent holder! It's weird to believe, but it's soon to be official.

To be honest I never thought this day would come. I've considered many things I've done as accomplishments but never imagined this particular aspect in my life. Me? An inventor? 

It's pretty cool.

Anyway, enough tooting of my own horn. Time to go back to the grind. ;)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Barrafina

Or should I say, food glory. Thank you again Don, for showing me that you still have the potential to make me and my stomach, very very happy.

To be honest I didn't have any doubts but I'd started to get disheartened for whatever reason. Maybe it was because of my recent weekend failure at buying anything at the farmer's market. Whatever it was, the funk was over. Don was on fire again. Amazing culinary fire. Delicious fire.

Singaporean T was in town and he asked me to go to a late dinner with him since it was his first time back in London in over a year. I happily accepted - great to catch up with good friends and have good food at the same time. One thing I've also noticed about my friends - almost all of my close friends are foodies. Just something we all love in life, I guess - good food. I'll take it.

He gave me two choices for dinner: Polpo or Barrafina.

Polpo I had actually been to as part of the original time I had been to London to workshop with my team when I was moving to Helsinki all that time ago. I remembered it being a beautifully ambient place with dim lighting, high grey wooden bar tables and a gorgeous menu of little shareable plates. Things like meat balls, fried dishes, and really nice wines. We had a great time there, my team, after the two day session we'd had locked in a room together at Trafalgar Square. Good memories.

But I hadn't been to Barrafina before, so we decided to go there. Turns out neither had Singaporean T. And he'd been looking forward to exploring it. For over a year.

By the time we got there it was already around 8:30pm. A product of long immigration lines and the time it takes to get from Paddington to Soho. Whatever, that's still dinner time in London. Prime dinner time, actually. The place was completely packed.

[Apologies in advance that there are no photos for this post; I was too involved in conversation and getting out my camera in a place this crowded would have been awkward at best...you'll see what I mean as I go along.]

We stepped in to the extremely brightly lit bar of Barrafina and were immediately assaulted by the rather brusque Italian and/or Spanish host man, who said there was about a 45 minute to an hour wait. Since Singaporean T was really interested in eating here we decided to bite the bullet and wait. I was kinda surprised he was willing to, but whatever, we had a lot to catch up on and the food was supposed to be spectacular.

So we waited. The way this place was set up it was sort of like a Japanese ramen house in style. The seating was nothing but a bar around the open kitchen in an L-shape. We waited behind the seats in a queue of sorts. Along the longer part of the "L" you were allowed to order from a short menu filled with drinks (of the mostly alcoholic persuasion) and small nibbles like olives, breads, and nuts. As soon as we got to this part of the restaurant I ordered a glass of crianza from Costa Brava (where I went kayaking on the Mediterranean and have fond memories), he ordered a gin and tonic, and we shared marinated olives and croquettes with ham.

They were tasty. But they just whet our appetite for what was to come.

The olives were sort of standard tasty nibblets - marinated in olive oil and some spices that tasted like roasted tomatoes, they were a pretty trio of brown/darker purple small olives, green olives (of the more acidic and sour variety, which were great) and huge green olives which I loved because they were juicy but Singaporean T thought were weird. Well, to each their own.

The croquettes were also lovely. Instead of being the normal ball of dough they were a little more...something. They were deep fried, as they should be, but maybe they were purposefully underdone, maybe not, but in any case their insides were all goo. Sort of like mashed potatoes with bacon bits inside. Savory soft, silky balls. Wonderful.

By the time we were finished with these nibbles and I was just about to finish my glass of wine it was time for us to finally be seated at the bar. We had waited a little more than an hour. Oh well.

Seated at the bar we looked at the menu and surveyed the daily specials. They get fresh seafood and it looked spectacular. We ordered with relish. And I do mean with relish.

What did we get? Hoooo boy.

Lomo iberico
The first dish we were served after ordering was the lomo iberico, or Iberian pork. This, similar to its more famous Iberian ham cousin, is cured pork leg that has been strung up and made delicious by only being fed a diet of acorns. Very expensive and very exclusive. Oh you tasty tasty thing. I've been a huge fan of this style of culinary treat ever since I studied abroad in Burgos and found out about the differences between jamon serrano and jamon iberico (the first, while still delicious, is more common, while the second is the more exclusive version where the diet is restricted solely to acorns and is only given to a certain breed of black Iberian pig...giving the meat a more intense and interesting flavor...like grass-fed beef). This pork was no exception. Smooth, dry, slightly fatty. All the right things for cured meat. Thinly sliced to perfection.

Octopus with capers
This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening and that's saying a lot, because there was a lot of amazing. Fresh octopus very lightly cooked then splashed with olive oil, fresh herbs, and large capers. It's rare that I get octopus that is so fresh it's soft, almost like mochi in consistency. It was incredible. I guess I've only ever had octopus that's been overcooked in my life because this was like heaven to eat - almost no resistance against your teeth at all. And the flavor was so clean, so pure. No flavor of seafood whatsoever. The capers and slight lemon juice were a perfect combination. So this is what fresh seafood is all about. :)

Morcilla with quail eggs
Blood sausage is just one of those facts of life. Where I studied abroad, in Burgos, blood sausage was a big thing. They had a regional specialty there with crispy fried rice in it and a thicker skin. Their sausage was also quite large, almost two inches in diameter. The blood sausage that was served at this restaurant was a completely different beast. A gourmet beast. A glorious beast. This one was delicate, silky smooth, and completely savory. Almost no skin to speak of, it was almost rare on the inside. Soft, gorgeously flavorful, and covered with a sunny-side-up quail egg that still had a gooey yolk. Fantastic. Little wafer-thin slice of toast to give it the necessary crunch. Delightful. If I could have this for breakfast once a month I'd be so happy.

Tortilla with ham and spinach
Tortillas in Spain are made from egg and potato instead of out of flour, like Mexican tortillas. We opted for one with stuff in it rather than the classic. We didn't make a mistake. This one was chock full of spinach and ham along with caramelized onions. When we cut it open it was like spilling onion gravy gold all over our plates it was so juicy inside. Wonderful. Singaporean T was infatuated with this dish and it was a delight just watching him eat it. I did love this but it's hard to love it when there were so many other things to rave over.

