Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Daffodil Parade

Daffodils are coming into season in England and as I stare at the mini bouquets of the trumpet-shaped flower John has created on the coffee table, I'm reminded of the significance this particular flower has to the tiny town I grew up in.

Sumner, Washington doesn't have much to boast of:  one main street which consists of a pharmacy (where the pharmacists have known me since I was a newborn), a bar (above where I briefly had ballet lessons), a dry cleaner's (where my dad has his pants tailored and dry cleaned), and stores with names like "A Picket Fence" selling knick knacks and things that appeal to women who like to think they live in a country home somewhere in the middle of Montana rather than Washington.  Yee-haw.  

Every year, however, a flurry of excitement takes over the town as the residents prepare for The Daffodil Parade.  This parade travels not only through Sumner, but also through the three neighboring cities: Orting, Puyallup and Tacoma.  High school marching bands, dance teams, cheerleaders and - the main attraction - heavily decorated floats (like the one above) slowly make their way down the main streets to the cheering and applause of crowds lining the sidewalks, like some kind of parasitic ooze slowly taking over the pavement.  People even bring their own chairs, you know, the foldable kind with the cup holders.  They sit with their visors to block the sun and/or umbrellas (which also somehow plug into the same chair), depending on the weather.  For many, this is the highlight of their year.

For me, all I ever wanted was to be a Daffodil Princess (the girls pictured above) - Sumner, Puyallup, Tacoma and Orting's answer to Miss America.  Miss Universe, for all that mattered.  Daffodil Princesses were carefully selected to represent their high schools in this parade and usually consisted of variations on the same beaming, brunette/blonde who looked wholesome, cute, and smiled winningly into the camera for their newspaper shot.  I was never any of those things.  But I wanted to wear the damn tiara, the white gloves, the yellow dress.  I wanted to be perched on that daffodil laden float and wave reverently to the crowds.  One day I expressed my dejection to my mother.  "Jaime," my mom frowned.  "Who cares about this stupid kind of thing?  You could represent your school in many better things ... like, for example, if you were to have the highest SAT score in the district!" she suggested brightly.  I gave her a withering look. 

But see, when you grow up in a small town, you can't help but have these sorts of aspirations and dreams.  You never think that anything bigger or better could be out there for you, shining, smiling and waiting for you to arrive.  When I think of my journey from Sumner/Puyallup to London, I think of this parade and how I used to envy those girls perched lovingly atop the coveted float.  And I laugh at myself for ever wanting - more than anything in the world - that damn tiara, the white gloves, the yellow dress.  I think of how much bigger my world has become and how eager I am to discover it.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

"Can I See Some I.D., Please?" Part II

It was 9:30 p.m.  And after the emotionally draining events of this week, I decided that JK and I needed some treats.  So I threw on a hoodie and my Asics and embarked on Operation Buy-What-You-Want-Because-It'll-Make-You-Feel-Better at my local Tesco.  I was on a mission.  I walked directly to the beer fridge and pulled a four-pack of Corona, swung open the door to the Krispy Kreme display and helped myself to two glazed donuts.  Then I marched over to the magazine aisle and threw a New Look in my basket.  Upon checking out these items at the till, I busied myself rummaging in my bag for my wallet.  The man scanned my beers.  "Do you have a Tesco clubcard?" he asked.  "Nope," I said, still rummaging.  "Any petrol?" he asked, as this particular Tesco is also a gas station.  "No, no petrol," I said, smiling and looking up.  He looked at me for a second and continued to scan my items.  Finally, he asked, "How old are you?" I knew it was coming.  I said, "I'm 26, but if you'd like to check my I.D., that's absolutely fine."  That's when the customer next to me perked up his ears and turned to assess me.  Oh boy, here we go again.  'Please let it not be as cringe-worthy as my M&S experience,' I thought. "You know," the man boomed, as he squinted at me.  "You look about ... seventeen."  Ok, that's slightly better than 13 or 12.  "No," I said, smiling.  "I look about twelve."  He laughed.  "That's good on you, love," he said, still laughing.  "What -" I said.  "That I'll look about 20 when I'm 40?"  "No," he said.  "It's good on you to say 'I look about twelve' when someone says you look seventeen.  Ha ha ha!" And then he was gone.  I lugged the Coronas home and looked at myself in the mirror.  My bangs had blown to one side and my cheeks were rosy.  The lack of the cat-eye liquid liner I usually pile on for work made me look significantly younger.  In fact, I looked about twelve.

Friday, February 26, 2010

To 'X' or Not To 'X', That Is The Question

Next Tuesday I'm going to see The XX, this year's "it-band" from Wandsworth (SW London) at Shepherd's Bush Empire, which I'm really, really excited about.  I love them not only because I think they represent a new generation of punk/indie/electronic music and look more like social outcasts (sorry) than those too-cool-for-school East London hipsters (puke), but also because of their name.  The XX.

Now, the following may have nothing to do with the band's name, but I'm gonna go ahead (good segue anyway ... sort of).

