Category Archives: shopping

Scenes from China, part 3

The scene: The gift shop at the Summer Palace, Beijing. I saw this t-shirt and busted out half snorting and half laughing, and grabbed my camera. My sister says that the girls behind the counter were talking about it, wondering “Why do the foreigners always laugh when they see that shirt?” They clearly had no idea. Too bad I couldn’t think of a young guy with the right sort of frat boy mentality to buy it for.

Dear So-and-So, post-China edition

Dear Chinese taxi drivers,

Some of you were lovely. But overall, riding in your cabs was terrifying. That thing where you swerve into oncoming traffic to try to get ahead a few cars in the queue? Not cool.

Glad to be alive, NFAH

Dear Chinese traffic authorities,

How the heck is it that there is no discernible enforcement of any sort of traffic law in all of China? Speed limits, pedestrian right-of-way, cars driving into oncoming traffic, none of these deserve any attention? Really?

Again, glad to be alive, NFAH

Dear stomach,

We have been back in the UK for nearly 96 hours now. Could you please stop rebelling against this return to normalcy? I know China was full of different and interesting foods and the whole thing was a bit of a shock, but we’re home now. Please start acting like it.

Tired of feeling a bit off, NFAH

Dear Cheese,

After a nearly perfect dairy-free 12 days with my semi-vegan sister in China, I thought I could quit you. It turns out, I was wrong. More mozzarella, please.

I know I’m weak, NFAH

Dear Beijing hotel,

I know I was supposed to be on vacation while I was in China. But the fact that you had no hot water in the shower on the one morning I was to do a half-day or work, that was not cool. Not cool at all.

Still shivering at the memory, NFAH

Dear Chinese silk store,

I can’t help it, I found you irresistible. Now that I’m home, I don’t know where to put all the little silk wallets and iPod cases I bought… any interested readers, speak up! I can bring some to the May expat blogger meet-up!

Drowning in brightly colored prettiness, NFAH

Dear So-and-So, Frantic Friday Edition

Dear World of Work,

You do realize that if you set all of the deadlines for the same week, even if everything does miraculously get done it will not get done well or with the care it normally would have been given, right? And oh yes you can take your Friday close-of-business deadlines and put them somewhere that the sun doesn’t shine, I am not going to bust my gut to give you something that will sit on your desk in an empty office over the weekend. You’ll have it all by Monday morning. And yes I am writing dear so-and-so letters instead of finishing another incremental paper shuffle and I’m aware that I’m doing it.

Never one for arbitrary-ness, especially in paperwork, NFAH

Dear Subconscious,

May I express my displeasure at your having invented a new recurring anxiety dream this week? I already had the whole ‘airport going to miss my plane’ thing and the whole ‘flying-heights-falling’ thing but now the ‘show up to give a lecture/performance/recital unprepared’ thing too? I really did not need this (although interesting how clearly it reflects the current state of things…)

Needs less dreams, more sleep, NFAH

Dear British Schools,

As usual, I find there to be something deeply interesting about the way you react to things–in this case, banning Valentine’s cards to avoid students having hard feelings. As several bloggers in America have noted recently (this from CalifLorna being but an example) the American reaction is to encourage the students to give something to everyone in the class, not to ban the holiday altogether. I think I prefer the inclusive latter solution, although it wouldn’t make for as exciting a headline.

Hearts and cards and chocolates for all, NFAH

Dear Microsoft,

You won this round, I had to break down and buy Office for my laptop after a series of misadventures with Open Office, involving the dropping of greek letters and the refusal to properly pdf anything that had the characters “fi” next to each other in a Times New Roman font. The nice manager in the Apple store disappointedly knew nothing about how to use equations in iWork Pages and playing around made it look like a no-go at least in terms of a short learning curve.

Someday I’ll be able to quit you, but unfortunately so far that day has not arrived, NFAH

Dear Grandma,

It was so good to talk to you this week and to be able to wish you a Happy 93rd birthday! And I’m sure you’ll forgive me for not confessing that I very nearly forgot, and was saved by someone at work making an offhand comment about elderly parents which then got me saying I have a ninety–whoa Grandmother whose birthday is today eek better remember to call her! And no matter how much you try to tell me that you’re not the adventurous type and don’t know how I can live abroad, I will continue to refuse to believe you on the grounds of that whole fantastic 1939 World’s Fair adventure plus that whole bus to the west coast adventure–your 20s were pretty adventurous even by modern standards.

All my love from England, NFAH

Dear Bloggy Friends,

If I’m quiet for a few days, both here and on your blogs, understand it’s because my sister will be here and real people trump people in the computer.

