Monthly Archives: November 2010

Update from Bean-town

I made it to Boston, managed to spend the first 24 hours sitting in my hotel room working on the things that needed to be done for the work-thing I’m attending, made it through one of those epic 14 hour days yesterday doing all the work things that required the preparation, and now I’m sitting in my hotel room trying to figure out what to do next. (Blog, obviously!) I have the rest of the week “free” in that my contributions to the conference are done and my time is my own to schedule, instead of it being scheduled for me by circumstances. So I shall be taking advantage of this opportunity to learn some new things and meet with some people and generally try and remember where I was and what I was doing before I got so busy with the prep work for this trip.

Being back in America, it’s becoming increasingly clear how culturally confused I am. I keep forgetting which way the cars should be coming from when I am standing at a crosswalk. I have been getting teased by old friends about my use of words like “Mum” and expressions that to my ear don’t sound particularly strange. People keep joking about whether I’ll acquire an accent. People also seem to have assumed that I’ve settled in for the long haul and have no intentions of moving back. On that one I stay silent, since really I still have no idea what I’ll do in the long term and I’ve placed that entire question into the “too hard basket” in order to focus on other things.

I have not attended this meeting for the last few years, so several people have not recognized me straight away–the thing where my hair has been getting more curly as I’ve gotten older and now is quite long is extremely confusing to people used to my having short and straight hair. I swear this is one of the professional challenges associated with being a girl: the average male does not change as much in appearance from year to year as the average female. Of course, I also worry that the last four and a bit years of expat life have aged me rather dramatically and that no one wants to say this to my face!

Tomorrow one of my very best friends will be flying in from Colorado to join me in Boston… we have justified this little jaunt with some rather flimsy work-related excuses but mostly we are peers who have the same sort of difficult job and we need time to commiserate and strategize. Preferably over wine. Then on the weekend it’s back to England, back to life, back to reality, back to work, and back to what sounds to be a frozen tundra with snow. Should be interesting.

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Boston, TSA pat-downs and missing Thanksgiving, oh my

I’m getting ready to fly to the US for a work conference to take place all of next week, plus bunches of additional meetings as long as I’m in the general area of “America”. Something about this feels wrong. I’m completely not focussed on Thanksgiving (tomorrow). I’m being all British and ignoring its existence. I’m worrying about the US’s invasive screening procedures, a subject in which I have taken a great deal of interest because of the fact that I’m actually skilled in the area of calculations of radiation dose in x-rays and things. See, for a period of time, I thought that I would become a hospital physicist, and I did courses in medical imaging and radiation therapy. Some days I think I made a mistake by not following that route, but regardless it does provide me with some unique insight on the questions of what people should be worried about regarding radiation doses in backscattered scanners in airports. (Most people should be more worried about the naked pictures than the radiation. A few people should be worried about both but it’s a big statistical mess and not clear yet.) I’m not a fan of the pat-down procedures as this is not necessarily anything but a defensive move and a PR objective. I’ve been all involved in this discussion on Twitter in the few minutes I’ve had to be anywhere but in my office working my tail off in anticipation of my trip–for the last two weeks. Work has been all-consuming lately… It’s been nutso.

So let’s check the current state of NFAH as concerns life in the UK. Laundry? Largely un-done. Shall be traveling to the US with laundry that will be sent out for cleaning in the hotel system. Preparation for the conference I’m attending? 0%. There’s some work to do there. Getting things done here before I go? No more than 50%. Many things will be left until after the week’s trip abroad (where “abroad” means “home but not home” as in “the US but not my part of the US.”) Holidays i.e. Christmas? Not even thought about except for the part where I’ve scheduled my annual group/team party for my return. (For the record, I’m getting all geeky and setting up who-will-bring-what details via http://www.punchbowl.com and they are not paying me to sell them, I just think this website is great and we are using it to organize the party!) OK Where was I? Things are not done. There are things to do. I will be struggling to keep up with them in the next week – to – ten days. Such is life.

I’m excited to go to Boston in the Christmas season. I find this meeting to be really fun in that the decorations, the weather, the whole thing feels like Christmas to me. Once upon a time, I really loved Christmas and these days I’ve been trying to recapture the magic. I love having a breakfast sandwich of Bagel-Egg-Cheese + Coffee at Au Bon Pain in Boston. I’m heading home without really being home, in that I’ve never lived in Boston so it’s a home-away-from-home at best. But I’m happy to go. Too bad about that Thanksgiving thing. It just fell in the wrong week for my work schedule (sad). But maybe I’ll capture some Christmas spirit on this trip, and be able to return to work in early December with a spring in my step and a carol in my heart.

