Category Archives: Australia

No Joke

My work dinners and related events often end up sounding like the start of a joke. I give you, for example, last night:

Two Irishmen, a Brit and an American walked into the Bar at Jamie’s Italian and ordered mojitos. The Brit said…

(Aside 1: Mojitos because it was unusually hot here. I hesitate to say “unseasonably” because it is the dead of summer, but it is sort of un-Britishly. Aside 2: my lovely Irish companions happen to have been female, is there no gender neutral term for Irish persons?)

Tonight it was even hotter, and we had a group pub outing planned. My group is always a sort of mini-UN in terms of countries represented, but we had the addition tonight of two people visiting from Glasgow, both of whom happened to also be American. This seemed to cause a bit of a reaction in the two Brits present (for completeness, the others attending were from the East Asian contingent, one from Thailand and one from Malaysia). One of the Brits in particular started riffing on the stereotypes that one country has about the people from another. I believe this was originally all directed at perceptions of the French, but don’t quote me on that.

Now I have to note at this point that the two Americans visiting from Glasgow were very different in their experiences: one was a long-termer like me, and the other a recent arrival. It was the recent arrival who ended up actually supplying the punchline to the story, at some point after one of the two Brits had left. The conversation was much longer than I can record here, and there was much more self-defending and other-bashing than I could possibly get across. The Aussies were particularly hard-hit by the slagging off. But, as usual for a former colony of a once great empire, the biggest rivalries were the US-UK ones. And it went something like this.

Recent Arrival Glasgow-based American: But what are some examples of British food?

Me: Spotted dick.

RAGA: (chokes and sputters)

Brit: It’s a sponge with raisins in it. Not at all nice.

Other Glasgow-based American: But pudding doesn’t mean the same thing here at all.

Me: Yes, it’s just dessert.

Brit: Really it’s in the vegetable section where the UK-US word differences get interesting.

(Discussion continues regarding courgettes, aubergines, swedes, etc. Food topic continues and somehow we end up discussing dinner time in Spain.)

Someone (I don’t recall): Yeah they eat dinner at 8 pm or something, don’t they?

Me (having just been there in January): No, more like 10.

Brit: Why do Americans eat so early? By 9:00 the restaurants are empty.

Me: Well, where I come from (the midwest) we’re on East Coast time for business purposes, so everything ends up being earlier in clock times. My parents are often at work at 7 am.

RAGA: Oh you’re from Minnesota? I’m from Texas.

Me: Same time zone.

OGA: At least you’re from same states where they change for daylight savings with the rest of the country, I’m from Arizona where they refuse to change and it confuses everyone.

Brit: What? They just don’t change right there?

Me: Yeah, I’m pretty sure Indiana is that way too, I went to university in Michigan and it was always confusing as to whether Indiana was on our time (Eastern time zone) or on Chicago time (Central) depending on the season.

Brit: That’s nuts.

OGA: Well, it’s a big country. The entire UK is, what, the size of Pennsylvania?

RAGA: Yeah, well, at least we HAVE different time zones!

Yeah, I’m still–several hours later–needing to not have a beverage in my mouth at the moment that I think of that delivery lest I start squirting said beverage out of my nostrils. Maybe you had to be there, but there was something about a looooong conversation of you-vs-us and cultural stereotypes culminating in a defense of American greatness over Britain because of the fact that we were big enough to need time zones that just completely cracked me up.

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Singapore, Qantas and Indian Food, Oh My!

Greetings from Singapore, where I arrived just over 12 hours ago after a long night not sleeping very well on a Qantas flight due for Sydney. This was entirely the fault of me, who did not remember to bring my travel pillow (that U-shaped thing that goes around your neck and works amazingly well) because of the fact that I was packing from my new place, where most of my things are not. Said pillow was at the old flat. An additional thing that did not make the trip, most frustratingly, was the mobile phone charger for my American phone. It’s back at the old flat also, I know exactly where it is. So I had to, yet again, head off on my first day in a foreign city in search of a mobile phone store to find an appropriate charger. Admittedly, I did not have a second charger for this phone, nor did I have one for the UK (just an American one with an adaptor, since it is my American phone) so it was not an entirely huge waste of money or time (unlike the trip last month in which I bought my umpteenth USB-to-iPod/iPhone adaptor, when I have a drawer full of them).