Clams with white wine and parsley
One of the daily specials were small clams with white wine and parsley. Yes, we definitely will take some of those. The other mollusk option was mussels, but for whatever reason we didn't go for them, and it's kinda cool that we didn't because we got the last bit of what was on offer for the day. Yes, scoop the cool! These were incredible. I've started to get used to the whole "so fresh it literally just came from the sea" seafood and I'm all about it. These were like drinking sweet sea soup. Little, tender nodules of sea meat, floating in a flavorful savory broth of white wine, butter, and parsley. This is what clams should always be like. I cannot even describe.

Prawns covered in peppers 
Another daily special were extra large prawns that were battered and fried with peppers. I don't even know how to describe the beauty of this dish, but it was incredible. These extra large prawns (of a species I've never seen before, as they were quite red from the start, even before cooking) were covered in a large bell pepper and then battered and deep fried. But it was to just the point of cooking and served almost room temperature instead of piping hot. What this did (and I'm not sure how they did this) was make the meat inside insanely juicy, as though you're eating a prawn cocktail but with the benefit of breading (that was incredibly soft and not hard, with just a little bit of crunch) and the juicy pepper around it. I loved this dish. Definitely my favorite of the night. The prawn was cooked so well that it was like the texture of lobster tail, and equally as flavorful. I love seafood so much. Never going to give it up. I will curse the skies if I ever get gout and need to give up seafood in my life.

By this time, readers, I'd had two more glasses of red wine, both different than the first and from each other, as per recommendations from our helpful server. One was from Rioja (another reason I visited while studying abroad, and which I loved) and another was a reserva of some kind, I believe also from Rioja. In any case they were wonderful and I loved them. Singaporean T was continuing with his gin and tonics for the night but I applauded him on his exploration of the gins on offer - there was a Spanish gin which apparently was rather medicinal and Hendricks, a classic go-to.

By the end of the meal we were less interested in dessert (Singaporean T is apparently like my old self and doesn't eat much sweet food) but he did agree to have a dessert drink with me, so we both ordered a glass of the dry sherry and continued grand conversations. The sherry was fantastic. I'm started to take a real liking to the stuff after my experience with it at Luomo with Hong Kong P. The stuff is great; especially when you know what you're in for. You can go syrupy and raisiny, or you can go dry and almost get to the point of port with less spices. I love it. Going to have to explore more in this territory.

And that ended our meal. We ended up spending about three and a half hours there in total, including the waiting time. I guess that's about right though, when you have good conversation and great food. I would definitely come back here again from the food quality alone, but anyone I brought would need to be aware of waiting in line. Should you come later in the night there may be no wait (two girls came around 10:30pm and sat down immediately next to us) but about a third of the menu was unavailable. So, I guess it's a give and take.

Thanks Don, for showing me another culinary wonder.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Great Gats!

After leaving the VA Museum of Childhood, Sweets and I continued our first Sunday hanging out. I'm loath to admit that I've never actually hung out with any of my British friends on the weekend before...but that's mostly because I'm never around on the weekends...and they always seem to be having drama of one sort or another. This may hamper me in later times in actually dating a Brit of any kind, but the jury is still out on this particular fact. In any case, the thing had never happened and this was the first time. I was feeling quite special, to be honest. It's like making new friends for the first time at a new school and feeling accepted...finally.

We didn't have any plans following the museum so when Sweets asked me to go see the Great Gatsby with her and her roommate at an independent theater they both have a membership to I gladly agreed. Plus I really did miss the cinema - something I used to regularly visit when in San Diego. I'm hardpressed to remember a time where I didn't go to the cinema at least once a month for some movie or another. But then again I guess I had coupons back then and was a little more obsessive about what was gracing the silver screen. Not so much nowadays - always away, always traveling...always...well, working or busy or something. I do miss it sometimes.

I hadn't read anything about the Great Gatsby but I had heard through various ways of hearsay that it was visually stunning, stylized, and had lots of famous actors in it. I'd read the book back in middle school (or thereabouts) and....yeah, that was all I had to go on. Sounded good enough of a reason to go to me. Plus more bonding time with my British ladyfriend Sweets. Awesome.

Apparently part of the lovely part of independent theaters (which are rare, as big box office theaters are the thing nowadays, as they are in the States) is that they have fantastic food attached with them, as well as pubs. So as we waited for Sweets' roommate to arrive (from drama with her boyfriend, no less...see my impression that the British are always dealing with drama?), we got food and drinks. For me? A chai latte, for Sweets, soda water with limes. And to eat? A wooden board filled with cured meats, bean salad, tomato breads, and green leaf salads. Om nom nom. Nom nom.

And then for the movie. The Great Gatsby, 3D.

Unfortunately we purchased our tickets a bit late, so we were sitting in the middle of the front row. 3D.

I'm someone who's going slightly nearsighted as time goes on (damn you myopia with astigmatisms!), so this was like the weirdest of several worlds, colliding into catastrophe. But luckily after 20 minutes I figured out how to recline my seat, so it wasn't the end of the world.

3D up close is really surreal. Add to that Baz Luhrman's penchant for glitter and you've got yourself one crazy mix of "I felt like I was really there...in a sparkling dream...and it was confusing...and awesome."

Needless to say I enjoyed the movie. I think a lot of people will find it distasteful in some way, as it does have remixed modern music and kind of bastardizes the time period (which is quite specific and stylized), but overall I thoroughly felt great about it.

It also made me think that I should really live my life a bit differently. Stretch my legs and breathe a little easier. It's so easy to get caught up in the small things. British drama? Not interesting to me. Why don't we all just relax and enjoy what we have? Know what's really important instead of fussing over the politics and the pride?

And that was my first British cinema experience. Definitely going to have to redo it in order to get a better impression, but this was a good start. Fully immersed, 3D, glittery, and very memorable.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Revisting my childhood

So, twas the weekend of my birthday, what was I going to do?

