Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A balancing act

Sorry that I've been remiss on here. I have definitely been drafting out posts every few weeks, so hopefully I'll get organized and actually post them! Stay tuned! tSH

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Many warned me that doing a masters program while still maintaining my job full time was a mistake. That I would be overwhelmed.

I brushed their remarks aside, thinking rather arrogantly, as most people do, that I would be the exception to the rule. I'd never had problems with studying or time management previously; I finished two bachelor degrees in four years when it takes the average student more like five years to complete one. No, productivity has never been an issue for me and in this instance I figured it wouldn't be as well.

But there were a lot of factors that I didn't take into account:
  • I'm older. As much as I'd like to say that this makes no difference as I am still not married nor do I have children, I have noticed a very slight physical and mental decline. I get tired more easily and actually need sleep, it makes a difference whether or not I've had enough food. Accounting time for brain space and energy is something I've never experienced until now.
  • I have a job. This should be obvious, but to me it actually wasn't. I had no issues with time management when I did my undergrad because I was only doing my undergrad classes. I did have a job for a fair portion of my schooling (a very decent smattering of working for an independent jewelry maker, a stint at Charlotte Russe that resulted in a hilarious class-action suit (which never went through I believe), and several months at Linen N Things (rest in peace), before starting my internship at Digitaria and onto the professional world). But nothing to this magnitude; nothing that would keep me at the office all day and let me come home to find a brain drained and utterly useless for studying.
  • I have emotions. You wouldn't think this would make a difference but it actually does. I feel a considerable amount of things like laziness, disinterest, procrastination. I never really had these before; just an occasional small amount of tiredness, which was usually solved by a quick run. Ah, the beauty and vigor of youth.
There are good weeks and bad weeks and many of them hinge on how well I've slept, how much I've been able to eat (which has been a strategy in it of itself...trying to find enough time to eat anything at all), whether or not I get my weekly yoga session in (now completely nonnegotiable, every Tuesday evening), and how much I've gone out (there is a direct correlation between more social life and less study time, which in turn leads to feeling buried).

I make it sound like it's all bad...it's certainly not. There were many wonderful surprises that I also didn't foresee:
  • Better concentration. Though I am not able to concentrate as long (nor do I have the actual time), the times I have enough brain space and energy are pretty damn productive. I sail through readings and concepts assuming I've had enough rest and food.
  • Drive. Passion is better than time. I have more passion for the subjects I'm studying than I ever did in undergraduate. I want to be here, I'm paying to be here, I'm sacrificing to be here. You're damn right that I'm interested. I look forward to coming home to statistics reading, even if I feel like I'm failing at it. Now if only I had enough brain space every day to actually be productive with it...
  • New friends. I thought I would make some new friends with classmates, but I didn't expect the deluge of friendships I would make and how strongly they would solidify. These are people I've known for less than a month (at the original time of writing), and yet we go out at least once a week if not more, and no one is excluded.
And so it has become a game of strategies instead, of waiting to see how long it takes me to build a routine that productively works and balances my full time work with part time studying. After whining to several different people about feeling overwhelmed, a few pointers have come up:
  • Studying in the morning. If your brain is drained at night from the full day's work or classes that you just experienced, why not study first thing in the morning before your energy is all used up? I have no idea why I never thought about this previously, and it's genius. I've been trying it for the past couple of days with mixed results (I've been under with the flu), but I think this could be the start of something really good.
  • Smarter not harder. Prioritization has become absolutely key. It's hard for me to do well with this; I'm so used to being able to do everything I want and getting everything done. Gone are the days where I can have a full time job, do all the readings and exercises for class, and still maintain a social life in the way I have been for years. Now it's time to understand what is actually important: I can skim the readings for one class to make more time for the class I'm still struggling in. I can cut my social life so I have more time for sleep, studying, or eating. I can work from home and do both work and study. I can use commute times as my zen meditation moments for each day.
  • Perspective. Another one of those hard lessons for me; even though I'm fully vested in my masters program and my work and I still want to be a super star in both...what is important at the end of the day? I am not planning to do a PhD following this (though I seriously considered it, for about a day)...the marks I get are for myself more than anyone else. I'm not competing against my classmates who have all day to study and have a social life. I am doing this for me. Whether or not I ace statistics has very little bearing on whether or not I should be happy in life; I got into this degree for a reason and that was not to be an expert at statistics. Remembering what is important has been key.
And so the first several weeks of my program have begun and my life has been changing. So many things have happened I don't even know how to describe them.

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Though it's been several weeks since I originally wrote this, it all stands true still. I do struggle making things balance and finding enough time for exercise, food, and sleep. I have dedicated weekend studying time now with a partner in the library to make sure things get done.

And now. The adventures continue, I'll be sure to post about some of my more hilarious experiences another time. This is just a taster of my life now.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A lesson in humility

It's been a long time since I wrote on here. A lot has been going on, so hopefully I'll get some time to chronicle that at some point and share it with you all.

In the meantime, the reason I've come out from hibernation is something unusual happened today.

Several years ago before I moved to Helsinki, I was living in San Diego, working for Nokia. I decided that it was time for me to blow all of my vacation at once and finally set out on a solo adventure abroad. It was a time of testing wills. As it happened I was also training for my second half marathon and doing pretty well but was also getting a bit bored. To give you some context for the time.

This solo adventure abroad ended up being New Zealand, after my original plans (and flights, and bookings) for Egypt fell through as they had their civil war. Turned out to be a ridiculously great choice because well, New Zealand is awesome.

I went with a tour called Contiki (internationally known as "the fuck truck," which was unbeknownst to me until I was there amongst the youngsters). It's a group for people ages 18-33 only. I think you can see why it has the nickname.

Anyway, the tour itself was absolutely everything it promised to be and more. It was an adventure of a lifetime and I did more extreme sports than I thought I ever would: blackwater rafting, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, canyon swinging, skydiving...the list is endless. Let's just say I blew a lot of money and made a lot of friends.

One of these friends was a guy named Grant. Tall, Australian, one of the friendliest guys I'd ever met, and one of the sweetest. He was one of the most fun to go out with and a great person to talk to.


At the end of our tour we all exchanged emails and eventually Facebook profiles, vowing to keep in touch with each other as only people who have experienced life-changing adventures do. Grant was one of the people I kept in touch with most at first; he was funny and we had a great time reminiscing. We even had a few Skype calls before things started to fall apart.

Life dealt Grant a pretty severe blow. The week he was back from our trip he was fired from his job managing a bank for something that though technically his fault, was pretty harsh. In summary, he was at a company event (with booze) when his branch called him and said they had found a discrepancy in the cash amounts for that day.  Being a responsible manager, he left the party to go back to work and help them find the money. I never found out if he did or not, but the next day he was called into the corporate offices and told that he was being summarily dismissed for "drinking on the job."

What was he supposed to do in that situation? Ignore his branch and stay at the party? There was no good response to the situation he was put in. It sounds like they were gunning for a reason to fire him, but that's neither here nor there.

Because he was fired, he had to move towns. Things got a bit hard for him and he got depressed. His Facebook posts turned from partying Grant to rather sad rants about life and pictures of his dog and cat. A great many of us tried to cheer him up at first but after this went on for six months and then a year, and beyond...we drifted away.

The sheer self-pity in the posts were enough to hide him from my newsfeed. I stopped wanting to hear it because it wasn't helpful. No matter how much people tried to help him he just kept himself in a hole. I guess that's how depression works.

The last I'd heard from him was two and a half years ago when I was still living in Finland. I responded to his IM but in the end it was the same: he said he was giving up on trying to find a longtime girlfriend and wanted me to join Twitter so I could follow his ramblings. I said I didn't have a Twitter account and we sort of left it at that.