In the US, girls sometimes (yes, I said girls, not women) sign off emails or letters to each other with 'xoxo' which more or less means, hugs and kisses.  But upon moving to England, I found out that signing emails, texts, letters, cards, etc. with 'x' is actually very commonplace and used by both grown men and women.  I didn't get it at first.   You see, there are three (or four, depending on your enthusiasm) "levels", so to speak, of 'x'-ism.  You've got the polite level, which is one 'x', the pretty friendly and affectionate level, 'xx', then you've got 'xxx', which should really be reserved for best friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, etc. (although children who sign 'xxx' to their parents remind me of those grown adults who refer to their mom and dad as "Daddy and Mummy" - shudder).  The fourth unofficial level is 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx' or any variation thereof, which, I think, is equivalent to the 'xoxo' that girls on Gossip Girl might use (except they don't, they say 'xoxo').

If you're familiar with someone, then you should probably always sign off your texts, emails, etc. with 'x' (unless this is someone you work with, which might be weird, because would you really kiss that person?  No.  Although, if you're also friends with your colleague, then it's ok to say 'x' in an unofficial work email).  So the first text I ever received from a British friend I had recently made during my study-abroad days went something like this: 'Hey, a few of us are going down to the JCR after hall for some drinks if you'd like to join x'.  And so I had to reply like this: 'Sounds great, I'll see you there x'. 

Now it just might be my own interpretation and maybe a Brit can correct me, but omitting the 'x' from your sign off is a pretty devastating blow to friendship.  If I'm in a hurry, I sometimes forget to add it on, but if I'm mad at someone, I'll purposely leave it off from my curt response.  Like this: 'Can you please buy some milk to replace the one you drunkenly finished last night.  Thanks.'  Adding further insult to injury is the absence of a question mark, which suggests a command, rather than a plea.  If I receive a short message from a friend who usually signs his/her messages with an 'x' or 'xx' (or 'xxx') without one of these kisses, then I automatically think I've done something wrong (and probably have).

So don't let the different levels of 'x'-isms confuse you.  If you have any questions, contact your local authority on British culture (definitely not me, but I can get you one if needed).  Meanwhile, enjoy this video of The XX performing on Later ... Live With Jools Holland.



The Northern Irish Tube Driver Lady Is NOT From Northern Ireland

Last night, I made contact with the Northern Irish Tube Driver Lady!  Except I feel like a fool because she's not from Northern Ireland at all, but rather, the Republic of Ireland (AKA Ireland.  I'm notoriously bad with accents - just ask John.  He'll just shake his head.  I should have known as well if I compared her accent to those on Father Ted, as Father Ted is also NOT from Northern Ireland.).  Her name is Anne and she wrote me a lovely message which you all can read in the comments section here.  I'm trying to find out when her trains are as I think everyone should experience the joy of traveling during one of Anne's journeys. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Liberty & Co.

Before John moved to his new flashy job in the City, he used to work in Oxford Circus AKA retail heaven.  By his office was a gorgeous Tudor building that boasted in famous script, Liberty.  I'd walk by, in a rush, usually, after work to meet John for a show or for dinner and pass this amazing landmark in the dark - only able to glance in its carefully designed window displays dressed with mannequins draped in Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu and other designers I only dared to dream of ever wearing. This store with the fantastic windows, of course, unbeknownst to me for quite a while, was actually  Liberty & Co., the long-established department store (I prefer the word "emporium"), more famous for its original "liberty print" than the designers it boasts.  Although I can only really afford to buy one button in this magnificent store (not joking), it is really worth walking through to admire its Vivienne Westwood shoe collection or accessories counter with Miu Miu headbands casually thrown into a glass bowl. 

So when fellow friend and chic Londoner (her, not me), Jodi, alerted me to Liberty's new collection for Target this spring, I was ecstatic, to say the least.  Although the collection hasn't opened yet, the preview on the website promises an array of wonderful designs, such as liberty print teapots, bikes, and throws.  So if you're lucky enough to be near a Target in the US, do look out for it.  In the meantime, mom, if you're reading this, can you please scope it out for me?

Photo source

I Like The NHS

I'm not having a great day.  And it's only the morning.  The face at left basically describes how I feel right now (spatula and all) after a night of firemen traipsing in and out of my flat in their wet, muddy boots trying to find the source of a leak (more like gushing waterfall) that apparently originated from a burst pipe directly under my flat and essentially caused thousands (if not millions) of pounds worth of damage to the flat below ours and the flat below theirs.  Problem is, the people below us are on holiday.  In the Caribbean.  On a cruise.  So they probably won't be too happy to come home at the end of their pina-colada infused trip and find that their gorgeous French windows leading into the garden have been smashed and water damage done to their extremely expensive paintings and other collectable art.  Because of all this, our water supply had to be completely turned off, along with our boiler, which meant that I woke this morning to a freezing cold, water-less flat. 

