Monday, October 14, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

Things that make me slightly less sad when I am sad

1. Saltines.
They’re just so salty. Look at those little crystals of happiness:

But they have to be U.S. saltines, not British salti --  oh wait, my bad. There are no British saltines. The closest thing you can find here are cream crackers, which besides having an unacceptable lack of salt are misleadingly not made of cream (which might have been a redeeming quality). At Spanish or Latin American markets, you can find Colombian saltines, which charmingly break off into little cracker triangles. They’ll do in a pinch, but are still not salty enough to sate my sodium-addicted American palate.

2. Marketplace.
As in the APM show hosted by Kai Ryssdal. That man is just so genial and comforting as he tells me how the world is falling apart one economic issue at a time.

3. Italian greyhounds.
I’ve written before about my favorite kind of dog, the pit mix. I love them, but they also make my heart ache a little bit. Maybe it’s because I know that they’re often rescued from dog-fighting rings. Maybe it’s because I’ve been conditioned by Sarah McLachlan-soundtracked ASPCA ads that spend a whole 90 seconds zooming in on their sad little cubical faces. Maybe it’s because I’m always a little worried that they’re going to topple over from the weight of their massive heads. But an Italian greyhound? Those dogs are fucking ridiculous. How could this fill you with anything but glee:

4. A dress that’s shaped like a bag.
Useful if you need to find a quiet corner in which to tuck your knees up into you like a ball and cry for a little bit (and then never return to within a half-mile radius of that spot in case someone saw you).

5. Taking the train in London.
Not the tube, the train. The one that comes to my station is the same train that goes straight up to Luton Airport, so you always feel like you’re going somewhere exciting, even if you’re really just going to Elephant & Castle (which isn’t as nice as the American pub chain of the same name would have you believe. Though there is a pretty good casino/bowling alley where they're sometimes too lazy to make you rent bowling shoes.)

6. Oversized grocery stores.
So many products! So many choices! So little time to think about your problems!

7. Henry the vacuum cleaner.

8. Photobooths.

9. Being tired enough to fall asleep without thinking anymore.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Is anyone else’s memory too abysmal to answer any of the “memorable questions” on website security forms? Actual options from a recent account I had to create:

What is the first name of the first person you kissed?
Who was the artist/band of the first concert you attended?
Who was your favourite teacher?
What was your favourite holiday destination as a child?
In what city or town did your mother and father meet?

If they won’t give me at least one “Mother’s maiden name,” I’m pretty much screwed.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

First day

I just started a masters in consumer behavior at what I’m told by everyone is a Very Good School. I didn't choose it because it's a Very Good School, I chose it because it’s the only place in London that has a masters in consumer behavior. This is the first year that the program has been offered, and so I’m very happy that they didn't have to cancel it due to no one applying for it. There are eight of us (I’m told that one of the course directors PRed the hell out of it to some innocent other-program applicants just to flesh it out), and we’re in a department with several other small courses, including Global Leadership, Digital Entrepreneurship, Management of Innovation, and other business-jargony titles. So in addition to classes like The Psychology of Marketing, we take ones called things like Innovation Case Studies and Organisational Behavior & Health. I mean, I guess these topics are related, in the sense that you can relate anything to anything else, but so far the whole thing seems a little confused. This is fine by me, really. I’m generally confused about everything at all times, so it would be pretty hypocritical of me to begrudge an educational program for having this same quality.

On Mondays I don’t have any real classes, but we do have a Guest Speaker lecture between 4 and 5pm, followed by drinks at a local pub to continue the inspired discussion that Guest Speaker is sure to have initiated. So this past Monday -- first day of school, metaphoric pencils sharpened -- we assembled in a lecture hall to listen to a very distinguished lecturer who possesses many intimidating degrees and has written more books than I've read in the past three years. The premise of his talk was this:

There are qualities that we associate with good leaders. However, we should be aware of the difference between optimal and excessive levels of these qualities, because in abundance, they can be negative and lead to dysfunctional leadership.

We were promised that this speaker would be engaging, and he was! As in he managed to stretch that one fairly obvious thought into a rollicking hour-long talk. (To be fair, he also filled up some time name-dropping the Fancy Companies for which he consults). Again, how is this relevant to consumer behaviour? Oh hell, think about that later! Everything is relevant to everything, innit? Now off to the pub!