...until today. Today he IMed me for the first time in years.

Admittedly I hesitated responding to him. I remembered everything that had happened previously. I heard from some of my other friends who still kept in touch that he'd had cancer, but that he was getting over it. Otherwise it was a continuation of photos of his dog.

I did respond though, after a few minutes. I figured what could the harm be? He's a guy wanting to catch up. He wasn't the first. Who knows what someone will tell you.

In talking to him I could see how much he'd changed. Calmer, more thoughtful. As we chatted more I read through his profile to see what I'd been missing all these years. Prostate cancer. Bad prostate cancer. Such major surgery that he is now infertile. Massive weight loss.

And yet the sunny positive Grant that had been present in our travels together was returning. It was no longer rambunctious, but still there. He had come to accept the inevitability of his situation and embrace the long and tough journey ahead of him. It was inspiring. I felt like an asshole for having ignored him all these years.

So I thought I'd give him a little bit of fame here on my blog, even if it's a little thing. I wished him well and told him to message me whenever he wanted.

Thanks for the reminder Grant. To life.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Disobedient Objects

Since I have at least one reader that enjoys hearing about my escapades into the cultural scene of London, I figured I would document another I have been to recently that has likewise shaken my world:


Last night Churches and I went to a corporate opening night of the V&A's latest and controversial exhibit: Disobedient Objects. This covers objects designed, appropriated, and created by social movements between the late 1970s and now. It was absolutely fascinating, and extremely powerful. The range of topics was astounding.

There were objects against educational price hikes, the death penalty, undocumented and uninvestigated disappearings of children, sexism in art, disparity between the wealthy and poor, destruction of historical buildings, and more.

They weren't what I had expected them to be. Sure there were normal banners and things that were marched down the streets in nonviolent protest...

...but there were also things like:

A death mask car. This was made in response to an inmate put to death in Texas. The friends and family of the deceased created a mosaic art car with a death mask of the executed man (made within hours of his execution). They rode this around Texas and London to spread the awareness of what the death penalty actually means - how the families of the criminals are affected, how one person's life has been extinguished, not a number or a crime.

[Side note: I did some research on the executed man and he was charged with robbery and murder of a taxi driver. He and a 16-year-old female accomplice had the taxi drive to a remote area in the country, where he shot the taxi driver in the back of the head, then rifled through the driver's pockets and fled. The reason they were caught and identified is the 16-year-old accomplice shot another person accompanying the taxi driver, but this person survived and later identified them.]


Notes hidden in crafts. Chilean women used to create arpillas (stitched blankets) to express opposition to authoritarianism, the violation of human rights, and the disappearance of loved ones during the rule of the military government. These disappearings went undocumented and uninvestigated, so these blankets were sewn with images to represent this, with notes tucked inside for the future owner to find. They knew the blankets would be sold elsewhere and some owners might eventually find their notes, spreading knowledge of what was happening.


Shields made in the shapes of books. When educational costs were being cut in one country, students made battering shields to fight riot control police, choosing a book to defend from the cuts. The images of riot police hitting students with these large books was deep indeed.


Shackled arm tubes. A particular group (one of whom I met at the exhibit as she was taking photos of the video she is in, which is on loop in the exhibit) protested the expansion of British roads into the countryside, which in turn was demolishing historic houses and "uglifying" the landscape. They argued that instead of creating more pollution and destroying what was beautiful and should be preserved, the government should invest heavily in public transit instead. Better for the environment, everyone gets to stay happy (including the 93-year-old woman they were trying to evict from one of the historic houses, who had lived there literally all her life). To move against this, they padlocked their arms inside metal tubes that could not be removed without sawing (or the key). The government in turn starting using the same saws and technology used to remove casts (so it wouldn't cut into flesh accidentally), so protesters got more creative and started shoving other objects in the tubes with them, to confuse the technology. Eventually they did prevail and road expansions were halted.



Though I don't agree with everything that was being fought for or represented, I do acknowledge the powerful messages that were trying to be conveyed and how many of the things we have today were achieved by means just like these. It was fascinating to see and I applaud the V&A taking a controversial subject as this and giving it a spotlight.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Artist is Present...no, really

A few of you may remember when this particular video went viral.

Marina Abramovic had an exhibit called, "The Artist is Present," where visitors were invited to sit across from her for a few minutes. For the majority of these she sat stoically, until she was reunited with another artist she'd worked with 20 years earlier. They were lovers and performers together, finally ending things by walking from opposite sides of the Great Wall of China, meeting in the middle, hugging, then never speaking to each other again (or so the legend goes). This was the first time she'd seen him since that moment. I think the reaction speaks for itself.

Naturally when her name came up on YPlan for her exhibit in London, called "512 Hours," I was intrigued. It's not everyday you can see an internet sensation! Of course she is also known for her rather controversial work including orgasming on stage, letting visitors do what they wanted to her body with a variety of objects laid out (some of them did cut her, while most were more gentle)...but let's make it clear I haven't looked deeply into her previous work for a number of reasons.

Unfortunately I couldn't make it the first few times I intended to - it's a free exhibit at the Serpentine Gallery in the middle of Hyde Park, open six days a week (closed Mondays) from about 10am-6pm. I figured weekends might be busy and lunch times were probably out as well. Because it was free, there was a potential for queuing if others wanted to come at the same time. They employ a one-in-one-out policy to keep from overcrowding the exhibit.

This past weekend I finally made time to go. It was a bright sunny day, hot by all British standards (a solid 25 degrees C I'd say). It was gorgeous. I walked through Hyde Park and read in the queue, getting further towards the end of Alice Hoffman's "Here on Earth" (my then-current pick from the library).

I got in and was told that I would have to leave absolutely everything I'd brought with me (including my watch) in a locker before entering. I was then handed a pair of soundproof headphones and allowed to walk in.

Now the idea behind this exhibit was to force visitors to leave all of their baggage behind (literally and metaphorically). No sense of time, no sound, just interactions with other people visiting and the artist herself.

There were three rooms.

The first you stepped into had a wide wooden cross platform set up in the middle of the room, with wooden folding chairs enclosing it in a square. People were sitting in the chairs, standing against the walls watching, or a few had even taken to standing completely still (most with their eyes closed) on the stage. I watched for a few minutes before deciding to move on.

The next room I went into had two rows of colorful, simple cots. They had a single pillow and sheet on each, and there were people lying in them. Seeing Marina herself helping people into cots, I walked over to one and tucked myself in, unsure of how to react because there were no instructions other than simply being. It was clear she would interact with you if she desired, so I laid down and waited my turn, if it was to be my turn.

It was easy to tune everything out at that point. You're lying in a comfortable clean cot in a blissfully air-conditioned room with soundproof headphones on. I was able to think clearly for the first time in months with all the sounds and noise that London typically brings.

...in other words I completely fell asleep. I took a nap in the middle of a performance art exhibit.

I woke up some time later (naturally no clocks or watches, so I don't know exactly how long I was there), and there was someone standing watching me. It didn't feel weird, but after I opened my eyes I wasn't sure what else I would do other than nap again.

So I got up. An exhibit helper (they were all dressed in black) smiled at me and I smiled timidly back before looking down quickly. It felt weird to interact with others, especially as I had just commandeered that cot for who knows how long. Considering no one had seemed to move around me, it seemed I took one of the shorter amounts of time. I awkwardly made the bed after slipping on my shoes again and made my way to the final room.

I could only peer into it, because so many people were clogging the entrance, but it looked like a room where people were walking very very slowly in straight lines, from one end of the room to the next. After my refreshing nap I almost snorted, but people take art so seriously (especially in London), so I just thought my silly thoughts and decided maybe it was time to leave.