In addition, I had a doctor's appointment today, which was fine as I really like my doctor and in fact, love the medical practice I'm registered with on Abbey Road.  As I've moved recently, I presented the receptionist at the front desk with a utility bill showing proof of my new address.  "Great," she said, passing it back to me.  She pointed to the map taped to the desk, with their "catchment" area highlighted in an obscene yellow.  "Can you just check for me on the map that you're still within our catchment area?"  "Sure!" I chirped brightly.  But as I traced the street names along with my finger, I found that my new abode was exactly 1.5 minutes outside of their catchment area (I know this because I walked it today).  "Um ... I'm kind of ... here," I said hesitantly, pointing out my new address.  The receptionist's nose wrinkled.  "I'm so sorry, that's outside of our catchment area."  "Yeah, I know," I said patiently.  "But I thought that once you registered with a GP, you could stay with them regardless of where you moved to.  Besides, I live literally one minute outside of your catchment area," I protested.  "Yes, that is a new government intiative, but until we have a directive, we can't do that.  I'm really sorry," she said regretfully. 

Ok, breathe.  Once you find a doctor (or two or three, as I've found is true at The Abbey Medical Centre) you like, you're very reluctant to change.  Besides, despite the lovely surroundings of Maida Vale, they're short of good doctors.  I've heard horror stories from friends nearby who are registered with the local GPs.  So I appealed to my doctor himself and pleaded with him to make a case for me.  "I'm afraid there's nothing I can personally do," he said, sweeping his hands out helplessly.  "The only thing I can suggest is writing a letter to the practice manager because we sometimes do keep on patients at our discretion."  And, as if recognizing me as a foreigner in the country, he said, "I'm really sorry about the bureaucracy here."  Here, as in the UK.  Here, where a large chunk of my paycheck every month goes to the National Health Services.

But you know what?  (And this is going to be controversial)  I stopped and looked at him and thought, 'there's nothing to apologize for.'  It's no worse than the US, where you wait months and months to see a doctor who sees you for 2 minutes, dismisses your symptoms with a wave of their hand or a flurry of scrawled pen on a prescription pad and pay out of your nose for insurance premiums plus the co-pay and prescription costs.  I have been to the emergency room twice in different parts of England and seen at least 10-12 different doctors in the locations I've lived in and I can testify that I received some of the best medical care and attention I've ever had in my life.  Period.  Now I won't go as far to say that I love the NHS, because days like today can make me frustrated and annoyed with the policies and practices, and I can't say that I've always been 100% satisfied with the treatment I've received, but I can say, hand on my heart, that in the times that I have needed serious help, I've gotten it.  And I'm grateful for it.  Very grateful.  The NHS is a humane practice - opposite of what conservatives and other skeptics in America labelling it "scary" or "murderous".  I'm not saying it would absolutely work for America - I think a lot of changes would have to be made to tailor it to the American system.  But for the most part, it works for England, in my opinion.  And if I must, I am also fortunate enough to have the choice of seeing a private doctor.

I don't want to make this too long, so I'm not going to cite all the examples of when the NHS has helped me or cured me (or my family, as evidenced by the time my dad cleverly managed to leave his diabetic tool kit at home in Washington when visiting me in London).  But I am sick and tired of hearing people complain and not give enough thanks.  Yes, there are problems with it, yes there are horror stories - aren't there the same problems and horror stories in hospitals and clinics throughout the world?  Something to think about.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Update: Dear Northern Irish Tube Driver Lady

After blogging about the Northern Irish Tube Driver Lady last week, I decided to write to TFL in search of her true identity.  Today I received the following email from TFL:

Our ref: 1006001022
Date: 24.02.2010

Dear Miss Tung

Thank you for your feedback form about one of our train drivers on the Bakerloo line.

I'm pleased that you found the announcements made by our driver so helpful and positive. I can't provide you with the driver's personal details but I've passed your comments on to the Train Operations Managers for the Bakerloo line so they can let her read what you've said and give her chance to read your blog.

Thanks again for taking the time to write into us. Please contact me again if you need any help in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Booth

Customer Service Advisor

Customer Service Centre

Alas, I didn't think they'd reveal her true identity.  But I do hope she really does get my message and knows how wonderful she is.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Vicar of Dibley

Ok, so I'm not even pissed off that I didn't get to miss work to go to the sales conference (which happened to be in Eastbourne this year) or be provided with dinner entertainment from Michael McIntyre (totally over him, SO last year) during the evening "banquet" or rub shoulders with other C-list-celebrities-come-pseudo-authors.  What I am pissed off about is missing Dawn French, (AKA The Vicar of Dibley) who also happened to be at this said event, talking about her new book that we're publishing.   That hurt a little. 

Like Jonathan Creek, The Vicar of Dibley is a British television show that holds a special place in my heart.  When I was weeping into my cold plate of beans on toast for dinner back in York approximately 3 years ago because I had no friends or social life to speak of, the Vicar became my friend.  Yes, I found one of those sketchy "free streaming tv shows" websites and watched episodes of The Vicar of Dibley back to back when I had trouble sleeping or missed home too much.  The Vicar's hilarious interactions with her parish cheered me immensely and allowed me to wipe my tears and sniffles away.  It only became sad again when I downloaded the theme song onto my iPod (which might explain why I had no friends at the time - the song has since been deleted.  Ok, so I haven't deleted it but you shouldn't judge me anyway, as Howard Goodall is a musical genius).

