I think I’m Capstoned….

I’ve officially made it through week 5 of my final term of instruction. It’s unlikely that I will ever be in school ever again – ever – and I’m surprised to have mixed emotions about it. Still mostly excited by the idea of getting back to work – wherever that will be… but also realising that the friends I’ve made here come from different places on the planet, so actually seeing some of them after this is all over will be unlikely. That part’s a bummer.

Sentimental nonsense aside, capstone projects are due soon and everyone is pretty much freaking out about getting them finished on time. My group’s draft report is due in two weeks. Definitely doable, but it’s going to make for some long evenings running up to its submission. I don’t know how to make online playlists, so this list of youtube links will have to suffice. 

Please enjoy this motivational capstone playlist:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkPxgUshpec

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Book learnin’ ain’t all that.

I’ve spent the better part of the day doing research for the policy paper that is due as part of my degree… Today’s project involved digging through pages of the Congressional Record from 1939. Thanks to an incorrect date in a certain report (which will go un-named here), rather than reading about the topic relevant to my paper, I read pages and pages of debate over the agriculture appropriations bill for FY1940. Totally useless as far as my policy paper is concerned, but it did allow for the discovery of this gem of a quote from Texas Congressman Sumners:

“I said to a friend of mine not long ago who asked me if I had read some books on economics, ‘I do not know much about the books that have been written on economics, but I know a little something about the economics that books are being written about.’ It is alright to read books about things, but it is better to look at the thing itself than to go stumbling over the thing with one’s face hidden in a third-rate book written by some fourth-rate theorist.”

To he fair, he did continue on to say:

 “I do not want to be taken too literally about books. They are alright in their place, but their place is to inform and stimulate thinking – not substitute for either observing or thinking.”

 –Mr. Sumners of Texas, March 23, 1939. U.S. House of Representatives.

So basically, get off your high horse books – would you please?

Cold shower, why you so meme?

It’s Monday morning of week three of term. After successfully dragging myself out of bed on time in order to get caught up on readings for today’s lecture and seminar, I’ve managed to organize all of my class folders, check my email, and spend some quality time with the book of faces.

Total number of pages read for class: Zero. Or to borrow a term I most recently encountered under the heading “funds available for withdraw” during my last stop off at an ATM: Nil.

The morning hasn’t been a total loss, though. I’ve never actually created a meme before, but that all changed this morning. We haven’t had hot water in our building since yesterday, prompting the creation of this masterpiece:

Hot water

See, apparently, the engineering company contracted with my building doesn’t work on Sundays… Not a problem, unless the hot water ALSO decides to take the day off. The two should really better coordinate their vacation times.

Now that I can add “post new blog entry” to my list of the morning’s procrastination activities, I suppose it’s safe to pick up a book now.

The Plague squashed my fun…

I’ve now officially been in the UK for more than a year. It would be easy to assume that I would have, by now, adjusted to the differences between American English and British English.

False.

The Plague has resurfaced here in London and – despite my pockets full of posies – come Wednesday morning, I was down for the count. Before you get too upset for me, you should know that being sick hasn’t been completely bad… For example, generally speaking, I don’t really have dreams that often when I sleep. Not the case when I’m sick, however. And boy are sick dreams entertaining. Some are a bit scary, but others are pretty awesome.

Last night’s adventure included two strangers entering my flat through the emergency fire exit dragging behind them a giant air conditioner. When I went into the hallway to see what the noise was, they ran away, leaving the air conditioner behind.

Earlier in the week, I was hanging out with the British actor and QI gameshow host, Stephen Fry. It’s possible we were at some sort of carnival. Go figure.

I mention all of this because it’s important for you, dear readers, to understand my sickly mental state when I went grocery shopping the other day.

There is a pretty decent Tesco Metro nearby, and this is where I normally do my grocery shopping. So this was by no means my first visit to this store. I was almost finished gathering the items on my list, when I turn down one aisle and discover this sign:

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It struck me as odd for a few reasons…

1) I’ve never noticed the sign before.

2) It never occurred to me to stock sweets and squash together; although, maybe this is a subtle ‘eat healthier’ message to consumers.

3) To have an entire squash section would imply an intense selection of squash. I’m no expert, but are there really THAT many different kinds of squash out there?

4) I walked down the aisle and didn’t see any squash at all. I did, however, notice two squash-looking items over by… wait for it… the other produce.

Was this another “Chris is sick” hallucination? Was Stephen Fry about to come around the corner dragging an air conditioner unit?

As it turns out, Squash, in addition to being everyone’s favorite produce and nobody’s favorite sport, is also a type of concentrated fruit-drink. Who knew?