How England has changed me, part 72

I had never been to a “black tie” event before I moved to England. I now go to about a half dozen a year. And this has required a significant change in my wardrobe. These are all additions, tucked back in the depths of my wardrobe/closet for most of the year, but I need to have clothes available for such occasions. When I first moved here, I focussed on more traditional attire–I now have several ankle-length ball gowns. But I’m a tomboy, an engineer/physicist who wears trousers (BrE)/pants (AmE) [blame @lynneguist for my language-based notation] all of the time. So I’ve been searching for a way to be both comfortable and appropriately dressed at said occasions.

When I was in China earlier this year, I had the chance to drool around the Shanghai (Xintiandi) store of Shanghai Tang, one of the premiere Chinese fashion brands. I was in love. Interesting clothes, beautifully made, and distinctive compared to what I normally see when I try to shop for things to wear to fancy occasions. I bought a top, which was the single most expensive piece of clothing I have ever had and I hope you agree with me that it was worth it:

Black, of course. Just as in the photo.

Tonight it made its debut, at the black tie dinner I had to attend for work. I wore it slightly open at the top, with a sequined silky tank underneath and plain black trousers. I jazzed it up with chunky gold and semi-precious stone jewelry. I am not a super fashionista, but I have to admit that I felt special in this ensemble, and far more comfortable than I’ve ever been wearing a ball gown at a dinner thing. Shanghai Tang, you have my loyalty and given what I see in your online catalog, I’ll be back for more.

Walk on…

I live North and a bit East of London. Today I had a work thing in Southampton, which is South and West of London (for the uninitiated). I looked at the train details last week, all looked sensible: 45 minute train into London, cross London on the Tube, 70 minutes from London on the train to Southampton. A perfect day trip. Except there was a little warning sign on the details on the National Rail website. I clicked on it. “Notice of possible industrial action affecting tube service on November 2-3” Oh Crap. I normally don’t have to go through London central all that often, especially since I take a car service to Heathrow these days. So maybe I go into London or cross it every month or two. And this time, I was going to get to witness a totally European public services strike.

Not a thing I could do; this meeting had been planned back at the beginning of the year, more than six months ago. I spoke to one of my colleagues who insisted that it wouldn’t be too bad to catch a taxi across town, especially mid-day when most people were at work. For the record, she was wrong. I made it into north London and went to stand in the taxi queue. Where I was still standing, 35 minutes later, chatting with the nice bloke in front of me who was in the same predicament–we both needed to get to other rail stations in the city. When it was finally my turn, I got into the taxi… where the traffic then caused the trip to be almost another 25 minutes. I made a train heading south, texted my meeting person to say I was indeed on the way, if a little later than I had hoped. And I took out my trusty iPhone and checked how far it actually had been between the two stations.

It was only 2.4 miles. I was gutted. I don’t know central London all that well, and it hadn’t really occurred to me until then that it would have been much faster for me to walk. Lesson learned for the return trip. So after my 3.5 lovely and hopefully useful hours in Southampton, it was back on the train to London. I arrived just before 7 pm, and the place was absolutely teeming with pedestrians. Apparently we all had the same idea. Fortunately it was neither raining nor freezing, and further fortunately I just had my small computer bag with my light-weight laptop in it so it was not too much extra effort to carry. Fortunately also, I walk to work most of the time and so I was wearing, as I normally am, flat shoes with rubber soles even though I was dressed up for the meeting.

In the end it was not a bad walk, and in fact was about the distance between my flat and work so I’m quite happy to travel that far by foot. I am gradually learning that if I need to get somewhere within England and it’s less than 3 or 4 miles, the only way to guarantee you will actually arrive on time is to walk. (I called for a taxi from my flat one morning, after moving to my lovely place 2.3 miles from work, and ended up getting out half-way and walking.) Important lesson. Buses get stuck in traffic. Taxis get stuck in traffic. I am not in London, but the vagaries of the public transport and Tube systems mean that you cannot guarantee an arrival time no matter where in England you are unless you have total control of the situation.

In the midst of my cross-London hike this evening, I got to witness some European-style pedestrian “road rage”, once when a man was beating the side of an empty, out of service, bus and screaming profanities, and once when a man was beating the side of an empty, out of service, taxi cab who was blocking the road at the pedestrian crossing. Good times.

I made it home. Today. A mere 12 hours after I left. Four and a bit hours to travel what Google tells me is 150 miles (so in an American Interstate mindset 2.5 hours), 3.5 hours at my meetings in Southampton and another four and a bit hours to get home. It was a long day. And I’ve learned an important lesson.