Now, I'm by no means a religious person.  Spiritual, maybe, but more like Mother Nature and yoga ala Avatar (which, if you haven't seen already, OMG you totally have to!) than the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (if this offends you, please stop reading - don't try to convert me).  But I loved the show.  I loved the people of Geraldine Granger's parish, I loved her sermons, her plucky, feminist spirit and most of all, how much she and the parish made me laugh.  There isn't a time when I step into a small country church and don't recall, with great affection, this lovely sitcom. 

So that's why I'm pissed off about missing the sales conference.

Photo source

Chip Butttaaaaayyyyyy

Oh well now, that's rich.  Brits (some, not all - not everyone is an ignoramus) like to spout off about how unhealthy and fat and obese and lazy Americans are, and then they come up with this wonderful creation and expect me to keep quiet?  I'm not sure if you can see this, but those are fries - yes, FRIES - between two halves of a hamburger bun.  Yes, that's right, FRIES + BREAD = chip butty.  But you have to say it like a Leicester local: "chip buttayyy".  Not, "chip butty."  Chip buttayyyyy.  No, not "booootayy", "buttayyy."  Can you see the grease on the paper?  Gross, huh?  So after you purchase this artery clogger from your local "chippy" ("chippay" AKA fish and chip shop), you're supposed to sprinkle liberally with salt and a good shake of vinegar and eat with ketchup.  I'd like to say it's yummy, but it's not really.  Just ... weird.

25 Days of Vacay


Everyone has a happy place.  You know, that place you think of and count to ten backwards when something or someone is severely pissing you off.  The photo above is a picture of my happy place.  It's some random bar pool in Oia, Santorini where I spent about three hours sunbathing and really, genuinely "chilling out" (in every sense of the phrase) last September.  When I close my eyes and think of this place, I can remember everything about it: the scorching sun beating down on me and the relief of the ice-cold pool when I couldn't stand the heat anymore, the way my Coke was deliciously cold but flat (and that I didn't even mind), and most of all, the quietness of my surroundings.  I could hear people chatting beside me with my eyes closed and my hand over my face to shield the oppressive sun, but their voices sounded muted and so they became almost a quiet breath of voices, rising up and down.  Then there was the hum: a very low hum of the cruise ships below docking, loading and unloading, ferrying away the loud and eager tourists below the caldera.  When I close my eyes and go to my happy place, these are all the things I see and feel and remember.

I've been thinking about coming back to the US and living and working there - after all, I'm American.  And I miss it.  But one of the things I fear most about going back is the restricted number of vacation days.  Sounds silly to you, but it's a big deal to me.  I treasure my breaks from work, city life and reality.  Two weeks is not enough.  Right now, 25 days (excluding Bank Holidays, which are random and delightful surprises to me still) are just about enough for me to fulfill the long weekends I like to spend in the country or the week/2-week long stays in places like paradise above.  I've watched my dad painstakingly "save up" his precious holidays so he can spend a mere two weeks in Hong Kong to visit his mother instead of coming to visit me for a week or go to Greece, or Spain.  Just not sure I could do it. 

And then there's the question of where to go.  I guess I've taken my current location for granted, and I hear it in the whine in my voice when discussing possible holiday destinations with friends:  "I could go to France, but I don't want to go to France again, I want a beach holiday and I don't want Greece, I want something different, like ... like ... I don't know, France."  Because everything seems possible here - France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, etc. - there's minimal planning involved, plenty of terrific EasyJet flights and deals and relatively short flights, which also means no jet lag.  "If you lived in the US, you could go to Florida or California for sun," an American friend suggested. "You can ski in Colorado or Whistler."  And I don't know how to say it without sounding ungrateful or arrogant, but I suppose I'm looking for a bit of culture when I travel as well. 

Maybe I'm not ready to leave.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Mid-Afternoon Craving: Dunkin' Donuts

I want.  I want real bad.
Photo source

Pudding vs. Pudding

Three years ago, while studying abroad in the UK, I gained about 8 pounds in 3 months.  This could have been due to my discovery of chocolate covered digestive biscuits (took me about 2 days to finish 1 pack, when it takes normal people a couple of weeks), or the cheese toasties and banana muffins for breakfast in the JCR, but what I think really did it were the stodgy and rich desserts I ate in Hall every night after the stodgy and rich appetizers and main courses.  Not that I complained, as it was all very delicious.  It was during this time that I discovered my love for traditional English desserts, or "puddings", as they're called here.  See, when I think of pudding, I think chocolate or tapioca - something I eat when I've just gotten my wisdom teeth out or as an afternoon snack.  I've searched high and low for some American pudding, but can't find any (kind of like asking someone in Asda where their frozen cookie dough is ... you get the blank stare).  Not even jello (unless you make it yourself, which is, of course, entirely possible, but when you just want to get a six pack of tapioca pudding to have on hand, it's just not available). 