I bought some postcards (unrelated) for my fridge at the shop to support the museum, and made my way out into the sunshine again.

To be honest, seeing Marina interact with others in the gallery...it occurred to me that she's just another middle-aged woman. It was nice seeing her be a normal person, someone who didn't take things as seriously as her exhibits suggest.

Well-done, Marina. You were able to completely take me out of the context of noisy London and put me into peace. I read the rest of my book on a park bench, finishing it perfectly in time to leave for a free comedy show I was seeing that night with Churches.

Wonderful summer day with Don.

Friday, July 18, 2014

That's nacho cheese...it's mine!

In light of what happened yesterday to many of my friends and coworkers, I am going to post about something senseless. My heart goes out to all of them, some of the situations were incredibly abrupt.

There is nothing constant in life but change. Embrace it and adapt, you'll always land on your feet.

Sincerely,
tSH

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After the nacho incident of several weeks ago, I'd been wondering when I would get back on the nacho horse. If I would ever get back on the nacho horse.

In my mind I always knew I would; it being one of my favorite foods it's not like you abandon it simply because you had a bad experience (or few).

Over the weeks I've tried nachos a few more times: while watching Brazil win over the Netherlands (big yay), then again at the girly Benefit pop-up bar that appeared for the World Cup and Two and I found out about a week before its unfortunate closing.

There were good nachos and bad. Nothing amazing, but luckily nothing that made me sick again.

In a way to face the experiences of bad nachos (whether via food poisoning or just by taste...everything here has been disappointing instead of delicious), I've decided the only way around this is to make my own goddamn nachos. That way I can ensure:

  1. I will not get food poisoning (unless I handle stuff badly, in which case it is literally my fault).
  2. All appropriate toppings will be made fresh (this especially goes towards salsa and guacamole, pinnacles of proper nachoing).
  3. I will get all desired toppings (real nachos should have melted cheese, onions, meat, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, and maybe some spicy sauce).
  4. It will be delicious. 
It just seemed like destiny when this article came out on cheese dips you can make at home.

My god the nachos that will ensue. It's time to throw another party at mine. Gotta make proper nachos, once and for all.

There is an art to this, and I intend to master it.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Being a unicorn

Working in the secretive design department is sort of like being a unicorn: rarely seen or heard from, but lots of talk abound about what we do and how we come up with the magic that is seen later.

I have to say, it's funny being a unicorn. "You must work in the design department because I don't think I've seen you around." You're right I do. We're magical.

I believe the term I've heard repeatedly is, "soooo secret squirrel."

^_^*

I do love working here, even if lately it's been harder for me to keep focus because of my feelings. I get bored more easily, am not as motivated. I have less patience for people. 

But I do still love the perks and the people I work with (generally speaking), and where I live. I've come to love Don in a way I never expected. I can see what people mean when they say that it takes a long time to get into London, but once you do, it never takes its claws out of you.

The reason I am bringing this up is once again our company is faced with layoffs. There are rumors abound that 10% of the total workforce will be cut. We're at 127,000 employees at the moment. That means 12,000 are going to go in the announcements next week.

I'd like to believe the rumors that it will mostly be where there are overlaps (we now have marketing teams from our old company and new, for example), dead program teams (e.g. their products were cut but they're still around and aren't being used for something new), parts of the system that are no longer used (we brought over many small outposts of employees, because we were so completely global).

But the fact remains that once again it is a toss up. Even knowing what the company strategy vaguely is, it doesn't always (in fact usually doesn't), correspond to reality in who gets cut and who stays.

On the one hand I'm glad they're moving so quickly and decisively, it seems we finally have someone at the helm who is willing to make the changes we need to become competitive.

On the other hand I'm sad for those who will lose their jobs, no longer be with us. We've been bleeding employees here in the meantime because people feel uncertain about the future.

Either way I know I'll be fine because I have my accepted position at UCL. Should things go sour (and I really hope they don't), I'll merely switch to full-time study and finish in half the time. I know I'm safe and secure.

Having emotions this time around though, has made the layoffs harder. I now fear much more than I did before. But I guess this is just part of life, people keep telling me it's natural.

So I guess in conclusion I'll just say this: I'd like to remain a unicorn, with all its goods and bads. This world needs to retain a bit of magic.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Betrayed by nachos

This is one of the saddest blog posts I've had to write in awhile (and yes, that includes the recent one about being three months clean and full of so many emotions).

I was betrayed by my beloved nachos.

You readers, are aware of my love of nachos. I was so sad when Finland was pitifully devoid of one of my favorite snacks. Really, things were not cool. Though that nacho burger from Hesburger was pretty awesome. But I digress.

American J was visiting for the weekend so we assembled the Iceland crew for a reunion: Actor, Nonsequitor, Two, and Olive. We all gathered at Actor and Nonsequitor's house for an indoor picnic before being kicked out because both had to go to church.

Seeing as how it stays light outside now until about 10:30pm (it's awesome), we decided to make use of the day and...watch both FIFA soccer games in pubs. Such a great use of the outdoor light. It was the Netherlands vs. Mexico first then Greece vs. Costa Rica.

We went to a pub near Canary Wharf for the first one, then a pub near Oxford Circus for the second. The second is where we finally sat down and ordered some dinner food. I got pulled pork nachos (what else would I have chosen on the menu when their salad was strangely all sold out?) and shared it with American J, who also ordered us a beef roast.

The nachos came and looked something like this (I didn't take an actual photo, this is just an internet facsimile):


Large amount of pulled pork with sweet bbq sauce piled on top, vague corn chips that already had some spices on them, sliced pickled jalapenos, some sort of mature cheddar cheese that had been sprinkled and melted, three little dipping bowls full of guacamole, cooked salsa (hmph), and something resembling sour cream.

I was happy; it'd been awhile since I had nachos (it probably wasn't that long ago but offhand I can't remember...sure seems like a long time).

I dug in. Like literally dug in. I was eating just nachos (e.g. not the roast) for a solid half an hour or more. I love nachos, I really do.

Especially when the entertainment is not living up to its reputation. I was rooting for Greece (I have several Greek friends and have no special ties to Costa Rica) and no one was scoring. Like not at all. It was one of the dullest FIFA games I've ever seen. First half and then eventual call for overtime was sort of like torture. No one was making moves and everyone kept missing. Too much defense, not enough action.

Anyway I polished off those nachos and we eventually all decided it was time to call it quits. American J and I headed back on the tube and even walked home from Ealing Broadway, it was such a pleasantly warm night. I felt fine, if a little full, from all the food we'd eaten that day (breakfast at Cafe Oink, full indoor picnic, extreme nachos and roast for dinner...not to mention several beers).

We got ready and collapsed into bed; it had been a long day.

Sometime around 2am though, I was woken up by extreme stomach pains. I tried to ignore it (my usual MO for when I wake up with any kind of pain...just try to go back to sleep and it'll go away on its own), but it was persistent. I had no idea what was going to happen; not like I felt particularly nauseous or needing to relieve myself. It just really really hurt.

And strangely sitting, squatting, and standing all felt better than laying down. Haven't had that before.

So I lived in the bathroom for a few hours, trying to figure out what to do about it. I took my emergency purse-dose of pepto bismol and prayed that it would work its magic quickly.

It didn't. The vomiting started soon afterwards.

Strangely this didn't make me feel any better. Just squatting and sitting did. I tried it a few times, just sitting up in bed, but eventually I would get tired and lay down. Only to be reawakened to the pain I thought had quieted.

By this time it started to get light outside and at some point the pain did go away enough for me to fall asleep. I slept until about 8:30am when the construction across the hall started. OMG shut up drill I hate you so much right now.