I grabbed A., the closest thing to a friend I had so far. At our departmental meet-and-greet the week prior, we had bonded over our mutual desire to sneak out quickly and quietly without having to say goodbye or to talk to any of our program directors.  

“I’m not going to go,” she said. “I just don’t know what I’d ask him.”

I didn't either, but I figured nodding and smiling while other people ask things usually works pretty well. At the pub, I found a seat next to two other girls whom I had yet to meet. Speaker asked us where we were from. The other two girls were English. “Ah!” he said. “God’s chosen people.”

He went on to ask how we were settling in, before following up with everyone’s second favorite thing to say about our Very Good School (after the part about it being Very Good). “It’s a beautiful campus here,” he said. “But what a terrible neighborhood.”

Nods. Smiles.

“It seems like a very political place,” the girl next to me said. “I think the other day there was some sort of demonstration!”

“Oh yes. Very political," Speaker said. "And this department is very international."

Were we very international, comparatively, I wondered? I just assume that any well-known university has a lot of international students these days. It’s our radically inflated tuition fees that are paying for all those shiny new Macs in the computer lab, right?

“It’s wonderful that it’s so international,” Speaker went on. “But the problem with the international students is, after they’re finished they want to stay here!”

Nods. Smiles. Wine-gulping.

Speaker moved on to talk to another group of students soon after that. All I really heard was, “Beautiful campus, terrible neighborhood!”

Always nice to be met at your new institution by the Old Tory Welcome Wagon.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bad Tenant

My landlord, Dr. Wang, frequently assumes that I have done things that I haven't. These things typically have to do with the trash, the mail, or some other matter of mutual household use. He usually catches me as I'm arriving home and runs out of his acupuncture office on the ground floor of the building to tell me what it is that I shouldn't be doing. This is by no means a daily occurrence, but it happens frequently enough that whenever I see him, I do my best to smile, wave, and get the key in the door as fast as possible to avoid such encounters.

For example: one day a pile of trash bags and recycling containers mysteriously appeared on our doorstep and remained there for several days. A few evenings after their appearance, Dr. Wang ran out to talk to me. "Kate," he said, pointing at the mess. "Don't put trash on the doorstep." I looked at the bags from an Asian supermarket I had never heard of, filled with things I had never seen, and said, "Ok, I won't."

The awkwardness of these interactions is compounded by the fact that Dr. Wang, who is from China, speaks English with a very strong accent, and I speak, well, no Chinese. Sometimes I just cannot understand what he is telling me not to do. Recently, very soon after having returned from a weeklong trip to Spain, I was coming home from work when Dr. Wang accosted me at the doorway and said ... something. I felt like I could put together a string of words that he was saying, but the words didn't make any sense. So I repeated to him exactly what I thought he had said: "Don't put chest out back."

"Yes!" he said, excited that I seemed to get it.

"I have no idea what that means," I said.

Dr. Wang motioned for me to follow him and led me through his office until we were looking out of the back window into the tiny concrete space between our building and the ones surrounding it. He pointed at three full plastic trash bags lying in the middle of the dismal courtyard. "Don't put trash out back," he said. "The lady next door. She says she saw you throw trash out the window. Don't do that."

Let's examine the reasons that this could not possibly be true:
  • 1) I didn't even really know this concrete space existed or that it was underneath any of my windows. I mean, I guess if pressed I would have imagined that a space like this existed, or at least admitted that it was logical for a space like this to exist, but only after a lot of thought.
  • 2) I don't really know how to get the screens out of any of my windows. I suppose I should figure this out before I die in a building fire.
  • 3) I am far too lazy to overcome either of these thought hurdles in order to figure out how to throw trash out my window. Relatedly: I don't think I am creative enough to even come up with the idea of throwing trash out of my window in the first place.
  • 4) Did I mention I had spent the past week in Spain?

I didn't try to reason with Dr. Wang. I simply said, "I didn't do that." He looked at me, dumbfounded. "But the lady says she saw you," he said.

"I don't know what to tell you. I didn't do it."

"Ok," he said, but it was clear that Dr. Wang did not trust my word over the word of The Lady. (Side note: I'm interested in just how The Lady conveyed to Dr. Wang that the guilty one was I and not one of the other two 20-something girls who live in my building.) We seemed to be at an impasse, and so I returned home to my apartment and continued to not throw trash out of my window.