British "puddings" or desserts are as fascinating as they are delicious.  In America, our desserts usually consist of ice cream or pie (we have pies in abundance: lemon meringue, whoopee, banoffee, etc.) and have some kind of cold element to them.  In England, puddings are almost always served piping hot and are likely to burn your tongue.  Oh, but they are so delicious.  And high in calories.  There are so many different varieties of "traditional" puddings that I think the Brits just might have us beat in the best-way-to-end-a-meal department.  Us Americans can only do so much with warmed brownies and crazy ice cream flavors.  And so, I've compiled a list of my Top 5 Favorite British Puddings below:

Spotted Dick - Number One on my list is Spotted Dick which I love for its name.  Recently, the Flintshire Council headquarters (in the appropriately named town of Mold), had to rename its Spotted Dick pudding to Spotted Richard because of "immature" comments made by staff during lunchtime.  Of course, being the immature school girl college student that I was, I giggled uncontrollable when first presented with this pudding.  Glad to know I wasn't the only one though.  It's almost cake-like in texture and has a variety of dried fruits in it, mainly raisins and is always served with hot custard drizzled on top.  Mmm ...

Bread and Butter Pudding - Second on my list is bread and butter pudding, which is extremely easy to make, as the ingredients consist of sliced bread, butter, raisins, eggs and milk.  A bit of nutmeg if you're feeling gourmet.  This is the most comforting dessert ever - perfect to have in the winter months when you're feeling cold and lonely (not that I ever feel cold and lonely in the winter ... nor do I happen to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and need hot puddings to cheer me up).

Treacle Sponge - The golden syrupy goodness of treacle sponge is also a favorite of mine.  It's basically hot sponge cake infused with generous amounts of syrup or molasses and sometimes served with custard.  And you thought only Americans overdosed on sugar ...

Sticky Toffee Pudding - I love toffee.  And after a late lunch/early dinner at a lovely pub in Hammersmith this weekend with friends, I had to go for the sticky toffee pudding, which is again, a sponge cake made with dates or prunes and covered in toffee sauce, often served with cold vanilla ice cream.  Cake and ice cream go together like peanut butter and jelly, I swear.  A perfect pairing.

Bramley Apple Crumble - I couldn't stray too far away from my American culture and not include a dessert that included apples.  Bramley apple crumble is fantastic because you don't get all the filling pie crust but still a bit of lovely crunch with the crumble.  It's lovely to have in the summer or winter and again, is served piping hot with either custard or vanilla ice cream.

My next challenge is to make all of these lovely puddings, so if you'd like to be a guinea pig, let me know.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

That's Not Cricket: Or How I Became A Cricket Widow

There just might be light at the end of the dark and gloomy winter weather tunnel as February nearly comes to an end and the days become longer in England.  This morning, I heard the birds chirping at 6ish and as sunlight began streaming through my windows, I nestled happily deeper into the covers.  Spring is finally here, I thought.  Then as quickly as that thought came, another entered my mind - this one produced a shiver of dread down my spine.  Spring and Summer means ... cricket season.  The most boring game, in my opinion, known to humankind. 

Of course, I've never expressed this to John, whose passion for cricket is unparalleled.  County games, the Ashes, etc. you name it, he's either listening, watching or reading about it.  When I moved near St John's Wood, he was very excited.  "We can walk to Lord's from your flat!" he marveled.  Erm ... ok, that's meaningless to me.

One day at lunchtime last summer, a colleague shuffled into the cafe area where I was sitting and slumped in her chair.  "What's the matter?" I asked her.  "It's Friday, you should be happy!"  "Yeah, except that I've become a cricket widow," she replied mournfully.  "What?  What's that?" I asked, even though I had a sinking feeling I knew exactly what she meant.  "My boyfriend Tom has been playing cricket almost every week day after work then goes to Lord's or the Oval on the weekend - I hardly see him anymore!"  I gulped.  My situation wasn't as dire, but I had been subjected to listening to cricket commentary during the Ashes and the constant checking of the score on a mobile when England was playing.

It's not that I haven't tried to get into cricket; I've studied the rules, watched the game, listened to the commentary, but I just can't get into it.  It's BORING.  And LONG.  A test match lasts for days (but apparently I've just been told you don't have to go everyday) and you're expected to bring a packed lunch to eat at the intervals.  "That's the beauty of it!" John tried to explain.  "It's so civilized.  The players have tea breaks!"  I just rolled my eyes.

And then there are all the rules and etiquette to follow, like this for example:

What?  Why the hell not?  "It's like ... it's like ... getting up in the middle of a ballet ... or a play!" said John.  "It's disruptive."  What, when a ball's flying through the air?  An over is a set of six consecutive balls bowled in succession.  Yep, that's right, the ball is "bowled" (even though it's thrown and bounces once before it reaches the "batsman") and the batter is called a "batsman", not a batter.  Ok, so I'm lost already there.  Despite how hard I "studied" the rules before attending a 20/20 game with John at Lord's last summer, I embarrassingly shouted out the wrong score each time the ball was hit. "THAT'S A SIXXXX!!!" I'd scream, while John would say, "It's a FOUR," through gritted teeth.  "Oh," I'd say, sitting back in my seat.  "Whatever."  Hey, at least I was getting into the game.  Sort of. 