Needless to say I took a sick day and saw American J off.

I later messaged Olive and Two and inquired whether or not they had felt okay after the food. American J had said she felt queasy but this was not an unusual thing for her.

Turns out Olive had a horrible night the night after mine, American J quickly following suit (and unfortunately on her delayed plane ride back to San Diego). I can only imagine what it is like having that kind of pain and sitting in a plane that has sat on the runway for an extra hour and a half longer than it should have. My god.

Needless to say, we blame the nachos. It's the only thing everyone shared (minus Two, who was fine).

Beloved nachos, noooo! How could you do this to me?! Clearly that place (Shakespeare's Head) near Oxford Circus has been put on the black list for us. No more going there. Like ever.

...to be honest this hasn't really put me off of nachos. I still love them and will continue to love them. My love for them is too deep. In sickness and in health...

But I am starting to come to the conclusion that Britain really doesn't do nachos. Really. They're all decent versions but...sigh, there's just something so not right about them here. Perhaps I will need to only eat nachos in America. Where it's likely I will not get sick. At least not from anything other than overeating.

Nachos how could you!?!
It's okay I forgive you.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tricked by a 4 minute sell

Two had bought me another wowcher for speed dating, but since I'd already done that I decided to take a look at their other events. There were things like singles mixers and things called "lock and key" events where all the women are given keys and men locks and the idea is to force you to talk to one another at the very least to see if your key and lock fit. Don't worry, just because you found your match doesn't mean that you're supposed to be with them.

Anyway after browsing the list I decided on a wine tasting event. That sounded innocuous enough, and more like a real life event rather than something so strangely staged (like speed dating). I signed up and forgot about it for awhile.

The night finally rolled around yesterday. I treated myself to some Poncho 8, a casual Mexican restaurant near my work that resembles Chipotle (which I miss terribly...they have it here but I feel like I'm cheating myself by eating something I could easily get at home):


God it was good. I got pulled pork and beef and all the trimmings (and I mean all the trimmings, I even spent the ridiculous £1 extra to get guacamole, which I lust after in strange ways now). It was glorious and I was full. The only thing missing from its otherwise similar Chipotle-like experience was the glorious glorious corn salsa. When I go to Chipotle in the States I'll always get a carnitas bowl with as much corn salsa as they will give me. Oh I get the other trimmings too (though never paid for the extra guac)...but there's something just so genuinely cracky about that corn salsa. My god the corn salsa.

Anyway...

I make my way there, only to be waylaid by someone throwing themselves onto the tube tracks at King's Cross Station (which was between where I was when it happened and my stop for this wine tasting). I know this is a regular occurrence in London (apparently people throw themselves on train or tube tracks around 160 times a year...really), but it still strikes me as slightly horrible and the way Londoners deal with it is:


I jest. But this was made by an agency for the London Underground (which naturally they rejected but I thought would have been great to see in real life).

So I took a bus. This made me 20 minutes late but I figured better late than never. And I texted the event coordinator to tell them I was on my way. No response.

I get there and it's in the basement of a bar called All Bar One. It's a chain set of bars that sell half-price cocktails and other forms of surprisingly nice but relatively cheap boozing and eating. I've enjoyed them on more than one occasion. The coordinator was obviously in the middle of explaining how things were done as I walked in.

...that's when I figured out that this was once again another speed dating event. Damnit! I thought I was going for easy wine tasting and mingling rather than being bamboozled into this strangely constructed social necessity.

And the wine was all gone by the time I arrived. Things were not particularly looking up.

But I did not let that deter me, instead I took it with a grain of salt. I've done this before, I'll get to meet new people, and whatever, I could go home straight after and feel fine with the way I used my £8. Not a terrible night by any means. And I had been strangely calm and fine with being so late (whereas normally I would be stressing out). Priorities in life. Remain calm.

And so the 4 minute conversations started. There were only 14 pairs this time. The basement was surprisingly well-lit and it was a comfortable environment, unlike Funky Buddha. I settled in for easy conversation and that's exactly what I got. Because I was calm and relaxed, they were calm and relaxed.

And what an interesting bunch they were. Three Bulgarians, one Italian, a Norwegian, an Aussie, a few from the UAE, two British guys, a Canadian, and perhaps a few others. It was especially interesting to me that it seemed the neighborhood of the venue made a huge difference on the demographics of our participants. Perhaps this is just a fluke though; two sets of data is hardly a conclusive finding.

Some interesting tidbits from the night before I continue my story:
  • The Norwegian wrote me a poem. It eventually ended in the word "ass." It was kind of hilarious.
  • The Italian was very Italian (from Sicily, I understand they're technically different), but looked very much the British hipster part. Small very circular black specs, neatly dressed, articulate. He wasn't my type but he seemed nice enough. Sort of like a mole rat. But not terrifying.
  • The Bulgarians were all large tall men with a strange stiffness about them. Most of them were friendly, some of them were shy to the point of untalkative. Not the best for a 4 minute sell situation.
  • One guy, who was fantastically nice, gushed about how much he loved his job directing children's films. It was one of the nicest talks I had that night. It was great to see someone so happy about their work.
The last person I had was the Canadian, who I'll call Future Justin, or just FJ. His name was not in fact Justin, but reminded me of a Justin I knew in high school that one of my friends dated for awhile. Tall, fit, strangely tan for a white guy (though not in a fake bake kind of way), intensely feminine blue eyes...strange way of talking that's almost like he had too many teeth in his mouth (which makes him sort of sound like a surfer). A surfer with a slight Kentucky accent.

He apparently thought my business was fascinating. After two and a half hours of conversation it became obvious that he is very much a philosopher. We talked about the future of humanity and how he believed it would come down to all of us being part of a collective consciousness. I didn't buy it for a number of reasons but it was an interesting idea. Very much bordering on a spirituality that could be crazy. But he was interesting, and it was certainly the deepest talk I'd had with someone in a very long while.

And so the night ended and I tubed it home. Not a wasted night after all.

I'm completely done with speed dating now, time to do something else.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Three months clean

It has now been three months since I got off all my medications. I mean all my medications. I now take absolutely nothing on a regular basis. I am as pure as I can be, and have been, since about the age of 15.

It has been...hard.

A few things that have changed for me:

I have emotions now.
I know this sounds like a stupid thing to say because I'm human and should have emotions...but really, I had very little feelings about most things I did, previously. Things were still exciting or happy...but pretty much anything outside the realm of neutral didn't register. It allowed me to become hyper logical and stay out of the pits that so many people seem to dig themselves into.

No more. Rationality still exists but there are no bars on my emotions anymore. I get filled with such delight and appreciation for beauty now, about the simplest things. I was watching a Blue Planet documentary about the ocean and could not contain my absolute heartfelt feelings about something as mundane (and yet excellent) as a certain species of squid going to shore to mate, lay eggs, then go back down to the deep. No creatures died, nothing was sacrificed...I didn't even see the babies hatch in this particular segment. But the beauty of it was awe-inspiring and that confused me. What a wonderful place we live.

Then there is the not so pleasant other side of emotions. Reactive feelings of extreme irritation and impatience. Anger, like no one's business. I would like to say still that generally speaking I am a positive and happy person, but man when negative feelings take me over, they take me over hard. And even though logically I know this is stupid or unhelpful, I cannot help but feel these feelings course through me, and I have very little control over them. Only in how I act on the outside, which sometimes matches and other times, more successfully, not.

So now I understand what all these people have been talking about for so long. My god the emotions. Great but also terrible.


I really enjoy food again.
One of the biggest side effects of being on an anti-seizure medication is having complete control over how you feel about food. You don't feel like eating when you're not hungry, and despite things tasting good, they don't taste good enough for you to continue beyond reason.