Well, it being one of the few weekends I was actually in London, the grand plan was...

...actually it wasn't much.

I worked on my actual birthday, having failed to secure anything interesting to do instead, and then Specs, Sweets, and Spaz and I went out to a bar in the middle of London and continued to be there until...well, we weren't. Needless to say it was conversations and drinks. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary for our Friday nights.

Saturday I breezed through with some new episodes of Game of Thrones and finished the first season of Boardwalk Empire (a la my intern, who I'll call The Intern). Oddly I feel asleep really late and woke up late on Sunday, where I actually had plans.

Sunday I was meeting Sweets at the VA Museum of Childhood, where we planned to check out an exhibit I had read about "groupings of everyday objects that build up over time at home without a particular direction or objective: souvenirs and relics of childhood and everyday life." It was called "A Treasured Collection." Basically - instead of a curated collection of beautiful objects, what did normal people curate in their homes?

In this case of course, it was a focus on these collections over the ages, and mostly in England, but also from other countries and in this case, other centuries, which was interesting.

In all honesty the collection was a bit different than what we both had imagined, but that didn't make it less enjoyable. And awkwardly, we definitely got a slap in the face with having to face, in a museum, how old we were. Some of our most cherished childhood toys were definitely prominently on display in this museum of "historical artifacts." Oof. That's kinda rough after just turning a year older of Not Old.

What were these miraculously "aged" toys you ask? Things like Gumby, SpirographSylvanian Families, and hilariously, the toy that everyone sees in every hospital, apparently around the Western world: this. There is no official name for it, and there are many variations for it, but all I had to do was google "hospital waiting room children's toy" and boom, there it was, page one of google image search.

What this museum was particularly good at curating, apparently, along with these collections of children's toys, were dollhouses from the ages and their particular meanings given the time period and country they were from. There were masses of these, all with different levels of detail. It was fascinating. I, being a girly girl (though surprisingly this sprouted into a slight Tomboyism by my late elementary school years), definitely had my share of fabulous dollhouses. So I sympathize. There were some incredible ones here on display.

One of the more touchingly intellectual displays was perhaps a section where they studied a few different families around England that spanned three generations, and how their toys differed through the ages. These were all cross-cultural families as England is a decidedly diverse country, and each had little blurbs from each of the family members (all women except for possibly one male). Many of the views were quite hilarious. One of the girls from one family is quoted as saying, "I wouldn't change almost anything about my family...except that maybe I get an allowance." Precious museum-quality stuff.

One thing we had definitely not taken into account was the fact that it was a Sunday at a museum with the word "childhood" in its name. This, if you really think about it, means loads of people...with small children. Loud children. Disruptive children. Sooo....as you can imagine my tolerance for being around children didn't last that long. And neither did we, after scanning through about 2/3 of the exhibit. We left after maybe an hour and a half. Still saw everything we were interested in, but yeah, that was enough with the screams of children in the background the entire time.

And so we left the VA Museum of Childhood and the relics of ages gone. It was nice to revisit...but hell, I'm an adult now. ;)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Another year young

As it is my birthday today, I feel the need to write (I know this will post about a month from now, but bear with me).

Since the last birthday, a lot has happened. I feel the need to reflect on all that has happened in that year and ponder on what could potentially happen a year from now and what I might be thinking on my next birthday. Call it sentimentality or something else, whatever it is, I'm going to go with it this one time, as I so seldom do nowadays (maybe it's just because I'm busy...or have had it ingrained in me that emotions are signs of weakness...whatever).

Last year on this date, I was lying in bed, sleeping in with my sister. We had just spent the night before partying out late with some of my newly made Helsinki friends and oddly, my real birthday was a national holiday. Something called Ascension Day. I'm guessing this is related to Jesus and his going back up to heaven. Anyway we spent the day relaxing, ate delicious nachos in bed and eventually met Canadian M for wine at a jazz club later that night after having the most awesome meal of baby reindeer heart I have ever had. Relaxing, slow-paced, and all around, really nice.

In the year between I made incredible friends with German K and Hong Kong P, traveled to more places than I can probably remember unless I really tried, fell for someone and had my heart broken...twice, decided to move on, literally, to another country (England), and am now living here in London. A lot has happened inbetween. I regret none of it. It has been the experience of a lifetime, crammed into a single year. I've learned more about myself than I ever thought possible. I've also ignored more about myself than I ever thought possible. I've pushed myself to physical limits I never thought could be broken. I've also worked harder, longer, and deeper than I ever planned or should have ever let myself. I've also never felt more appreciated for what I've done.

I said to Marc when I saw him last, that I had a feeling this year would be for the lessons. Last year was fun and adventure, this year was going to be about the lessons. The hard lessons. I have a feeling that that might not be 100% true. I think I will learn lessons, as I am constantly, but there might also be some fun in there too. I've already learned a lot about myself this past year, and I can't imagine closing myself enough to stop learning now that the learning has started.

So, here's the one thing that I'm promising myself for the next year to come: I'm going to be more open. One thing that I noticed with absolute certainty about myself during this past year is that I became hard. I became closed. Call it a side effect of the toughness of my job or a weird reaction to the necessary competitive professionalism my position required but I didn't like what I was becoming. So, I'm going to do what I can to reverse that. The process has already begun. Not everything is meant to be on the inside. Showing emotions isn't weak...it's human.

So that's my goal for my new year. To be open and less afraid. Who knows what this year is going to hold, I certainly didn't foresee half of the things I ended up doing last year. And since my mantra for 2013 is "Be true to yourself and the rest will follow," it only seems a natural one to add "Be more open."

So, happy birthday, tSH. All is going to be fantastic.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reuniting with the past

It is unusual that I'll blog about my times back in the States because this is where I'm from and usually I'll just go on hiatus instead of continue writing, but in this case I thought it was necessary to write. After all this is a trip still (a business trip, of all things) and it isn't my home anymore...well, sort of.