First things first, I love Singapore. I love that it costs only S$1.90 to get from the airport to the center of town if you know the awesomeness that is the Singapore subway system. I love that there are three different chain restaurants devoted to coffee and toast on my way from my hotel to the convention center. (And admittedly, I love that I have stayed in this hotel before, for a conference in the same convention center, such that I know my way around. This is true in Boston as well, and I admit that I prefer these conferences when I get to be in “familiar” surroundings compared with the stress of going somewhere new and needing to start over.) I love the convergence of cultures here, and the huge variety of food available. I had a local speciality kaya toast for breakfast, Chinese food for lunch and Indian food for dinner, and I have a bag of Aussie snacks (cheese Twisties) in my hotel room. After having been in China a few months ago, I’m feeling much more interested in the local food, and much more bold in trying it on my own, so today on my explorations I found both a Taiwanese restaurant (perhaps of the same chain I visited with my sister in China?) and a hot pot place that I have to try (although I might stick with vegetables…). This year I doubt I’ll repeat my performance from my last trip to Singapore, where I obsessively hung out in a local (i.e. close to the hotel) restaurant with an Italian/Aussie-ish vibe. So far I have not been able to ascertain whether said restaurant still exists, as it was boarded up today–but also much of Singapore was, given the Sunday-ness.

I’m happy to be here, because it’s fun to come back to a place that you’ve visited before. I find this is true the more I travel: I’m happiest to return to Boston, Orlando, Munich, Singapore, the places that I’ve been to on three or more occasions, because these places start to feel like a home-away-from-home. If you are going to have my life, and live out of a suitcase and spend no more than three weeks at “home” at any given time (which is my new calculation for how silly 2010 has been for me–I think this is true and shows how dumb I’ve been!) you should at least enjoy the places where you are spending your time.

The work starts tomorrow, and I should probably have been prepping today instead of dining out and napping, so the next few days will certainly be interesting. I have meetings and talks to give flat out for the next four days, at which point I hit a flight back to the UK at midnight Thursday and have meetings in the UK office planned for Friday. The weekend can not come soon enough…

Flying Qantas to get here made me both happy and sad. I love flying on Qantas, but it was the first time that I had flown with them to get to someplace that was not Australia. So I indulged in my minor Aussie obsession while travelling, reading about interesting Australian art exhibits in the in-plane magazine and listening to the best of modern Aussie music on the headphones on the trip, but I knew full well that I would not quite make it far enough on this trip to actually get to the sunburnt country itself. I don’t know when I’ll be back to visit Australia either, which made for a sad moment or two in transit. Last time I was in Singapore, I was heading to Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney for an adventure of a lifetime (aside from the previous adventure of a lifetime, when I had been there six months earlier).

Travels are funny, that way. This blog makes for a great record of these trips, and when I look back at the archives from my visit to Singapore (and then Australia) a year and a month ago, I have mixed feelings. I’m glad I did what I did then, and on this trip I’m sort of glad that I’m going home to England after a mere four nights in Singapore. Especially with the new flat to settle in to, my wanderlust is perhaps damped a bit at the moment. There are many places I’d like to see, in Asia, Australia, and beyond, but on this trip my overwhelming feeling is one of a desire for home, and in this funny case home is my new flat in the UK, not something in the US at all. Confusing, yet comforting, that my existence has settled down a bit to be based in one country only. The confusing part comes because that home is in England, which is not what I would have expected five years ago.