In conclusion, whoever is doing mildly deviant things around my apartment building, please don't do that. Because I'm probably going to get blamed for it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Recent news regarding my hair

Until about three weeks ago, I hadn’t washed my hair in seven years. Well, that’s not entirely true. It had been washed, but only about three times a year when I had it dyed, and even then it was just an unfortunate requirement of hair dying and certainly not a voluntary choice. After a washing, it would take seriously a week for me to like it again, which is an unacceptably long time for a modern girl who’s just trying to make it in this world while looking good and feeling good. Sometimes super-short hair is just better dirty.

When I would admit my lack of hair-washing in conversation (it comes up!), the most common reaction would be casual incredulity. “So, you just, like, use conditioner on it?” No. “What, you just rinse it every day?” No, not really. “You don’t wash it as in you just wash it once a week or something?” No, I don’t wash it as in I don’t own shampoo.

The only people from whom I ever cared to hide my hair habits were certain gentlemen who might have run their fingers through it or nuzzled their faces into it. I worried they would be horrified. But if they found out, and they sometimes did, they never seemed to care. (Side note: thank you, straight boys, for being so low-maint.)

But recently, I’ve been growing my hair out, and an earth-shattering thing has happened: it looks better when I wash it sometimes. The past couple weeks, I’ve been washing it every few days! I’ve been using a tiny bottle of shampoo/conditioner called Tulipan that I took from my hotel in Mexico City, but I think it smells like nothing like tulips and a whole lot like Cherry Robitussin. (Do Mexicans like this smell? No entiendo.) And so, for the first time in years, I am ready to buy a bottle of shampoo. I am inordinantly excited about this, but I am also stymied by indecision. In the shampoo aisle of the drug store, I can do nothing but stare, dumbfounded, at the variety of available shampoos. It’s like that scene in Hurt Locker where Evangeline Lilly sends Jeremy Renner to get cereal and he just can’t process all the basically same-looking cereals in the grocery aisle.

So you guys, what kind of shampoo should I get? Should I get something with “bio-” in the name? Should I get this kind called Fruitopia out of nostalgia for the the now-defunct mid-90s beverage of same name? Should I get my childhood favorite, The Body Shop’s Ice Blue shampoo? (It makes your head feel all tingly!) I can totally get down with chemicals, so it needn’t be Whole Foods worthy. Suggestions welcome.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Things I learned about Bermuda while in Bermuda

1. If you arrive in the country without yet knowing know where you’ll be staying during your trip and you unwittingly admit this to the customs agents by leaving the “Where are you staying during your trip?” section of your customs form blank, you will not be allowed to leave the Bermuda airport until you can prove that you have procured a hotel reservation. You will be sent to the immigration office, where a very friendly immigration officer will act as your personal travel agent and call around the island to find you a room. He may even give you his cell number and invite you for a drink later, an action that would surely get him fired were he an American immigration official.

2. Relatedly: if you try and book a hotel room at the last minute during high season, you will have a very hard time finding one. The available ones will be exceedingly expensive, even those that are in quaint but ramshackle bed & breakfasts where the floors creak and the bathroom doors don’t fully shut. You’re frugal, you say? You want to stay at a hostel? Too bad. There aren’t any. Want to pitch a tent and camp? Too bad. You’re not allowed.

4. Bermudian money is just like American money, only pretter. Also, they have lots of $2 bills.

Bermuda's public buses:
a) Are blue and pink. Who wouldn’t want to ride on such a festive bus?
b) Seem to have no way of tracking fares. Upon boarding, passengers drop money, tokens, or tickets into a non-computerized cylindrical container while the drivers seem to pay little attention. I think you just could drop your grocery list in there and no one would be the wiser.
c) Are designed for Lilliputians. Squeezing down the aisle is a comedy of errors, even if you are a normal-sized human who should theoretically be able to walk down a bus aisle with ease.

6. In every post office you will find an Internet kiosk that you can use -- for free! Also, you will not find an Internet kiosk anywhere else on the island.

7. There is only one fast-food chain on the island. It is a KFC. At this KFC, you can get a 125-piece barrel of chicken nuggets for $60.75 and an accompanying barrel of coleslaw for $38.95.

8. Barritt’s in a can tastes better than Barritt’s in a bottle.

9. The heat and humidity cause ice melt very fast, making for watered-down dark & stormies. I suggest to local establishments that they use larger chunks of ice for slower melting. Bermudian bars, call me.