I've realized after living in three different places other than my place of birth (San Jose is where I'm from, I spent a good chunk of my life in San Diego, then I moved to Helsinki and now live in London), that I have started to feel that I have multiple homes, rather than just a single home. I feel strong connections to the places I've lived and in turn, don't feel like I'm really "at home" in any one particular place. This, to put it simply, is a very confusing feeling. I won't go into great detail about it, since this wasn't the point of this post, but my feelings about it are very well summarized in this article.

Coming back to California this time was a bit different than previous trips I'd had. It was a business trip, yes, as many of my trips back had been (about half actually, since I moved out of the country), but instead of staying with my parents the whole time I would be staying with my sister during the work week, and this allowed me to see lots of other people I hadn't seen in awhile.

Who did I see, you ask?

Lovely married friends from San Diego who cooked me an amazingly delicious dinner of raclette and homemade (gorgeous) lemon meringue pie. I couldn't tear myself away from these people; it was like no time had passed at all and yet we hadn't seen each other in over a year.

The amazing American couple, J and M who I met in Helsinki and who had also departed Finland for greener pastures. They landed in California though, and were making their amazing career paths there. I had lunches with them separately due to their busy work schedules but it was great seeing both of them outside of the Finnish context. We had fun reminiscing and catching up about various friends we had kept in touch with as well as finding out what the other had been up to in the six months since we had seen each other.

JBL, who is always good at treating me to wonderful food and great conversation. We drove up a particularly windy mountain road to a little known cafe at the top to see gorgeous views. He knows I love to drive and hates having people in my car during technically difficult drives so...well, he continually pushes me to my limits. It was a good time.

Longtime study abroad travel buddy who I'd most recently seen during the Christmas season. Hilariously we went out and saw the last Twilight movie before gorging ourselves at The Cheesecake Factory last time we saw each other. Ah, fond memories. She's also the only friend I have who is married and has a baby. We were getting together to now gorge ourselves on Sweet Tomatoes (an awesome salad buffet that has the most cracky broccoli, raisin, cashew slaw this world has ever seen...I've literally made myself sick on it...multiple times). In a way I didn't foresee I made peace with her kid (I just have no affinity for children in life...never have and though I feel this will change in time it hasn't yet); when she left to get more salad he and I had a bonding moment that changed the way I thought about him.

And unexpectedly, a highschool acquaintance who got in touch with me to pick my brain about Scandinavia. Turns out his family is going to take a family vacation there during the summer and after seeing all of my pictures and check-ins on Facebook I guess he got the idea that I travel a lot (hm, I guess that impression could be gotten). So we got together for a quick coffee and I offloaded what knowledge I had. Weird seeing a highschool classmate after almost 10 years. We were basically the same people, just with jobs. Really, he looked basically the same. It was surprisingly good to talk with someone I barely knew a decade ago. We had a shocking amount of common views.

Needless to say it was busy seeing everyone, plus my sister, parents, grandparents and an aunt and uncle. This all inbetween full-time work and other work-related activities. I will admit, sometimes I do wonder how I schedule my life in my life.

And after seeing all of these people from various parts of my past, what did I feel? A cacophony of things, actually. Mostly, that it all felt surreal, seeing all of these people from different times in my life, but all in the same place at the same time. But also...people are all so different, but so very much the same. Everyone has something to complain about, something to be negative about. But it was so beautiful seeing people who really lit up the room with their smiles, their positive things to say. It was these moments, these people, that I really picked up something wonderful from. So I am going to try to incorporate this more into my life - the positive energy. People really pick up on it. It's so easy to be negative, to criticize, to complain about something. But why not just enjoy the great things that are going on in your life instead? There is so much to be thankful for.

The other thing that I really noticed, since I had three separate chances to go running around my childhood neighborhood and clear my head (as well as some of the enormous amounts of good food I was consuming on an almost constant basis) - I grew up in a really beautiful area. Lush and green, it's gorgeous. There really is no other place like it. I've seen enough places to know I'm from somewhere special. I feel that in the next 10 years I'll move back to California. I know that sounds vague, but really, it isn't. It's taken me 10 years to leave the States, it may take me 10 years to get back. Who knows what the future holds. Anything can happen, and that's okay. I'm no longer judging myself for the decisions I've made.

So, I left California enlightened. I hope to go back sometime before the holiday season but it'll depend on my project schedule more than anything. I guess we'll see. In the meantime, this is The Spreckled Hen, signing off.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Becoming a Londoner

So true to form, practice what you preach and all of that moral yadda yadda.

The Friday before I was supposed to leave for the States for a business trip, as kind of happens, I was at a pub after work with Specs and Sweets and their intern who I'll call Spaz. Spaz is a wonderful guy but he's a bit of a kook. I mean this in the nicest of ways.

Anyway, we were happily drinking and having a good time, it having been one of the nicer sunny days (we were really starting to believe that winter was over and spring had arrived, contrary to everything that we'd been seeing for the past several weeks) and discussion was steadily flowing.

I had my backpack with me, as well as my purse (separate, as I usually carry them), because it was after work and I was to be traveling early the next morning. My backpack had my work laptop, paper notebook, as well as my gym essentials (as it does double duty in this capacity).

I looked to my left to stare at the guy who was sitting there. Nothing remarkable - mid to late 30's male, darker skin, dark hair, wearing a long sleeve black jacket. We made eye contact and nothing interesting was exchanged. I looked away from him. My backpack was on the ground and I was sitting on my purse.

Within a minute or so of that, I look down on the floor and my backpack is gone. So is the man sitting next to me. I jump up from my chair and exclaim that my backpack is gone. Quick thinking is Sweets' specialty and we were immediately outside looking for the guy, since I knew what he looked like. Sweets knew what my backpack looked like so we separated ways to try to hunt him down.

15 minutes later and nothing. There are unfortunately a lot of exit routes from this particular pub, which is located near Paddington. So all was gone, just like that.

We walk back to the pub and Sweets dials the police for me and tells me to report it as she goes in to talk to the barmen about what happened. I make my police report and am as thorough as possible.