Again, no longer. I am returning to my normal body shape (this is also to do with settling for a little while in London, I have no doubt) and feel great about it. I look like an almost-30 year old woman now instead of a bony teenager. Well, as much as I can, given my genes. I think people react better to this; I've noticed how thin people make others uncomfortable. Really it's true; think about how many times you look at a super thin girl and have thoughts versus looking at a normal-sized person. I don't want that kind of attention and so it is shifting away from me. I also have started to wonder if people were staring because I just looked unhealthy.

Anyway, I enjoy food again and sometimes I eat now, even when I'm not hungry. Food tastes really really good.


I feel creative.
Again, maybe a silly thing to say because of my scrimshaw tendencies and other things, but now I'm much more about crafting and colors, learning and doing more things than just what is necessary (scrimshaw was a means to an end, really: making gifts for those I loved in a way that I could do).

Now I have several craft projects going on at home. I'm painting champagne and bottle corks into mushrooms, I learned to knit on my birthday and am now making a hideous scarf, I have little self-improvement and home-improvement projects in a list on my phone. Cooking is a complete joy again.

I also find it a lot easier to see things, to start crafts. The painted mushrooms projects came completely out of nowhere as I was staring at the cork of my large Patron silver bottle and suddenly saw it as I have now made it. It was perfect, and I felt compelled to do it. I have no idea what I am going to do with them after I've finished, but I felt it had to be done.


Exercise has taken a back seat.
As it should for someone who can get manic about things. But really, I feel a lot less interested in going to the gym and just working out. I do sometimes still, of course, because I believe in physical fitness and health, but it's no longer a compulsion. Or at least I try to let it not be.

I'm returning to things like yoga and classes, where it's not all up to me to have the motivation. I simply don't have it anymore. I'd rather walk the mile from Ealing Broadway to my home and get my exercise that way than simply run on a treadmill.

I get bored now, when exercising. It's simply not interesting unless I have something actively happening. My mind has a much harder time concentrating and just getting the task done.


Same goes for work.
As much as I still enjoy my team and my office and the culture, I find myself a lot less interested in work. My mind wanders, I find things I've done before boring rather than comfortably repetitious. I find myself finding excuses not to be around anymore if there really is no need. Gone is the busy bee that feels the need to stay ridiculous hours in the office. This is likely because I know my limits here too, there is a sense of comfortable familiarity.

I'd like to think of this as working smarter instead of harder. My boss certainly seems to think so; she doesn't mind my flexible schedule at all and has consistently commented on my continued excellent work.


I'm no longer an early riser.
Mornings are now considerably more painful for me. I like sleeping in and getting up at the mid-morning times (8am-9:30am). Before getting up really early was no big deal, I'd suddenly be wide awake and ready to go.

No more. In fact I've slept past 10am a few times lately and it felt like glory rather than horrible.

I have a feeling this is tied to the fact that I'm not exercising as much and eating more now, but I feel like this is how things should be. Not bare minimum sleep and still wide awake, but actually being able to see the effects of less sleep and more food, less exercise. Instead of a consistent energizer bunny.


Embracing my inner dork.
This likely has to do with finally settling my score with Don and feeling I can be myself without ridicule (or a level of ridicule I'm okay with accepting), but still changed, all the same. I feel great about dorky shows I watch, ridiculous clothes I wear (really, all the colors and patterns in the world make me happy, no more of this monochrome business that Londoners seem to love so much). I wear silly shoes and feel great about it. Colors, accessories, pretty things. Pretty things make me so happy now. And crafting, crafting makes me happy.


I like writing again...to myself.
Naturally this blog has gone by the wayside, but I've actually kicked up journal-writing again. I used to do this everyday, religiously. Over the last few years it took a serious dive. Again, more likely to do with life circumstances than anything else but all the same, I can now write to myself again and feel good about it. Not just bored.


And now for some of the not as nice.
My balance has really started to go, as is the stereotype for migraine sufferers. I feel unsteady sometimes and I've never had problems with my balance before. When I was in Wales for my birthday and we were crossing some rocky patches (these were extreme rock patches), though I was wearing sandals that were wrong for the occasion, my balance was so bad I could barely move forward. Olive had to come back and let me use his arm as a guide. I had very little control. I think this also has to do with the amount of weight I've lost over the years and the resulting negative effects of that.

I've had consistent and persistent pains in my neck. I think something is swollen back there and for now it just means discomfort and an inability to turn in all directions. I've gotten it checked out once by a useless doctor and so I am going back again tomorrow morning to get it checked by my real, and faithfully intelligent, doctor. I am hoping she has a better suggestion or cure than "take two ibuprofen a day and it'll be fine." Thank you, Doctor #1 that is extremely unhelpful and is not treating the problem.

I feel more impulsive and it's harder to control things, just in general. This goes with buying things, thinking things, reacting to things. Less control, more all-controlling from somewhere within.


...but really, at the end of the day, I am much happier with how things are now. I feel things and this is supposed to be good. The highs are much higher but the lows also much lower. I think someone once said something about how life is only worth living if you can really feel it.

Well I do now. I'm just like every other human. So I'll continue my journey, with its extreme goods and bads.

Wish me luck, this is going to take some more time to adjust to. :)



Friday, June 6, 2014

The Drowned Man

It's not that often I get really taken by surprise by theater. That isn't to say I don't enjoy most productions, but it takes something really unique to impress me now. I hate to sound pretentious, but I've seen quite a bit in my life.

So when Churches told me about a production last year, called Punchdrunk, that blew her mind, I was a little skeptical. When she started describing it to me, I just couldn't put the descriptions into a cohesive image: everyone wearing masks, you interact with the actors, all very different.

I didn't know what that meant.

I happened to be searching yPlan when it showed up on my lists - Punchdrunk: The Drowned Man. I read the description but it was also pretty meager:

Theater just got ripped a new one with this experience set in the golden age of film.

Now this is big. After a sell-out run in summer 2013, here's your chance to grab tix to one of the most extraordinary events in theater. We say theater, but if you've heard of Punchdrunk, you'll know it's not your usual sit 'n' nod affair. The fourth wall has been tossed aside for the company's latest theatrical adventure, where a roughed-up soldier is thrust into '60s Hollywood, fuming and ready to take his fury out on his lover.

Follow his murderous intentions as you don a mask and chase the characters around, in the process exploring several floors of a seemingly endless building, discovering hidden rooms and witnessing remarkable solo performances. Curious cats are encouraged...the more you explore, the more you'll see.

Okay, so there is a theme, and I got that. You're warned ahead of time to wear comfortable shoes and that you'll be wearing a mask (so please wear contacts if you wear glasses, etc).

I showed up at the theater (right outside Paddington Station, a convenient 5 minute walk from work for me) after getting a little tipsy at our resident photographer's upcoming nuptials celebration. We were saluting him before he leaves singledom.

So I was a little drunk by the time I walked over, the line for the will call not starting until around 7:15pm. I noticed immediately that I was the only person in line who was alone. Most people had come in groups of 2-4. This would be interesting.

First thing I noticed as soon as I got in was how much darker it was inside. Dimly lit, strange music, already starting the scene, the atmosphere. It was spooky. 1960's Hollywood glamour turned dingy. It was meant to be this way: it definitely set the sultry murderous mood.

We rode a short elevator to the bottom floor before being given white masks. Rules state that you're not allowed to speak or remove your mask until you hit the bar in Studio 3 - the end of the production. The masks were terrifyingly plain on their own:


We were then allowed to set off on our own. We were encouraged to do the journey alone.

Instantly the room was darker, barely lit. Loud rhythmic moody music floated over speakers unseen.