Come Summer 2010, I've made a New Year's resolution to be a bit more positive about cricket.  I've tried to think of one thing I like about cricket and came up with this:  they have nice white uniforms.  That's about it. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

You know that Leona Lewis song that goes, "I don't care what they say / I'm in love with you"?  Think it's called Bleeding Love.  Anyway, that's how I feel about PBJ sandwiches, or peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, for all you Brits out there.  I don't care how much you English people make gagging noises when I'm at the toaster at work, putting the finishing touches to my PBJ toasted bagel (which I'm enjoying right now) or how you shake your head at me when I express my desire for a PBJ afternoon snack, asking, "How do those two things go together?  One's sweet and the other's savoury.  Eugh, eugh, eugh."  No, I don't care what you say, I'm still in love with PBJ.  So there. 

My fellow Americans will be able to relate to the familiar childhood comfort a PBJ sandwich on white bread with a glass of milk brings.  As soon as I bite into one, I'm immediately brought back to the time when I had a pink plastic Mickey & Minnie lunchbox with a school-house scene on the front.  That's when everyone else was into Lisa Frank and I was totally uncool but my mom wouldn't let me get a new lunchbox because mine was "perfectly fine" and besides, "why would you want to fit in?  It's cool to be different" - not that I was bullied in elementary school or anything (and not that I'm still bitter about it today). 

Sorry, I've digressed.  It's hard to find good peanut butter in the UK.  There's always something slightly off about it - it's either too salty, or not creamy enough, or just ... weird.  I like good ol' Skippy peanut butter and strawberry or grape (which doesn't seem to exist in the UK either) jam on mine - with slightly more jam than peanut butter.  See, everyone has their own secret "PBJ ratio".  You gotta test out it a few times to get it right. 

I like to have peanut butter jelly time at work.  This consists of going downstairs to the Canteen in the morning and making myself a toasted sesame seed bagel slathered in peanut butter and jelly.  I've felt the stares, I've heard the giggles.  But then, one day, someone couldn't resist saying something to me:  "What are you doing?" asked the man beside me in a rather thick but charming French accent (imagine this yourself, I'm not going to be offensive and do a phonetic interpretation here).  "Excuse me?"  I asked, confused.  He pointed to my bagel.  "What are you doing with ... that?  What is that?"  "It's peanut butter and jelly," I replied, proudly.  "Oh!" he said, slightly amused.  "I've never seen that before."  "It's an American specialty," I assured him.  "You're American?  Yes?  Really?" he said in disbelief.  "Um, yeah ..." I said.  "But ... but ... how could this be?  Americans are so -" and then he puffed out his cheeks and widened his arms, as if to copy a puffed up balloon, "- and you are so ..." He put his hands closer together as if to illustrate a stick figure.  "Um ... right ... well, I won't be if I keep eating these every morning!  Ha ha!  Ha!" I said as I inched away from him.  "Oh well," he shrugged, in the way only a French person can, "Maybe I will try it myself sometime!"  "Yes, do!" I encouraged.  I was going to launch into my explanation of the PBJ ratio but I decided that was probably too much, too soon.  You've got to ease your way into the PBJ love.  Like a cold swimming pool.

Photo source

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dear Northern Irish Tube Driver Lady ...

... I love you.  You make my day.  When I get on the Bakerloo train that you're driving, I know that no matter what happens between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., my day will be better because of you. 

First of all, I love your accent.  It's lovely.  It reminds me of Father Ted.  You probably get that all the time, but I don't care - I have to tell you anyway - your voice reminds me of Father Ted.  When I hear your voice, it reminds me of a grandma sitting in front of a crackling fire in a rocking chair with a crocheted afghan across her lap.  In fact, I don't think you're actually driving the train.  I think you're actually knitting and sipping a cup of tea at intervals, with a lovely calico cat beside you which you pat occasionally.

Secondly, I love the things you say.  I love how, when we pulled into Piccadilly Circus this morning, you said "Next stop is Piccadilly Circus ... please mind the gap here, it's quite big.  (pause)  Well, it's big to me because I've got short legs.  When God passed out short legs, I was first in the queue.  When he passed out everything else, I was last in the queue."  I love how you tell customers to step off the train if necessary to let others on and that if they do, you'll "promise not to leave [them] because [you're] watching."  I feel like you really care about me, about us - the stony-faced, suited, selfish morning commuters on the Bakerloo line. 

Thirdly, I love watching how people react to you.  Some laugh, some smile, some scowl and some roll their eyes.  'How sad are you?' I think, when I see a man or woman frown and roll their eyes at your voice.  'How sad are you, that you can't even appreciate this little brightness in your day?  This human interaction that I instinctively crave and you instinctively push away?'  Because, you see, Northern Irish Tube Driver Lady, I'm not sure if you're aware, but tube drivers don't speak to us.  Sometimes they'll come on to tell us of a line closure or delay, but often, there's no communication between the driver and us.  Sometimes, we won't even get any communication if we're stuck in a tunnel for 10 minutes.  Only in the 12th minute of entrapment will a voice reluctantly crackle to life, telling us in a bored tone that we're "being held at a red signal" whatever that means.  But not you.  Oh no.  You describe to us in detail what's happening, everything we can't see.  You tell us that the platform at Oxford Circus is exceptionally full.  You tell us that service on all underground lines is not just "good", it's "brilliant, fabulous, really great." 

And for that, Northern Irish Tube Driver Lady, I want to thank you.  Thank you for making my (and probably at least 80% of everyone else who rides your train) day.  I don't know who you are or what you look like, but if I ever get the opportunity, I would love to personally thank you.