I walk into the pub and am immediately apologized to by the barman of the night. They have CCTV cameras inside the pub as well as everywhere outside so it's likely it was caught all on film but the idea of actually getting this guy and bringing him in seems slim. I still file the report and have given the police everything I can. It's likely the pub will be contacted by them and the film collected for evidence.

The barman offers Sweets and I a free shot, compliments of the house for our troubles. We get premium repasado tequila which is very awesomely accompanied by a slice of orange and cinnamon (the barman and I congratulate each other on knowing this much better variation, rather than the commonly known lime and salt combination). We go back to our seats where Spaz and Specs still sit and explain what happened.

I text my boss and arrangements are made to immediately brick my machine though it's almost not necessary as it is encrypted and double password protected. I'm careful about my machine and my work is appropriately backed up on a cloud in order to be as hampered as little as possible in situations like this. Similar to my phone behavior, switching from machine to machine is not a big deal for me. I like being mobile. Adaptable. Still, the inconvenience of this situation strikes me hard and makes me angry. I can't help but scowl into the night and hold my anger inside, not wanting to show my friends how much it pisses me off, though of course they can tell how much it upsets me.

My boss is sympathetic and doesn't blame me for the situation. Immediately it's arranged that I will get a new machine and in the meantime a loaner will be available when I land. The glory of having an amazing manager. I will never take this for granted.

So the night continues and conversation resumes. For awhile I forget as much as possible what has happened. Laptops are replaceable. No one was hurt.

As we are parting for the night and I am waiting for my late night train I check my voicemail messages. I hear an unfamiliar voice and it tells me a man and a wife found my bag in a pile of rubbish outside a hotel near Paddington. They found my number inside the bag (I always write my contact details inside my notebooks) and they wanted to find me and return it to me. I immediately call them back and find them about 15 minutes later.

Everything is inside except the laptop, which is not too surprising. I feel better getting back my sentimental items - the backpack I've had and taken care of since elementary school that has been with me around the world, the keychains my cousin bought for me in Japan, my favorite pair of running shoes, my expensive face lotions that are difficult to get abroad.

The thief didn't know what he could have stolen. He took the one thing he thought would be worth the most - a laptop that he won't be able to sell unless he completely reimages it. Encrypted and double password protected at least. A machine we bricked as soon as we knew it was missing, which was within an hour of the situation (and only that long because I was filing a police report and talking to the bar staff, otherwise it would have been sooner). I didn't even have the charger with it because I have one at home and one at the office (so I don't have to carry anything extra). Even if the charger was with it, it would have been a US charger instead of one from the UK. That's just how I roll.

And so I already have my loaner and my new laptop will be ready in less than 2 days. My work continues just as it would have normally, because he didn't think it worth it to steal my notebook, which oddly I just started earlier that week (so it had almost no work in it, but the work inside it was precious still, nonetheless).

Specs tried to cheer me up and say this is just a right of passage in becoming a Londoner. Maybe so.

If that's the truth, then I'm definitely on my way.

Don, you have no idea who you're dealing with. If you think this is going to phase me, just wait for what I have in store for you. This town hasn't seen anything from me yet.

[Update since this post was originally written:

The police have finished their investigation and found nothing of use on any of the CCTV footage. Apparently the guy knew that there were cameras and avoided all of the angles that would have shown him stealing the bag. Since there is no actual video footage of him taking the bag, the police can't do anything about it. So for now the case is being closed with no conclusions.

However, since they have all of the identifying information about my laptop (serial number, model number, etc), should they find it later, it will be returned to me and the person prosecuted. Likewise if someone matching my crime is caught later via a different crime, my case may be added onto theirs.

Disappointing but not surprising. Still glad I filed the report.]

Monday, June 10, 2013

My first couch hosting experience

So I guess it was only natural that after couchsurfing so much I was bound to couch host at some point in time. I'm not the type who feels comfortable with just taking from a system without giving back. Or at least that was the way I was taught, I do think it's the right thing to do, despite the couchsurfing community having no issue with people not being able to give back to the system. Some literally don't have the ability to give back because their couches are not theirs to give. Some argue there are other ways to give back to the community as well - like being tour guides to people who are visiting the city, or being really active in the general community. Whatever though, it's not expected. But I felt it was the right thing to do. I have a couch and my accommodations are pretty easy for this kind of thing. Why not?

Admittedly I was nervous though. I live alone because I enjoy the privacy of my own quarters and I haven't had roommates since I graduated from university. Plus I didn't know what to do about the whole keys situation and my very odd and strict schedule (I tend to work long hours and have taken to waking up at 5:30am to work out before I go to work rather than work out after...this is detailed specifically on my profile so people are not caught unawares).

Anyway, to assuage my fears I went to a West London gathering for couchsurfers a few weeks back. The organizer was an experienced couchsurfer and host and I asked him all of my questions. He had great answers for me and put my fears to rest. Schedules? Not a problem, just be clear about it on your profile so people know what to expect. Keys? Not a big deal, no one expects them and that's your choice.

Basically the rule is: be clear on your profile what should be expected. It's an agreement between host and surfer and they're a guest in your house. That's it.

I'd been a surfer enough times to know it was an individual choice as well. And you feel the person out. I trust my instincts on reading people as well, so I could scan my surfer's profiles and I'd be communicating with them constantly before they stayed...so, I felt reassured.

The first people I was to host? Two Swiss sisters who were passing through for one night on a whirlwind tour of London.

Turns out that they're 10 years apart in age and live in different cities now. The older sister, Hedy, studies in university and because of that, doesn't get to spend much time with her sister. So, she decided to plan a trip to London so they could spend more time together. Despite being in London a total of two nights, since their flight was so early in the morning they decided to crash at the airport the night before their flight. So, only at my place for one night.

I'm glad this was my first hosting experience because I'd stupidly accepted a much more hardcore hosting job for the time after - a married couple from Brazil and Mexico for four nights. I'm sure they'll be fine as well because they're on a world tour and I'm but one of those stops, but well, I only knew I'd be fine after hosting these two sisters. Anyway...