Funk-y

I have more to post from the China adventure, but I’ve been a bit low since my return and I’m just starting to feel calm enough to admit it. I can’t quite place my finger on what went wrong to throw me headlong into such a low mood, but I can guess at a few things. There’s always a letdown after something, like a huge trip to a foreign land, that you’ve been anticipating for a long time. I had the same reaction after coming back from Australia (the first time), and I was similarly quiet on the blog and relatively quiet overall in terms of distributing the photographs and stories from the trip. So that’s one thing.

But I suspect more than just post-trip anticipation let-down in this case. China was an awesome 12 days spent with my sister. My sister who is repatriating from China back to America this summer. My sister who is moving to Baltimore, part of the greater Washington DC region that I consider a second home (second to Minneapolis) in America. My sister who will be looking for an apartment and buying a car and lots of new fun furniture at Ikea and the like. And I think deep down I’m just really jealous. That sounds like fun. Fresh starts, new beginnings, new jobs, new homes. And all of it in America. Hmmm.

I’ve always joked that this feeling is part of the reason that people have children. They get past the whole high school-college-wedding stage and realize that life in your thirties is actually pretty dull compared with what you’ve experienced so far, you work at a job with nothing to look forward to the way you had anticipated high school or college graduation or the pomp and circumstance of a wedding. Babies come with the chance for more parties (in the form of baby showers and then child-centered birthdays and holidays for years). And provide a necessary distraction when your life otherwise becomes just about a job.

I’m also now about the last one standing of my friends not to have kids or kids on the way. We’re all 35ish now and I’m sure you know what that means: dire warnings about what will happen if we do not procreate quickly. I plan to stay standing in this little club of one with no kids of my own. But it does mean I need to come up with something else to anticipate now that the China trip is over. My next big trip plan is Egypt in early 2011, so that’s something to start thinking about. I’ll go places in the meantime, of course, to the continent for work and to America for work and for the beach.

Of course, in phrasing my thoughts in this manner, I’m neglecting to mention the fact that it’s probably not just the anticipation of big change and new things that’s making me melancholy when I consider my sister’s big move this summer. Being an immigrant during a British election focused on keeping ‘British jobs for British workers‘ has been interesting. Looking ahead to my own 35th birthday has made me think a bit about planning for the future. It’s easy to not worry too much about saving for retirement when you’re 25 or 30, but as you start to head towards 40, it becomes harder to ignore this particular elephant in the room. And at some point I’m going to realistically have to decide that I want to be here in England indefinitely, or that I need to get back to the US and start paying into Social Security (probably less importantly) and 401(k) accounts (probably more importantly). Thinking about my sister’s repatriation has me in a big pile of melancholy as I try to think about the future and where I should put down roots. Because there’s no question, in my current circumstances–in a work-owned flat in England with no closets and no shower, still formally on ‘probation’ for my job and with the expiration of my work visa looming, along with the need to apply for ‘permanent’ residency–I’m feeling pretty discombobulated and unpermanent. And unsettled. So I’m in a funk.

Ten years ago I…

This whole 2010 thing is freaking me out a bit. I mean, I’m heading less than gracefully towards middle age. Or who knows where I’m going. I keep thinking about how different things are in 2010 compared with 2000, which makes me realize I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA where I’ll be in 2020. For example:

  • In 2000, I was married, living in a 3BR house that I owned with my husband. We had a dog, a car and an SUV (to help fill three car garage) and all the other trappings of a suburban existence (lawnmowers, snowblowers, etc. to also help fill the three car garage) . In 2010 I am divorced and living in a work-subsidized 1BR flat and I have neither pets nor vehicles.
  • In 2000, the only foreign country I had visited was Canada. In 2010, I live in Europe and have travelled extensively in Europe, Asia and Australia.
  • In 2000, I had a Master of Science degree and was a full time student. In 2010 I have a nearly 5-year old PhD and a full time job.
  • In 2000, I had four living grandparents. In 2010, I have one but she’s a spunky nonagenarian.
  • In 2000, I used dial up internet for email and web access at home. There was no Twitter, Facebook, or Blog in my life. In 2010, I mostly use wireless broadband to access social media and web 2.0 content, although sometimes I tweet or post a blog from my iPhone.
  • In 2000, I was a PC. In 2010, I’m a Mac.
  • In 2000, I was not a great cook and I sometimes made bread in a bread-machine from a just-add-water mix. In 2010, I am an improving and enthusiastic cook, and I make homemade bread on a whim many weeks, without having to take out a cookbook or actually measure much of anything.
  • In 2000, I had never recorded a CD. In 2010, I have two professional recordings on my CV, although I’m no longer finding myself with the time to do music at that level (but I hope to get back to doing at least something musical sometime soon).
  • In 2000, I only had a point and shoot camera. In 2010, I have both analog and digital SLRs but neither has been getting much use lately (darned job again!).
  • In 2000, I wore size (American) 6 jeans. In 2010, I don’t.
  • In 2000, I had never been to Texas. In 2010, that is still true, but I’m heading there tomorrow!
  • in 2000, I had never tasted single malt Scotch. In 2010, I rang in the New Year with a wee dram of Balvenie Double Wood, my current favorite.
  • In 2000, I owned a CD player and a VCR. In 2010, I play music over the Bose speakers on my iMac when home, and over an iPod with noise canceling headphones when on the road. Movies are DVDs or downloads/streaming over the internet.
  • In 2000, I wore contacts sometimes. In 2010, I wear glasses exclusively. (Not bifocals yet; I’m sure that’s coming in this decade, though!)
  • In 2000, I bought books. In 2010, I buy eBooks. (Hooray for the Christmas Kindle!)
  • In 2000, I did not know most of the people who are likely to read and comment on this little reflection. In 2010, I’m a very lucky expat blogger!

So admittedly many of these changes have been in more than just my world: technology has moved on, society has moved on, the world is a different place after a decade. But it does sure make me aware of how little I can predict about where I’ll be, what I’ll be doing, and what life will look like more generally in another decade!

Best wishes to everyone for the new year, and feel free to leave your own “In 2000 I … but in 2010 I …” in the comments! I’d love to know what big changes others have found in their lives over this first decade of the new millennium!

Ahh winter

There was a massive winter storm in Minnesota this week, and people are just starting to dig out. Funny that, it makes me nostalgic. I don’t miss the realities of Minnesota winters, but I do miss the romance! I lived most of my pre-England life in really snowy places (Minnesota and Michigan) and when the Christmas songs start playing, I start dreaming of a white Christmas. Even though I am almost never in a white Christmas kind of place these days. Last year in Australia I was definitely not in that place, and I quite enjoyed the cognitive dissonance of being in a sunny clime over the holidays. And seeing a gigantic Christmas Pelican with presents in its beak. And eating Christmas dinner outside by the pool, with freshly grilled fish as the centerpiece.

Now I’m heading for Florida, and I’m guessing there will not be a white Christmas there. I don’t miss the realities of it all, and I quite like that my window is open to air out my flat here in England where it’s been quite temperate. But Christmas really is the season of nostalgia, isn’t it? Dreaming of idyllic childhood holidays and happy times. Bing Crosby dreams and all of that. For this, I think the most appropriate thing I could say is in the lyrics of the Tori Amos song ‘Winter’ which was also my ex-husband’s favorite song of this season. He loved the part about putting hands into the father’s glove. I love this part:

When you gonna make up your mind

When you gonna love you as much as I do

When you gonna make up your mind

Cause things are gonna change so fast

Things do change, so fast. When I was with the ex whose song this was, I had never been to Europe. I’ve now been living in the UK for nearly 10% of my life, which is a scary thing to contemplate. And I’m relatively settled, I have plans for the future and they don’t involve much but continuing on with my current plans and existence. I will have to deal with an application for residency in the next 1.5 years, and I will have to continue to work hard and live up to my foreigner status as a net contributor to the UK economy.