The entire thing was set to period - it was exactly what old Hollywood looked like. If you've ever been to the Tower of Terror in Disneyland's California Adventure theme park, this was exactly that. But not done in a family-way.

The detail was incredible.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. My thoughts as soon as I put on the mask was: I've made a mistake. I should have come with others.

Perhaps it was the mixture of being a little tipsy, being alone, and being in a dark place with loud music and no idea what is going to happen - I was genuinely scared. I had no expectations, no grounding point at which to say to myself, you'll be fine.

It took me another half an hour to feel comfortable enough to wander into rooms that did not have other people. Before that, I was following others around, using them as a constant to feel safe.

I eventually realized that there was no one waiting in the dark corners for me, to scare me. The actors were seamlessly integrated into the environment - you'd see them, suddenly, among you, maskless. They'd start into their scene as though you weren't there, as though you are a ghost merely observing the entire thing. Sometimes they had dialogue, other times they simply did choreographed dances, furthering the general storyline that there was much sex and sultriness, passion and violence. Lots of emotions.

It took me another half an hour to realize when an actor was going to be in the room with me. The lights would go on in certain rooms, the music growing louder and different. As more people came in you started to notice when large groups of people were chasing the actors to their next scenes.

Yes, the audience literally ran after actors. Following the storyline, seeing what could be gleaned. It occurred to me after awhile that there was no way I could see the entire thing, even if I tried my hardest. There were at least 8-10 actors that I saw, each with their own part and scenes, each switching anywhere between the four floors we were allowed to wander. The storyline only carrying on for that particular actor as they acted out their part. It following the theme but not necessarily a fluid storyline.

The entire thing was ingenious. Whenever actors needed or had a break between their scenes (which could go on for a long time...I'm not quite sure because I never followed one actor to more than a few rooms), they would run into a set and lock themselves in, not allowing observers to follow. Or they would simply vanish - I saw one actor, as part of his set, close the doors to a phone booth door, only to disappear after another actor opened it again. I checked out the booth myself - there was no trap door that I could detect. After the crowd became assured that there was nothing more to see that moment, they would disperse, and like us, the actors would don masks, walking among us until it was time to return to their next role. The only way I figured this out is sometimes I would see people in masks that seemed slightly out of place (if you were looking): period clothing that even the most fabulous of hipsters would not wear to a venue like this. Masked folk who were a little too interested in fooling around with the props and sets (I'm assuming these were stage assistants who put the set back in order for the next scene).

Eventually I got a little claustrophobic. It's not hard to imagine this, after wearing a full-face mask for over two hours and not being able to take it off. Staff members in black masks were posted near the walls of each major section, and anytime anyone took their mask off they would silently walk up to that person and wag their fingers or shake their heads: masks stay on.

So I tried to leave.

Unfortunately, as you all know, I have horrible navigation skills. And since we took an elevator down into the first scene instead of walking, I got quickly lost.

It is scary to be on your own, in a dark and loud place, wearing a mask among other masked people, and not being able to figure out your way back to reality.

I finally broke one of the rules by talking to a staff member in black.

I need to find the exit.
Oh but the final scene is almost coming.
Soon?
Soon. But if you want to get out, it's up a floor and through Studio 3.
Okay, I guess I'll try and stay for the final scene.

I was a little worried I'd miss the last train to my home station that night. I could walk from Ealing Broadway but even though it was warm, I was feeling a little green around the gills from the drinks and then adrenaline from walking around in a spooky place.

I did follow a few of the actors for the next 15 minutes, waiting for them to have their final scenes and finally lead us to Studio 3.

It never happened. I started to feel claustrophobic again, a little panicked.

This time I made it to Studio 3 on my own. Back into a place where I could take the mask off and breathe again.

I rushed home after that; catching a train and then bus to get home.

To be honest I felt a little foolish, having been so scared. But that was the effect the production had on me. It was almost done too well in its atmosphere and uniqueness. Absolutely nothing like I had experienced before.

It was mind-blowing, just as Churches had said. I would heartily recommend it. I would also say it is not for the faint of heart.

Here are some photos that are taken from the internet about it, since I wasn't allowed to bring in my phone. This gives somewhat of the atmosphere and feeling:







It's nice to know you haven't seen everything yet. :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The 4 Minute Sell

I think it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. After all the horrible luck I'd had last year (and even the year before that) in finding someone I could really spend my time with, it was time to try something different.

Speed dating.

Yes that's right, the inconceivable had happened: I was turning to other means to find people to date. Clearly Internations had been wonderful in helping me find girlfriends, but not man friends, so it was time to put it into someone else's hands for help.

And to be perfectly honest, I was really curious.

You see speed dating in movies all the time. The biggest comment I got once I signed up and was telling some friends and colleagues about it was, "Oh I've always wanted to try that!".

Well I was going to. It was set.

It started off innocuously enough; Two was helping me brainstorm all the different ways I could meet new people. These included things like public dinner parties (hence going to the Basement Galley's supper in a vintage tube car), Internations (I think you can assume by now how that went...I've discontinued my membership), and Nerd Nites (still up for possibilities, but happens only once every two months), etc. I was open to trying anything new so most of our possibilities had been run through.

Except speed dating. We didn't know any good venues and hadn't yet taken the time to investigate it when a Wowcher (similar to Groupon/LivingSocial, etc) showed up.

Clearly it was a sign. I was supposed to go on this speed dating thing, whether I was ready or not. At £8 it wasn't like I would be losing too much if it went bust. Just putting myself out there and in front of more possibilities.

It was held at Funky Buddha, the self-same oddly dark bar I'd met Ironman at all those ages ago. This time though, it was only us speed daters (and the organizers, of course). After having a light dinner with Two we headed over and ordered glasses of wine, mingling with some of the others who were there. I was chatted up quite heavily by someone I can only describe as friendly and surprisingly well-traveled...didn't hurt that he looked like Mohinder from Heroes. My god, what a cutie.


And then the event started. Women were seated at numbered tables and men rotated around to each of us in turn every 4 minutes.

Yes, we had 4 minutes total to sell each other on ourselves and determine if there was chemistry.

Needless to say it was a little manic, stressful, and after the first 10 people, a bit boring.

It felt like you were having the same conversation over and over again (sometimes you literally were): What do you do? How long have you been in London? Do you like to travel? What are some of your hobbies?

Four minutes is both a ridiculously short time and yet also an infinitely long depending on who you are talking to.

By the end of the 17 men I'd met (yes, 17!), I was exhausted. And unfortunately none the wiser really. I took some careful notes on each person, but naturally you only have a few minutes to make your decision on whether or not you'd want them to contact you, so I waited until the end for that. The way this place works is if you mark Yes or Friend and the other person does as well, you can contact each other. No's block you from them and if you have all No's in one evening you can go again for free since you didn't find even a friend match. The lowest type of match between you is what is announced to both parties:
  • You both say Yes then you both see Yes.
  • You say Yes but they say Friend, then you'll get Friend.
  • You say Friend but they say Yes or Friend, then you'll get Friend.
  • Either of you say No then neither gets any match whatsoever.
A peek into what I said about each person:


I took a photo of my notes because you had to turn it in at the end and then your notes were gone. Remember that I only had 4 minutes to decide on each person, so my notes are more reminders of who that person was/impressions, rather than anything particularly strong.

Notice that the last person simply has NO written as their note. This was the strangest and most unpleasant encounter I had that night. He came, kissed my hand (something I'm not a fan of unless I know you), and then proceeded to ask me if I was even really single. He commented that I was confident (but not in a good way) and fit. Somehow it just kept coming off as insulting, like he was disgusted with my success and overall high personal hygiene standards. We had awkward stilted conversation and luckily the 4 minutes was up. I talked to some other ladies afterwards and they'd all had awkward and mean conversations with him as well. Well, I suppose that may have been why he was there in the first place, though it still seemed unnecessarily negative.