It was great to meet these two sisters. Hedy is studying dance and French at her university and enjoys her life. Both her and her sister have longterm boyfriends who they communicate with frequently. They asked about my life and job and I started to realize how insane my life must sound to other people - traveling all the time and moving to all these different countries.

End of the story - although it was easy to host them, I still feel like hosting is probably not the thing for me. I felt bad having to make them leave so early and then it made me feel angry that I felt bad at the same time. I wanted to leave at 6:30am but since they came in so late (9:30pm or so) it felt terrible kicking them out so early, so I compromised and we left at 7:15am.

I'm sure this was made harder by the fact that the younger sister didn't really speak English, so conversation was mostly between me and Hedy, who is 24. Perhaps this will be easier with the married couple.

I also realized that I was exhausted from all the traveling I had been doing recently and it was probably not the best timing in the world for me to be hosting.

So, in the end, after they left, I went to the gym, went to work...and took my couch off of the search list. I will still host the married couple that I've promised a few weeks from now, but after that, that's it until I feel I have the time and energy to do so. It's only fair to the surfers and myself.

I think this is a great system and everyone should be encouraged to do it if they're interested. But for my life, especially as a very active WT at the moment, it just ended up being too much.

Maybe for the future. :)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Disastrous return from France

And so it was time to return to London.

First off though, my return from Paris was rather more of a ruckus than I ever intended it to be. My taxi arrived thirty minutes late and I thought I would miss my flight. I arrived on time but in attempting to check into my flight from the cab on the way there I suspected something was going wrong. I wasn't able to get my boarding pass.

When I finally arrived at the airport and attempted to print my pass there, again, I was met with errors. When assisted by Air France hostesses and attendants I was finally told the reason why: I was put on standby for my flight.

Despite buying the ticket in advance, even arriving at the airport an hour and a half early, I was put on standby. I haven't been more furious in a long time.

The staff were all incredibly friendly during this entire transaction, so I get the impression this happens a lot (they clearly oversold the flight). The woman who told me I was put on standby said politely that next time it would probably be a good idea if I checked in as soon as possible (which is 30 hours ahead of time).

I did the math. 30 hours before my flight I was asleep because that would have put me squarely at 4am. 24 hours before my flight I was listening to the keynote speaker at CHI. I suppose I could have ripped myself away from networking, meeting with colleagues, or talking with lecturers during the conference in order to remember enough to check into my flight, but sorry...as a business person these aren't the sorts of things that always cross my mind. This actually made me slightly more mad about the situation rather than resolving it. I didn't let her know my train of thought though.

What I did get, in compensation for this "inconvenience" made me even more uncomfortable though.

After being told that I was put on standby, and then a little later, that I was indeed getting bumped to the next flight (which was a rather awful 3 hours later, though thank goodness it wasn't a day later or sometime even later than that), I was also given a few more things:

  • a voucher good for a complete meal for anywhere in the airport (this included an appetizer or dessert, entree, and drink (nonalcoholic)) of my choice
  • a choice between 350euros credit for Air France that I could use towards any flight or 250euros in cash
I decided to go with the cash of course, since I didn't want to have anything to do with an airline that would screw me over once again. Why would I continue supporting that?

But I couldn't help thinking that I was being bought off to keep my silence. And as it was, I wasn't keeping silent. I definitely broadcast my situation to the interwebs (as I'm doing now as well).

And...and this is the real kicker...the 250euros is almost double what I actually paid for the roundtrip of flights. It's awkwardly more.

Why would an airline company do this? What's the point? Why inconvenience your customers, make them angry, and know that you will do this? Isn't this a losing proposition? Certainly they've lost my future business - unless I have absolutely no other choice I will never fly with them again.

So I collected my euros and ate my free meal and waited the three hours at my gate.

...unfortunately this is not where the misfortune ended.

As I said I sat there for a solid 2+ hours. In this time I was constantly checking my phone for any work-related emails (since that's what I would have been doing had I actually caught my real flight back - doing work from home, where I had foolishly left my laptop thinking I would be back on time) and reading my book inbetween emails.

About 15 minutes before we were to board I decided to take a restroom break and to buy myself a small snack. After returning I noticed there was absolutely no one at my gate. Like no one. Not even an attendant at the desk. What the deuce?

There was a small crowd of people crowded at the desk staring at something so I went and took a look.

In very small font across the electronic board, behind the desk, it said that our gate for the flight had been moved.

No verbal announcements had been made, no attendants had bothered telling us who were sitting at the gate that this had happened. It just did. And we were expected to have noticed that it happened. Motherducker.

And the new gate? All the way across the terminal on the other side. I guess I should have just been thankful it was still in the same terminal at all. Could have been on the other side of the airport. Or in a different airport, for all this airline was worth.

So we all ran like a little group of quailings to the new gate. And saw everyone lined up for boarding in the most convoluted and loopy fashion I've ever seen. It was ridiculous.

And we were still half an hour late to start boarding. Who are these people? Who designed this system? That person should not only be fired but burned at the stake. Potentially lynched first (I joke, of course).

Since we were standing so long waiting for something to happen I naturally got into conversations with the people around me, all of us venting our frustration. Turns out I had it fairly easy in comparison to some of the others. The guy behind me was returning home to Norwich from Hong Kong and he'd been delayed a total of 19 hours overall across his journey because of this airline. Through various delays, being put on standby, just other stuff he was basically supposed to have landed and been home the day before and just...well, wasn't. He never made it. And through no fault of his own.

Pretty sure we all had the same thoughts about this airline by the end.

We did eventually land in London. 45 minutes delayed. I really don't know how this airline survives.

I got home 5+ hours later than I originally planned. My day was wasted (well, I suppose I got some email done by phone and read through 2/3 of my book...so...something was done, as life always goes on), but this was certainly not the way I expected.

Air France I will never fly with you again. This doesn't even begin to describe ridiculous. It was unbelieveable. I'm not even mad anymore just amazed at the disorganization. The funny thing is, the staff is some of the friendliest I've ever met. All great people, horribly disorganized company.