But I’m sure I’ll always feel nostalgic for snow at this time of year, even when I know that a storm such as the one that hit Minnesota would bring my life here to a standstill. I don’t miss owning a house in Minnesota. I don’t miss shoveling the driveway. I don’t miss worrying about parking when Snow Emergencies are declared. What I do miss is the beauty of the snow, the break in time that takes place when things shut down because the weather really is that bad. So I guess I have to learn here in the UK to take a break and enjoy life, Christmas, and the whole thing.

On crackers

The word ‘crackers’ means different things in the US and the UK. In the US, it’s my favorite snack food, much better than potato chips (crisps) and often either cheese flavored or used as vehicles for cheese or other nice savory foods. Here in the UK this meaning is mostly the word I find confusing, ‘biscuits’ which can can be either like crackers or can be sweet and essentially like cookies. I am well-known on this blog for being obsessed with the American crackers called Cheez-its, which are my favorite snack food ever. They are amazing on their own, or are even better in a double-cheese configuration when dipped in cream cheese. This was the subject of my recent shock contest win from another blogger in the US, where I won a box of boxes of crackers mailed to me. The resulting bounty of snack foods are pictured here:

IMG_0096

Yum. I’ll be busy for a few weeks with these, although as they arrived more than a week ago, I am already down one box of Wheat Thins and one of Cheez-its. Crackers don’t last long in my carb-craving household.

But as I was walking home from work today, I saw the seasonal British crackers in a shop window. I actually experienced this for the first time in Australia last Christmas, and there are pictures of me wearing a paper crown hat. Thank goodness for semi-anonymous blogs, as I have the perfect excuse not to post the image. But you can get the idea at the ‘Christmas Cracker Shop’ website. I looked downright silly. I can see how this is one of those holiday traditions that one retains from childhood, and I thank my Aussie friends for sharing their tradition with me last holiday season. Maybe I’ll even buy some this year to acknowledge my increasing adaptation to my adopted country. But on the balance, I think I prefer Cheez-its. And thank goodness I have another box yet to go.

Plastic pint glasses?

I could not help but chuckle and roll my eyes simultaneously when I stumbled on this article about calls for plastic pint glasses in Britain.

Plans are afoot in Britain to replace the classic pint glass with one made out of plastic.

The government’s idea is that by introducing shatter-proof plastic vessels it will help address the increasing problem of beer drinkers using pint glasses as weapons in their local pubs.

Needless to say the plan has gone down about as well as a warm beer served, well, in a plastic cup.

There have been cries about how the proposed plastic vessels will substantially affect the quality of the amber nectar being drunk.

Others claim it’s yet another example of the government’s attempts to transform Britain into a “nanny state”.

The last point is a good one, although sometimes you wonder if a nanny is needed when you see statistics like this one, also from the article:

The motivation behind the push for the new model comes from official figures showing that 5,500 people are attacked with glasses and bottles in England and Wales each year.

I do not know what to do about Britain’s binge drinking culture, or the associated violence. I experienced some of this for the first time a few months ago, when on a sunny afternoon I had to walk out of my way to avoid a drunk guy who was covered in blood and fighting with another guy. It just made me sad. And a little frightened. One of the things I loved about England when I first moved there was the ability to walk down the street at night alone without feeling as frightened as I would have in the US. But that’s no longer true, especially when you take the pub closing times into account.

It is my last full day in America until December, something which has made me surprisingly melancholy. I think I spent too long in the states this trip–I’ve acclimated myself back to American ways and now I anticipate a tough transition back to British life. That said, I am tired of living out of a suitcase, something which I have been doing for most of the days since late June. I have no travel planned until mid-December, and for that I am increasingly grateful. I also look forward to getting back into a normal routine after all this time on the road. I woke up yesterday afternoon, napping after returning very early from the beach (to avoid beach traffic) and had absolutely no idea where I was. That makes sense, as this trip has seen me in New Hampshire, Boston, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and last but most certainly not least, Minnesota. No wonder I had no idea where I was! And that’s after a summer that also included Singapore, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. Time to go “home” to England and stay there for a while.