Well, Jenny from my program did. So thanks, Jenny, for sorting that one out for me. It has been added to my English English dictionary.

After having bought one of everything at the Boots pharmacy, I figure by tomorrow I should be fully recovered… which leaves one more night of weird sick dream adventures. Then back to enjoying the last bit of time before classes start back up!

A moving experience

I really have done a great job at neglecting this blog over the past few weeks, starting with my failure to complete (or even start, if I’m going to be honest) the second Amsterdam post.

About Amsterdam: I will summarize by saying that it was an amazing trip and I will be returning.

I slept a ridiculous amount after returning from the trip, but eventually had to get myself into gear. There are few things that I find as miserable as the process of moving house room. My housing contract was coming to an end and, come August 16th at 10:00 am, the room that I (along with my worldly possessions) occupied would no longer be mine.

The timing worked out well… Just enough time to recover from the trip and get packed for the move. I opted to schedule a minicab for the move date, specifically mentioning that I was moving and would need a minivan for the trip. I had planned everything out. This was going to be easy.

On the day of the move, it didn’t take long before things would come dangerously close to unravelling. The cab that showed up (thirty minutes late) was most definitely not a minivan.

I’ve written before about the differences between American and British English. I’ve mistakenly told people that I iron my underwear… I’ve even accidentally insulted someone in a bar by referring to their sweater as a sweater and not a “jumper” when trying to make fun of said sweater / jumper… I’m confident in saying, however, that this time was not my fault. On the phone when scheduling the pick up, the man even said that “what you [Americans] would call a minivan” would be dispatched for my pickup.

Clearly, the gentleman on the phone has no idea what I would call a minivan, because what showed up was 100% a four-door hatchback and 0% minivan. [I attribute my excellent use of percentages to having successfully completed my first year of grad school.]

I was mortified. Never before has such a small car instilled in me so much fear. There was no way both me and my things were going to fit in this roller-skate disguised as a car. Even the driver was looking worried. He walked around the mountain of my belongings and looked at his car before turning to me, saying, “It will fit. It will be fine.” His tone was confident, but less than certain and the last thing I wanted to do was spend thirty minutes trying to load up his car only to realize – to the shock of nobody, ever – that it all wouldn’t fit.

PackedCarMoveAgainst my better judgement, I didn’t argue and we got started. If I were to have had just one more bag, it wouldn’t have worked. I stared at the packed car in disbelief and breathed a sigh of relief. I walked around the car and opened the door to get in. As I do this, the cab driver says to me with a chuckle, “No, I’m driving.”

I think the Brits insist on driving on the left just to make fun of Americans when we look the wrong way crossing the street or try to get into the driver’s seat of minicabs. It seems like a lot of effort just to have a laugh, but mystery solved all the same.

The cab driver was a really cool guy and we had a nice chat on the drive to my new digs. The next few days would give me time to get settled in and become familiar with my new neighborhood. Both were important because I was soon to have a house guest!

Well, I’ll be Amsterdamned.

My plan was to write a single post-Amsterdam entry summarizing my visit, but it didn’t take me long to realize that that was just not going to work. There’s too much to say already, and I’ve only been here since 5PM.

Maybe it’s because it has been a while since I’ve traveled purely for the purpose of seeing a new place, let alone to a place I’ve never been… But before I even left the airport after landing, I was giddy. I expected to be happy to be seeing a new place, but giddy? I’m just as shocked as you are.

It was something about the train ticket machine that tipped me over the edge. The directions weren’t in English and the way to insert your credit card was totally ridiculous. It wasn’t going through customs, it wasn’t all the Dutch being spoken on the KLM flight. It was the train ticket machine that drove home the point that I was not in Kansas / California / Washington, DC / London anymore. I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off of my face – and I only cared a little bit.

The grin was gone when I got to the train platform and realized I had no idea what was going on. It turned out to be simpler than it first appeared and my train came within a few minutes and I was on my way into the city.

Most of you know how I feel about hostels, so it won’t surprise you to know that my crash pad for the weekend is the Amsterdam Doubletree. Aside from it being pretty nice, it had the added appeal of being right next to the train station. Today was also my first experience with the Hilton Executive Lounge… Free breakfast in the mornings and early evening happy hours – and I was just in time for the latter. I pulled out my little pocket map and – over a complementary glass of wine – planned a walk around the city. And with that, I set out exploring.

A few quick observations:

* The buildings are all crooked and it is shocking to me they don’t just lean over onto themselves.

* The smell of weed isn’t everywhere, but it sure isn’t hard to find.

* I think Heineken and Amstel have a Sharks and Jets thing going on. Bars here seem to declare their allegiance with signs.