And that was that.

Funny side story: after telling my boss about this entire fiasco the only thing she said to me: I wish someone would give me an opportunity to do absolutely nothing for three hours. It sounds like heaven.

Fair enough. That's one way of looking at it. Trying to see the other perspective. Still never flying with Air France ever again if I can avoid it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Couchsurfing experience #5: Dimitri

Dimitri is an amazing host. The exact kind of host you'd want to have as your first solo couchsurfing experience, actually.

His situation is actually surprisingly similar to mine. He moved to Paris for work. What he saw was a great opportunity for career advancement and to escape the inevitability of the downfall of his home country's economy (he being from lovely Greece). He works for H&M Corporate and loves what he does. He's friendly and easy going and advances in work steadily.

This is perhaps where our similarities end. He's a gay man, owns a hilariously overactive Boston terrier named Shorty, and had to leave behind his longterm boyfriend in Greece. This has caused a lot of tension between them, as you can imagine that would for any relationship, though they have continued seeing each other about once a month since he moved about two months ago (right around the same time I moved, strangely enough).

He works a lot and is loath to leave Shorty in his apartment during the day but there is no other way. Because of this, he has installed a doggy cam so he can check up on him from his phone during the day. I think this is hilarious.

He loves to cook and living in Paris has caused him to (like my theory of my living in Paris) become more unhealthy than he was previously. He figures this will come to a climax at some point in his life and he'll go back to exercising. Until then though, he'll continue enjoying as much French wine and cheese and food as he likes. Groceries aren't so expensive there so he cooks multiple times a week and that's all good.

He has a gorgeous and very spacious apartment. When I stayed there I stayed in his spare bedroom, which is behind its own closed door section of the apartment. It also has its own complete bathroom. It also has motorized window shades. Which completely black out the room. The first night I shut them completely. When I woke up I just assumed it was still early in the morning. Hence why I slept until 11am. It was ridiculous.

The entire apartment was newly built and is located in a posh suburb right outside the main circle of the city, similar to how I'm situated outside the main zone of London. It takes him about 20 minutes to get to work via metro. He lives a 10 minute walk from the nearest (and only) metro station in his area.

Life is good for him, despite boyfriend troubles. He loves his new city but worries that his company will move him in another year to live in China. He doesn't look forward to this though thinks his boyfriend would join him there because he loves Asian culture so much.

And that's Dimitri, in a nutshell. He was a wonderful host - a style of roommate that I would wish to have, should I ever want to live with people again (highly unlikely).

I imagine we'll stay friends even beyond the normal host-couchsurfer relationship. Because of him I am no longer afraid of couchsurfing by myself. I know not all of the future people I stay with will be like him but I wish they would be. I also know that when I start hosting I will never be like him, depsite wanting to be.

He showed me a side of Paris that I'm glad I got to see. No longer are my thoughts of Paris tainted with images of dirty streets and snobby French people, instead they've been replaced with beauty sights, good laughs, beautiful objects and wonderfully homey and filling food.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My CHInd of conference

Terrible pun, I know, I know. But I had to do something since I failed to think of one earlier.

After saying farewell to my most wonderful host I checked into my hotel (awesomely just a 10 minute walk from Le Palais des Congrès, where the conference was being held), which was a gorgeous little boutique hotel and walked there.

I made it just in time for the keynote speaker. This year it was Paola Antonelli, senior curator for the Architecture & Design exhibits for MOMA in New York. At first I wasn't sure where her speech was going, but as it progressed, her examples more and more rapid fire and becoming more relevant, I saw her point: design has many faces but it never forgets functionality and a certain elegance.


It was actually a really good speech, though it took some warming up to. Great way to start off the conference though, and after picking up my conswag (Conference Stuff We All Get) I planned my schedule of attack and was off to a running start.

True to form the first two of three sessions I attended were about evaluation methods and what research and advancements people were doing in them. Heh, a little too devoted to my work it seems. Of course I was very curious to see what other discoveries and advancements were happening in the rest of the realms (flexible displays, health, social media, crowdsourcing, multitouch, gesture, gaze, and of course brain-related work) but I don't know...maybe it was my sudden interest in wanting to go back to grad school or something...but I wanted to know the WHY and HOW. So, this naturally goes to analysis, rather than the WHAT. In my mind the WHAT comes and goes and will always be constantly evolving as we advance technology and continue to move further, but the why and how...this is how we move.

Anyway, it was an interesting day with those two sessions. Inbetween breaks (which they very nicely planned into the lecture schedule, regularly and for long periods of time) I met up with two colleagues I knew would be attending and we scoped around the booths that were on display.

Unfortunately my company has taken many hits and was not well-represented at the conference, despite being one of the key sponsors this year, along with Facebook and Yahoo. But well, times are hard and I take this to mean we're just spending all of our resouces internally on fixing the problems.

So I scanned the other booths for what other companies were expending their efforts on. The answer: quite a bit. The most memorable booth was a company from (giggle) Helsinki called MultiTouch. They had developed a gorgeous interactive display called MultiTaction that combined a multitouch screen and music creation. By placing blocks with different symbols on the display, it would create different patterns of sound and rhythm. It was fascinating. Also manipulating the display for the purposes of displaying and editing images was beautiful. Something to really look at.

The other booth that garnered a lot of attention (this is for personal reasons) was naturally the Google booth. They had a competition going on for who could type the fastest on their newest flagship device, the Nexus4 (by LG). Given a time limit, how many of the words could you type, and if you were in the top typers, you would win a Nexus4. Winners would be announced a few days later.

The funny thing about this? I ended up being a winner! Whoo for me being obsessed with fast typing. What can I say? This is the second smartphone I've won. :) I have my issues with a few things on this device, but it sure is nice to get it for free. I'm not going to lie about that (call it a perk of the job but I really do love having my hands on the newest devices all the time).