As you can probably tell from my notes, the night wasn't particularly successful. I said Yes to a white lawyer I'd met who was shy but bonded over a mutual love of books, and I did say Yes to Mohinder.

Mohinder came and chatted me up for the rest of the night, having in-depth conversations about his adventures the past nine months before returning to his job at Heathrow airport as part of security management. I could tell he was interested and I thought he was attractive...enough so that I gave him my number for WhatsApp.

The day our results were released (it takes them a day or two to get everyone's responses logged into the system for matching), I saw Mohinder and I had both said Yes and he messaged me.

I don't know what happened after that, but the only way I can explain it is that I simply was not ready for dating, despite what I thought and felt.

His eagerness disturbed me. I tried to imagine us together and I just couldn't. And so, after a few days of slow messaging, I told him the truth. He was great but I wasn't going to pursue it further. Better to be honest and not drag someone along if you're not going to commit, and so I cut it off then.

He didn't respond (not that I expected him to), and instead messaged Two a few days later, which we both thought was hilarious and a bit sleazy. Well, goodbye Mohinder.

And so the hunt for love with Don continues. I'm glad I did it though. We have vouchers for a future event as well (couldn't resist the deal), and I'm hoping to have more success there. If not though, that's okay. The future will happen when it does and it's nice to know that there are still fun ways to meet people.

Checking off that life experience. Check check check.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A post of grad-itude

As I mentioned earlier to you, dear readers, I applied to start part-time at UCL in the fall to get my masters of science in Cognitive and Decision Sciences.

It's been a long road, but it's finally official: I'm in.

The short version of this life event goes like this:

I turn in the application. And wait for several weeks.
I receive online notification that a decision has been made - I log in, it says I got in...full-time.
Oh shit.
After a few days of being sad and wondering what my future will look like if I quit my job and do full-time school or give up on my dream of a masters, I decided to just contact them and ask if I could get it changed. (No harm in asking, right?).
They say sure, that's fine. As said by one of them: "I may have even pushed the wrong button when I accepted your application."
My thoughts on British bureaucracy and general laziness/uselessness in their jobs: High with a very large chance of grumbles. :/
Acceptance of my requested change goes up the chain and I wait weeks.
Lots of back and forth emails about...wait, if you're doing part-time, you need a visa to stay in the country because you wouldn't qualify for a student one.
Yes I know, as indicated clearly on my application, my company sponsors my being here. Like in real life.
Oh, could you send us a copy of this visa?
Yes, here it is. (Why didn't you ask for this on my application when I declared part-time if you needed this information?).
Oh okay, you're for realz. Here is your part-time acceptance letter.
Umm, this still says full-time. I thought our entire discussion was about how I need part-time.
Oh right, you're right. (Waits for another week or two).
Here is your part-time acceptance letter.
Thank you for making it what it should have been.

(Days Later).
Hello, I'm another administrator who has been involved in this situation: can you send us a copy of your visa?
I already sent it to another one of your admins and you already changed my letter to what I want. I think we're done here.
End.

Anyway, that long story short and I am now in the negotiations about how I will be dividing my time, since it is likely and expected that I will not be able to handle as much work while also doing school part-time. Then comes the discussion about tuition moneys. Omg please give me financial aid, that would be amazing and I wouldn't need to live off ramen and frozen vegetables for the next two years of my life.

But I'd do it, to make my grad school dreams come true. I would do starvation abroad again to pursue this part of my life.

And so I stand, humbly content (now that the grumbles have long-since disappeared) and look forward to my future.

Starting another chapter: UCL, here I come.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Oh one more thing

Before I go silent for the weekend and potentially a few weeks, I would heavily encourage any readers interested in making sure they get all my posts to subscribe to the email newsletter. Then you'll know everytime I post, regardless of regularity. :)

You can subscribe at the bottom right of the blog page (Follow by email pigeon).

Thanks again and hope to be writing creatively again soon!

Yours,
tSH

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thanks for your responses!

After hearing from two of my most devoted readers, I have decided I will be taking a hiatus. Now I will post when there are things I'd really like to share and simply cannot stand not posting about. My mental plan is to post once a month, hopefully on the first of the month, but we'll see how this works. :)

I want to thank you again for being great readers and for listening to my story - strange, hilarious, and awkward as it has been. I really look forward to bringing you more quality stories as my time here with Don continues and I grow evermore.

Look forward to the next post!

Yours,
tSH


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The end of tSH?

Hello readers,

Instead of posting like normal I'd like to put a question to you: are you still interested in reading this so I should continue or would it be okay for me to take leave for an undetermined time?

I realized several months ago that it's been over two years since I moved abroad, started this blog. It originally started out as a way for my friends and family to keep track of me as I discovered new things, traveled to new places. Also personally it was a way to document my adventures, my life moments.

But seeing as how I'm going into my second year here in London and things are becoming more stable and potentially routine (though I'd have to admit that my life lacks the strictest kind of routine), I find it harder and harder to write witty things about the adventures I have, to make them something other than documentation, and sometimes my backlog of unwritten posts is higher than my ones ready for publish.

So, if you simply cannot live without my blog, please respond to this post or send me a message. I am perfectly happy to keep doing it if someone is vested and would like to continue reading.

Otherwise, it'll be nice to take a break from writing, maybe get some of my creativity and wit, while focusing on the present.

Please let me know, I'm very curious to hear your thoughts and feelings. :)

Sincerely,
tSH


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Karneval loot

The next day or so was mostly sleeping and eating a lot. We didn't go out again until Saturday, when we were rousted from our beds relatively early (read: sometime before 2pm) and made to dress in our costumes again (I'd basically been in it everyday anyway, but this time it was absolutely required).

After our enormously satisfying breakfast (this set of food items came out for our group at least 2-3 times a day...I never got sick of it), we walked as a group down the street and waited at a family friends' house for the parade to start. Everyone was outside their house that day, eating and drinking with friends and family, waiting for the parade festivities to begin.


An hour or two later the parade started and we were instructed by German K's mom and dad to yell "Kamelle" and "Strüßcher" for candy and flowers, respectively.


And sure enough, as the marching bands went by and there were myriads of people on homemade floats and marching with their organizations, they threw stuff at us.


It was interesting to see but there was a lot of variety in these items - candy, chips, cookies and cakes, toys, entire boxes of chocolates, tissue packs, even kitchen utensils. I had to duck a few times from getting beamed in the head with some sort of treat. It was pretty awesome. Our group filled a reusable grocery bag full of loot.


German K, no stranger to this tradition, told us that when she and her brother were kids they'd look forward to all the different parades during karneval because it allowed you to get your entire year's worth of sweets all at once.

Being used to this type of strategy, she encouraged (that's the nice word for it) us to get as many items as possible.

Now, many of these items hit the ground because they're too difficult to grab out of the air (especially the smaller things like single wrapped gumballs or small chocolates), so you have to go around picking up the undamaged ones for the group collective. Hong Kong P, being the shortest of us all, was up in the front of the crowd trying to get first dibs on anything that fell. She later explained to me that she was literally stealing candy from babies. It was hilarious.


A photo of some of our loot. I think you can get a good idea of the type of stuff we were given. We divided it all up later on and left plenty for German K's parents.

I should mention now that being in the parade, whether your community one or in the larger ones that circulated around town (several days in a row, it's not just a single day for parades), is a great honor for the German people of Cologne. You have to pay to apply for a position to be in it, then for the more eagerly sought positions, such as the Prince, Virgin, or Farmer, you have to apply and be selected by a committee then pay to be in it then pay for all the sweets you throw out. It comes out to vast sums of money. Many battle to pay for this honor.