* Amsterdam is a real city AND CARS STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS AT CROSSWALKS. The first time this happened I just looked back at the driver with a confused “why are you stopping, you idiot” expression. It took a few seconds before I realized they were being polite (which is apparently a thing here) and I was being a jerk.

* There was a gift shop that sold wooden shoes. I found a pair in my size and picked them up to look at them more closely. A splinter went right into my left thumb. I can’t imagine what they would do to my feet. I opted not to buy them.

The city overall is beautiful. With the architecture and the canals… It’s like a postcard. A postcard of Amsterdam, perhaps.

For dinner, I got lazy and headed back to the hotel restaurant. Nothing I had passed on the street really caught my attention. Well, that’s a lie. I passed what I’m pretty sure was a three-story Kentucky Fried Chicken. But it wasn’t in the “oh that looks delicious” sort of way, so much as it was in the “gross, you’ve got to be kidding me” sort of way.

There was a moment of sticker shock at the restaurant. But then I remembered two things: Euros, although not cheaper than dollars, are cheaper than Pounds; and breakfast everyday is free. So I’ll have the halibut, please. Along with it, I ordered a martini. That part was a big mistake and the warning should have been when the waiter asked me to clarify. It was – hands down – the worst martini I’ve ever had. The food, on the other hand, was amazing. The baked halibut was delicious and even the little singular slices of potato were remarkable.

Full, but not in that uncomfortable way, I headed back out to continue exploring the city, abandoning my still half-full (or half-empty) martini. I walked mostly the same streets I had an hour or so earlier, but with the sun setting, they seemed completely different. The weed smell was more prevalent, but the “cafe” / “coffee” shops didn’t seem any more crowded, although I’m sure they were. But the big difference I noticed was that people were smoking in the streets. Hah.

It didn’t take long before I had wandered to the “red light” district. I guess I noticed there were sporadic red lights around, but I didn’t really connect the dots until, when looking into the windows of buildings, I came to a window with a real-life half-naked woman looking back. I don’t even want to hazard a guess as to what sort of shocked look came over me. From then on, it was just interesting to see the showmanship of it all… Street after street of women in windows, some windows had the shades closed… Not open yet, or so I assumed. That is, until right in front of me a guy emerged from one looking… Satisfied? So it turns out the closed shades mean either not open yet or currently engaged. I noticed a lot more closed shades after that as I continued my walk.

I spent another hour or so walking around before I realized I had walked into the southern canal belt area. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but I hadn’t planned on goings quite that far. So I headed back. So here I am, exhausted, but thrilled with the little bit of time I have spent here so far.

Big day tomorrow. I won’t say what I have planned because that would ruin the next entry. You don’t have to read it, but I’d like to leave myself the option of writing it.

SHLWCMTTITKR: The greatest game ever created?

Not to be left out of the fun the rest of the world seems to be having, London is experiencing a ‘warmer’ than usual summer.

Anyone who has spent 30 seconds talking to me within the last eight months is well aware that I have done my fair share of complaining about the ‘cold and grey’ London winter that seemed to carry on without end… so I refuse to complain about the heat in general. Truth be told, it is a nice change. It turns out I actually like this city when the sun chooses to make an appearance.

In keeping with the positive tone of this post, I feel like I should share with you a fun new game that has arisen as a result of the heat:

I call it “see how low we can make the thermostat in the kitchen read.” We will call it SHLWCMTTITKR for short.

The game itself is simple in concept, but – as it turns out – quite challenging in execution. Perhaps the name needs a bit of work, but it does a great job at conveying the goal, right?

The building I live in is pretty nice overall. It’s brand new and is really well insulated – which is nice during the aforementioned cold grey winters. This, along with a number of other questionable design decisions that I will not go into here, makes for an interesting summer-time experience.

Luckily for me, running a fan in my room 24/7 is sufficient at keeping my room a reasonable temperature most days. Our kitchen, however, is a completely different story. I have started to call it our sweat lodge – a tribute to the fact that even on the coolest days and nights (low 60’s), the temperature in the kitchen will not fall below a tropical 86 degrees. And so SHLWCMTTITKR was born.

Since opening the kitchen window can actually make the temperature rise, the successful SHLWCMTTITKR strategy involves opening and closing a series of doors in our flat, filling the sinks with cold water, and hoping for the best. All of this is enough to bring the temperature down from the typical 87-89 degrees down to a more manageable 86. 

This morning was a particularly proud victory in SHLWCMTTITKR game play: 86.5 degrees was achieved!

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[Dearest readers: Please note that I have converted the temperatures from the nonsensical celsius to (the perhaps more nonsensical) fahrenheit. You’re welcome.]

So if anyone is in the neighborhood and is up for a game of SHLWCMTTITKR, feel free to stop by!