Anyway, the last session of the day I attended a panel regarding women and diversity in the field of HCI (human-computer interaction). The gist of it was this: the numbers of "us" are dropping. Why? And what can we do about it? There were some inspiring women on the panel, no doubt, but in general I found this panel a little bit disappointing. There needs to be more "do" and more awareness. I plan to teach my children (be they boys or girls) the importance of education, just as my parents did for me. I plan to give them as many opportunities as possible. I know not everyone is as fortunate as me and will not be as fortunate as I plan to make my children, but I will do everything in my power to make sure that the future generations will have the opportunities to advance as high as they can. And are given the knowledge to know that they can and should. Knowledge really is power. Let's get it out there.

Hilariously I also reconnected with one of my professors from undergraduate. Turns out he was giving a lecture about a paper he'd been writing when I was still being taught by him. Great to see how things progress, and even more awesome to reconnect with people you haven't seen in awhile. Ah, how the world turns.

And thus ended my glorious time at CHI. This whole conference thing, I really dig it. Going to try to attend more. And when I get to grad school? Get into this circuit. I can see some real potential.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I love me some flea marketage

What did we do the second day that could top the first you ask? Actually Dimitri had just the thing.

Our original plan had involved going to Paris' Chinatown to find a Chinese grocery store he was interested in checking out. I said I was interested in going with him in my ongoing quest to find cheap Chinese sausage (turns out London's supply is significantly more expensive than Helsinki's...who would have thought). We ended up nixing this idea after finding out that Chinatown is crazytown on the weekends due to all the tourists and whatnot, so instead arrangements were made to visit a flea market with some of his friends - a Swedish girl he used to work with and her French boyfriend (they all met in Greece, when he was still living there). Now they all live in Paris. Oh the lives of expats. They are so grand.

After eating some more croissants and pan de chocolate (this would definitely become a thing for me if I lived in Paris) and some deliciously sweet orange juice, they picked us up in an electric car. Turns out there's a city-wide program that allows you to rent electric cars at a cheap price. It's a great little system though - there are designated charging area parking spaces for this type of car that you can reserve and you don't need to stick with the same car your entire reservation (you can reserve for days, or just a few hours, depending on what you need the car for). So you drive and park somewhere, plug in the car and lock it, and when you need a car again you locate one that's parked and charging on the app and boom! You can take that one and go. It's incredible. All these little convenient electric cars, just zipping around town. What an exchange system. Fantastic idea.

Anyway, we hopped in this little electric car (it was a little four-seater hatchback) and drove to the flea market, a bit outside of town. It was called Marché de Clignancourt. Basically it's an absolutely gigantic flea market that has maybe 30 different sections covering blocks and blocks, and it happens every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Each section has a different theme. The friends (Swedish Sofia and French Laurent) had already explored 5 or so of these sections. We were going to their favorites - the antiques and furniture. This was going to be awesome for me.

And it was, it really was.








We spent hours just looking at beautiful things.

The thing that captivated me the most, surprisingly, were the collections of old photographs. Tons of vendors just had boxes and boxes of old photographs. Many of them had been stamped on the back so they could be sent as postcards (this was a big thing back in the day apparently, to turn your photographs into postcards to send to people), but most of them were blank (as in hadn't been used or sent by the people who had made them).

So many questions kept popping through my head as I looked through these old black and white photographs. Who were these people? Did they have good lives? If they were children or babies, did they grow up to be beautiful? Did they marry good people? Was this a particularly good moment that was being captured?

I couldn't imagine that photography was particularly cheap back in the day, in the way that it is now. I've been doing a lot of imaging studies at work lately and one of the main comments that's come up repeatedly is that due to digital photography technology our photos have become disposable. We take photos like they're nothing. And unless they happen to be taken during important events or for significant reasons, they're not worth anything. We don't care if they are actually backed up. Very few people I know actually take the time and effort to secure a backup system, to organize their photos, to make sure that they are properly taken care of.

But these people did. It used to be effort to take photos. To go through the chemical process of developing film. It used to be a beautiful process. You had to think about whether or not that moment was worth capturing. Now photos (especially those on cameraphones) are used for documentation or recording, reminders, or studying. These are all worthy reasons but it was interesting to think about.

So I got lost in these photos for hours. Everytime Dimitri caught me looking at them he would say, "Ooh, there she goes again, thinking her deep questions." Apparently not everyone thinks these questions when they look at old photographs. He said his only thought was whether or not the picture was good. Haha, good ole Dimitri.

I ended up buying one, just one. It's been sent to my BFF in San Diego.

I found I just couldn't get myself to buy any others. They were interesting to look at and ponder but the thought of owning them seemed wrong somehow. Like they would lose their significance as soon as I owned them and tried to organize them. I wouldn't be able to find out any of the answers to my questions so it seemed strangely pointless. They were more interesting in their anonymity.

Anyway, enough about that. :) The rest of the market was gorgeous antique furniture, jewelry, clothing. Lots and lots of vintage designer purses and clothing, shoes.

One of my favorite parts of the market was this fabulous wooden brick road. I don't know who designed it and implemented it but it was beautiful the way it had worn down. Smooth to a shiny glean over the years of people repeatedly walking over it. And in great condition. Wonderful.

We spent hours there before calling it a day. In the middle of the day we had lunch at a small cafe. I ordered entrecôte with bleu cheese sauce and fries. It was glorious:


Bloody bloody steak. Just the way I like it. And the cheese sauce: divine. Like I said before: Paris would definitely make me fat in the unhealthiest of ways. I would never make it out alive. I don't know how the Parisians stay so thin. I mean they're certainly not the thinnest people in the world but they're certainly not obese. Maybe it's a dedication to fashion or something...that's the only thing I can think of. It's the only explanation with all that wine, cheese, and bread. The only explanation. Because I would gorge. No question.

We were exhausted coming back home after the market, but Dimitri still found the energy to make us dinner (a delicious omelette with bell peppers, onions, and corn as well as meat kebabs). We were extremely full though so spent the rest of the night lazing on the couch reading.

And such ended the weekend in Paris. The next day for me was checking into my hotel and attending my first conference in a long time.