I’ll be back, NFAH

Shock contest win

I am almost infamous for entering contests and never winning, but much to my surprise today, my fortunes appear to be turning. I have won a contest over at “Smitten by Britain,” a blog written by an American Anglophile with a history (and child!) from her time here in Blighty. (Note, I know that I need to add a category to my popular “Expat blogs” page with anglophiles in the US and vice versa… will do soon, work permitting, I promise!) Visit Smitten’s blog or follow her on twitter at @smittnbybritain–she has the same affliction as I do, as “on twitter notfrmroundhere” instead of NotFromAroundHere”– in that we are not allowed our full names due to character restrictions and thus have to delete vowels. Regardless, I now have to provide a list of crackers (savory snack biscuits, not anything else) that I want to have shipped over from the states as part of the winning entry for this contest. My obvious choices are anything in the Cheez-it family and Wheat Thins and Triscuits. Better Cheddars would do, as would just about anything in the cracker family. But I will think long and hard before I compile the final list since it’s such a blessing to get food from home. Bisquick, anyone?

I like to be in America

It’s amazing that I have been here more than a week and a half already, and have been through three main stages of the trip. Part of the nature of my whirlwind start to this trip was due to the fact that I was traveling with a junior colleague. I wanted to show her an awesome and multi-faceted technical experience as well as a bit of my country, as long as we were here. So after working solidly all weekend, Tuesday was the day for a bit of fun, and we went to pay tribute to a few of my favorites in the Nation’s capital. Almost first was Einstein, but I was so busy taking photos of my colleague in his lap that I forgot to take a photo myself. On to Lincoln.

DC monuments - 1

DC monuments - 4


DC monuments - 3

And my personal favorite, Jefferson.

DC monuments - 6

DC monuments - 7

DC monuments - 8

Inspiring stuff. I was never quite so patriotic before I moved to England.

From there it was over to Georgetown for lunch and shopping on M street. I think I showed my colleague a nice day in DC, and for me it was nostalgic to be back in my old haunts.

Queues and Kids

I know that some wonderful stores have a single queue, usually snaking back and forth a few times, and then many registers that call the next person forward by register number. WH Smith, Boots, and the bank branch near my flat all seem to follow this very fair system of queueing. (I can’t believe spell checker is not flagging those five vowels in a row, U-E-U-E-I!) However, not all stores have this sort of arrangement, including grocery stores (except the express line) and a few others. So the experience I’m about to relate has to be considered unique to stores with individual check-out lines.

I had my basket of goods and was looking at the three open check-out lanes to try and optimize my store-exit strategy. Lurking behind one of the lines was a woman with a baby in one of those car seat-carriers stuck in a cart and there was also a little girl running around her. It was actually not clear that she was in line, but I still avoided that one and got into another line. Suddenly I hear this voice behind me, “Ma’am, Excuse me but I was already waiting for the next available cashier.” I turned around, I’m guessing that my jaw was dropped in shock and that I gave her one of those “You’ve got to be kidding me!” looks. She said, “Give me a break, I have an infant and a two-year old here.”

I let her go. I was not really in the mood for a fight, but now I’m sorta peeved with myself for allowing this obnoxious woman to redefine the queue structure from individual lanes into she-moves-around-and-gets-whatever-comes-up-next. I might have felt differently had she said, in a polite tone of voice, “I’m sorry but is there any way possible I could take the next lane?” but she did not actually ask me. And her tone of voice was neither sweet nor polite, and it only got worse with the comment about the kids, as though she was somehow entitled to special treatment by virtue of being a mother.

I admit it, I do not have children (nor do I intend to, but that’s a different story). So I don’t know if I’m somehow violating a universally-acknowledged right of motherhood by feeling ornery about this particular altercation. But admittedly I do get a bit stroppy when someone tries to get special treatment. I kinda feel like most of us have difficult lives, and are tired, and overworked, and so I don’t see some sort of totally non-level playing field based on to be or not to be a mother. Of course, my cashier in the queue in which I landed was very speedy and I was actually out of the store before the Holy Mother, so I did not have to look at her again, which was probably a good thing. But I’m interested in opinions here, was this particularly brash or am I being sensitive? Should this type of attitude be justifiable solely on the grounds of being out in public with small children?

And now I have no flies

I am so very happy with the portable fly-screens that I got last week:


I have now solved a problem that is over two years old by finding appropriately sturdy, removable and effective fly blockers for my flat. With the actual summer weather we have been having here in the UK, this became a necessity, not a desire, as there was something odd about the light in my main/living room that seemed to attract a large group of the annoying, buzzing insects, who liked to fly around the room in circles. Hooray for (rather primitive) technology, as for approximately £50 I got three screens for the old-school sash windows in my living room, and can now enjoy the summer breezes without losing my sanity or needing to continually spray toxic poisons around my living space. Good for expat life? You betcha.