After eating yet another hearty meal of homemade German potato salad (this started to creep out after German K's dad made it the night before and came out with the breakfast goodies), we set out to meet German K's friends for a real carneval experience with people our age:


Which means it took place in a bar.

This definitely required costumes, and we were still in full regalia from the parade a few hours before.

This part of the celebration meant drinking lots of beer. Kolsh, to be exact - the official beer of Cologne. Delicious and crisply cold in the tiny glasses made just for it.

We sang and danced as a group, everyone except us expats knowing the lyrics to all the songs. Apparently there is official karneval music, and German K's dad, being a huge one for celebration, had been blaring the songs at us since we first arrived. Usually quite loudly because his hearing has started to go. So we recognized most of them, and were even able to sing some of the main verses and chorus.

All in all it was a fun night. The celebrations of karneval are pretty extensive and if we were more up for it (e.g. one of us didn't have a broken wrist and the rest of us were instead not exhausted from normal work), I don't think we would have done it any differently, haha.

Monday, April 7, 2014

To karneval, karneval, karneval...

I was only back in London for a few days before flying out once again, this time to Cologne where I would once again be meeting up with German K and Hong Kong P for some much needed girl time.

An added surprise for all of us was hearing from Finnish Irish T and her making quick plans to join us in Germany, even through a broken wrist that happened the day before her flight! We all expressed our awe and how impressed we all were. It's not just anyone who travels despite having a full cast and sling. Especially knowing there would be crowds around. Drunken crowds.

The first day was just the three of us - German K, Finnish Irish T, and me. We had plans to meet up with British D and German T, who were also supposed to fly in and enjoy the karneval festivities. Unfortunately German T got waylaid by work and we didn't end up meeting up with him at all. I guess I'll have to make more of an effort to see him next time I'm in Helsinki.

We made it into town in the early afternoon, enjoying a part of town that was not so center that it was overcrowded. Just pleasantly crowded.


After meeting up with British D we chatted for a bit, were given big bottles of the special Cologne karenval beer, and decided to get in line for the pub everyone was already in.

This line ended up going nowhere but we got a great chance to people watch.


People really go all out with their costumes in many cases. The general idea is to scare away the bad spirits for the new year so you can start the year afresh.

The practical side of it is people may spend a lot on their costumes, but it's understood that eventually you'll be so drunk that you'll lose all your loose props. So people didn't spend so much money on those, rather the clothes they would (hopefully) return home with on their backs.

I decided in my packing stages that this would be a good opportunity to spread some hilarious cheer - I packed my entire remaining supply of sticky fuzzy mustaches and passed them out to children who looked like they could use some help with a mustache.

The first kid I gave one to was a boy dressed as a cowboy/sheriff. He didn't speak English (as a lot of the Germans seem not to, or refuse to), and when I held up the mustache to my face to mime what it was for, he laughed and took it, thanking me in German (I know enough German for that at least). I later saw him with it on, begging his mom to take lots of pictures of him. Love it.

After the line stayed stagnant for over an hour we decided it was time to move on. We'd seen British D and that was good enough for the day. Plus it was starting to rain.


We took shelter in a nearby kiosk, wanting hot drinks and a place to stand while the rain came down. There I had my first cup of coffee in probably 10 years; I've been avoiding it altogether because I can't drink caffeine. As the medications come down and my interest in living normal life again expands, I've been trying little things to test my boundaries. Score 1 for coffee - no effect. Its warming effect was wonderful and I understood once again why people drink it (among other reasons).

While we were standing there German K chatted happily with the store owners, not wanting it to be unfriendly that we were using their store as a place of shelter and only buying few things - three cups of coffee, a bag of chips. In their exchange the owner tried to set German K up for marriage with his cousin, the young man manning the cashier. He said she would be covered in gold and there would be 300 guests at their illustrious wedding. It was hilarious. For grabbing something hot to drink, getting a marriage proposal at the same time isn't a bad deal.

She decided it would be her Plan B, just in case. ;)


As the rain didn't really let up we decided we had lingered long enough and rushed out to the nearest tram stop to get us home. It took us another 3 transfers, but eventually we were close enough to catch a cab home.

There we had a wonderful dinner with German K's parents of pizza, pasta, salad, and all of the noshables that are served at breakfast, plus more.

I've not eaten so heartily in a long time.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Seeing Her and hitting the town

After I came back from Arkadia it was only a matter of hours before German K and I were meeting J&O for dinner again then going to see the movie Her, which I'd been dying to see.

We met them at Sushi Bar and Wine, the selfsame restaurant I'd stopped at last time for my last meal in Helsinki after returning from a roadtrip to the Turkku archipelago with German K and Hong Kong P. Hard to believe that was 8 months ago.

The food was just as wonderful, though expensive, as I'd remembered:


I ordered the vegetarian platter, with inari (sweet tofu pouches stuffed with rice), mushroom rolls, vegetarian Californian rolls with inari skins, cucumber, avocado, and egg, and a replacement for the middle nigiri that instead contained avocado and sweet shrimp. Blissfully washed down with a small Asahi beer.

It was then time for us to see Her while J went back to studying, trying to finish his last exam for a masters he's been writing for years.

The movie was wonderful and thought-provoking, just as I hoped it would be. I encourage anyone who's not afraid of a little awkward human-computer relationship stuff. It's a real thinker about how technology will affect us in the future. I doubt it's in the way it's portrayed, but there were some noticeable things I'll be taking back for my team to discuss.

After the movie O, German K, and I went out for a drink or two.

Our first stop was the old standby Teerenpeli.

I hadn't been there since my farewell party more than a year ago. It was weird to be back. It looked exactly the same except instead of recognizing most of the people there (okay maybe not most, but many), they were all strangers. It was sort of like the first time, again. Except no one was looking for me. And I wasn't looking for someone who looked like a Jamaican Homer Simpson.

I did, however, get to order my favorite drink from there: blueberry cider. The Finns really do know cider...so much better than the British. It was sweet and tart and refreshing. The way a cider should be. Perfect.

We went to another place after that, called Books & Antiques. The new pop-up speakeasy by the same people who put up Liberty or Death, as apparently that location is going through repairs from water damage.


They had an abbreviated menu in comparison to LoD, but that also made sense given the incredibly tiny space they had in there. There were only 5 tables to sit at. Luckily one was open when we got there.


The parties that came after us were not so lucky.

Despite the high price I ordered one of their signature cocktails, not wanting to waste an opportunity to taste glory. And glory it was. I ordered the Roasted Reindeer, as I'm sure Two would have expected from me. It was wonderful; bright juice tones with absolutely no nose of alcohol. This is the kind of cocktail I would qualify as dangerous. Delicious on its own. Terrifyingly good.

We walked slowly out after that, saying our goodbyes to O (I'd already said goodbye to J earlier in the night, figuring he would likely not come out to join us after starting with his studies). It was a sad goodbye, but a hopeful one; they said they would try to get to London before starting their world travels. I said they were welcome, anytime, of course. I do hope they stop by. It would be lovely to show them London as they've shown me great places in Helsinki.

German K and I walked home, reminiscing about how similar it was to be walking home together, towards Toolo, late at night. I had forgotten what it was like to walk home from wherever you are. What a luxury.

We stayed up talking for some time before crashing. I had a plane to catch the next day.

This was one of my most fulfilling trips to Finn since I've moved. But that's hard to say; it's always a pleasure to go back. I could really move back there again when I'm older.

Goodbye Finn, until next time.