Yours sincerely,

JT x

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

40th Post! Cake Time!

To celebrate my 40th post on this blog, I'm gonna blog about one of my favorite things in England, which is cake.  I'm pretty sure I loved cake before I arrived in this country, but living here has exponentially increased my fervor for cake.  Maybe it's because I've had three weeks of stuffing cupcakes in my face (for various reasons) or perhaps it's just because cake is tasty, calorific, delicious and brightens up everyone's day.  I don't know anyone who isn't instantly cheered by a big wedge of cake placed in front of them, except for maybe my dad, who has had Type 2 diabetes for over 30 years and can't eat any sweets.  Cake probably just makes him sad. 

But let's focus on the happy aspects of cake consumption today.  This morning, my colleague Lindsey presented me with a piece of her wedding cake she had promised months earlier - yes, that's right, Lindsey's wedding was in early December and I'm sitting here enjoying a slice of her gorgeous, yummy cake with a cup of tea right this second.  'Did she freeze it?' I hear you ask.  Nope.  'Isn't it stale and moldy?' Um, no.  That's because Lindsey's cake is a fruit cake, which apparently is the traditional type of wedding cake in Britain (it's also traditional to have at Christmas).  Soaked in alcohol and heavily iced with delicious icing and marzipan, fruit cake is fabulous because a) you can have a little slice and be full already b) it lasts, like, forever and c) it's super tasty and goes well with a cup of tea.

Although fruit cake is also available in the States, it's not as common - we usually have a chocolate or vanilla sponge with matching icing.  Or, if you visit Baskin Robbins, you can get an ice-cream cake, which I had for every single birthday probably from the age of 1 until I was about 12 (twelve is the cut-off for Baskin Robbins ice-cream cakes I think because that's about the age you start getting a little too old for the My-Little-Pony theme on top) which is basically ice-cream sandwiched between sponge.  Delicious.  Maybe I can have an ice-cream cake for my 27th this year.

Photo source

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Well, That's a Pickle ...

Often, when I'm sitting at the office, eating my boring delicious homemade sandwich, I long for something - something sweet, yet sour, cold, and satisfyingly crunchy.  I long for a pickle.  Specifically, a Claussen kosher dill spear.  Even if the sandwiches in the UK aren't as satisfying as the ones in the US (see my post a month earlier on "real sandwiches"), they could easily remedy this by serving them with a big, kosher pickle.  But what the British refer to as "pickle" (see right) is significantly different than what we Americans call pickles, as I learned the hard way in Subway one day. 

"Anything else on your sandwich?" asked the guy behind the counter.  "Um ... yeah, can I have a couple slices of pickle please?" I asked.  He gave me a strange look.  "We don't have pickle here."  I peered in the glass cabinet of condiments and sandwich fillings in front of me.  There, between the lettuce and tomato, was a vat full of sliced pickles.  "Um, what's that then there?" I asked, pointing, somewhat huffily.  "That," he said, disdainfully (as much disdain a "sandwich artist" at Subway could muster), "is a gherkin."  "Oh, well excuuuuuuse-me," I said, just as disdainfully.  "I'll have a couple of slices of gheeeerkin then."  He rolled his eyes at me as he packaged my foot-long sub. 

Pickle, in England, as I only later discovered, is actually more akin to what we Americans would call relish, but not quite as tangy.  And more brown.  Sound disgusting?  It's not.  It's actually quite delicious, especially when slathered on a thick piece of white freshly baked bread and eaten with mature cheddar cheese and some lettuce, or what the English call, a Ploughman's lunch (and although the Ploughman's wasn't developed until the 60s, I like to pretend I'm a MEDIEVAL - sorry for the capitals, someone kindly pointed out my previous mistake of using the word 'Elizabethan' - monk eating bread and cheese on the cold hard floor of an abbey).

 Branston is the company that makes this pickle (you can get other variations, some cheaper, others more expensive) and it's an iconic brand, distinctively British.  I prefer the small chunk pickle, which you can't find everywhere, but it's perfect for my sandwiches. 
While I enjoy this British delight, there are days when I still yearn for a crunchy kosher dill pickle.  If you know where I can get a jar in the UK, please let me know.

Monday, February 15, 2010

American Tourists or, The Ugly American

I was once a tourist in London.  I was fourteen and it was my first trip abroad without my parents.  I had a yellow windbreaker that came in its own pouch and a bright turquoise blue camera case that I wore around my neck with my giant Pentax zoom camera.  I was so proud of that camera.  I took pictures of everything: Big Ben, Parliament, the red phoneboxes, our hotel room(s), the funny English signs that said "TO LET" instead of "TO RENT" on buildings.  I talked loudly on the tube during rush hour on the Circle Line with the friends I was travelling with.  We laughed at all the stony-faced Londoners on their morning commutes.  I remember what it's like to be a tourist. 

But now I curse the tourists under my breath in Covent Garden - the ones who stop in the middle of a busy crowd in a daze, the large French school groups who take up the entire pavement when I'm rushing to work and the certain American tourists who always seem to make it known that they're American, they're here, and you should be privileged to be in their presence (I know because I once acted like that, shamefully, in my formative years). 

Americans are funny tourists, because, more often than not, instead of seeing something as "different" or "interesting" they call it "wrong" or "backwards".  I don't know if that's instinct or arrogance, to automatically assume that your way is "right" and the other is "wrong."  The other night, there was a group of four 40-something Americans in front of me and John as we got on the escalator to exit Piccadilly Circus tube station.  They went to head for the right set of escalators but, seeing as those were coming down, backtracked to the set on their left.  "HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" the man from the group guffawed.  "EVERYTHING IS BACKWARDS HERE!!!" he marvelled.  "HEY!!!" shouted an American man on the opposite side.  "THEY FOOLED YOU GUYS TOO, HUH???  ARE YOU GOING TO THE THEATER DISTRICT?  WE WERE JUST THERE!" he said, poking the woman beside him.  "HEY GUYS!" I mocked to John in an exaggerated accent.  "ARE YOU GOING TO THE THEATER DISTRICT?"  I shouldn't have, really.  I shouldn't feel any contempt for them, as I was in the same position years ago, but I couldn't help it. 

Then there are the Americans studying abroad.  I was also one of them, except I ruined tranquil Oxford rather than cosmopolitan London, so that was probably even worse.  You can always tell who they are because they wear their college sweatshirts and Northface jackets on top - always Northface.  And UGGS for the girls.  And Coach handbags.  Udita and I used to make fun of them too, which was wrong, especially since Udita was then studying at UCL.  But we'd sit on the train and observe and as soon as they left, we'd start:  "So ... like, I was thinking, srsly, we should totally, like, go to Hampstead Heath.  I heard it's like, a park or something."  "Yahhhhhhhh ..." the other would answer.  "I want to get some wellies??  Because I heard they were expensive and they have them at like, Neiman's at home but I want a pair here?  In case it rains?  Let's go to Starbucks and then study there for the rest of the afternoon."

But then there's a whole other breed of American tourist and that's The Ugly American.  The Ugly American makes a big show of himself, is usually loud, obnoxious, rude and can't seem to shut up.  I encountered a large group of ugly Americans in Santorini last year.  They made me pretty embarrassed to be American.  Taking over three tables or so in a gorgeous, serene and peaceful cafe overlooking the caldera, they had a MacBook out and were squaking like vultures circling around their prey, cackling over some photos.  Initially this was fine, until they snapped their fingers at the waitress and demanded drinks, instead of politely asking for them, threw their litter on the ground and acted like overall assholes.  I eventually had to leave and get a table elsewhere because somewhere in the back of my head, a small migraine tugged. 

I think tourism is extremely important - it's good for a country's economy and it exposes people to different cultures.  But what good is visiting another country if you're going to be disrespectful and act like an ignorant jerk?  So you can have bragging rights?  "Oh we've been there."  How many times have you heard this phrase from someone?  And not in a "it was so interesting, etc." - just, "we've been there, we can tick that off the list."  Been there, done that.  For me, travelling isn't about ticking destinations off of some stupid list.  It's about really getting to know the history of a place, trying to get a feel for the people and their customs and why things are the way they are.  But sadly for others, travel isn't about learning at all, it's about transporting their creature comforts in San Antonio, TX to a picturesque place and never having to adjust the way they think or their attitude about the world, which I find so incredibly sad.  And pathetic.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's / Chinese New Year Mash-Up

It's not just Valentine's today, but it's also Chinese New Year - year of the Tiger.  And because of this, Disney's Mulan is on TV.  Aside from all the racial stereotypes, sexism and historical inaccuracies, I love this movie.  Finally, Asians - specifically, the Chinese - get a shout-out from Disney.  YES!!! We can be officially added to the "cool-exotic-cultures-that-we-don't-really-have-to-accept-but-learn-about-through-cartoon-form" list in America.

Anyway, what I love most about Mulan is how her family is characterized - especially her grandma, who reminds me of my own (paternal) grandmother.  Tough, smart, and with enough survival instincts to weather any storm, she's also loving and wise. 

Spending Chinese New Year away from my family is always a little sad.  It's not even as if we have some over-the-top celebration or traditions to adhere to - usually it just consists of a huge dinner cooked by my mom or dad (or both) and the obligatory lining up afterward to wish relatives in Hong Kong a long-distance, hearty, "Gung hey fat choy, sun tai gin hong, sun lin yu yee" etc. and any other variation you can think of.
I atone for my absence by attending the Chinese New Year parade in London's Chinatown, which, bizarrely, always opens with an Anglo-Saxon man with a long white beard as the "town crier.  But then there are the dragons, the dancers, the lanterns, the firecrackers, the drums, the smoke, the sound, the songs ... everything is in Mandarin, hardly anyone speaks Cantonese.  But when I do hear the occasional familiar tones somewhere along the pavement, in the crowd, it comforts me and I don't feel so far away from home, even though everything else feels foreign.  There are more non-Chinese people in the crowd than there are Chinese, and this makes me happy.  It's a family affair, as fathers pluck their toddlers from their standing places and hoist them on their shoulders.  Parents push their children forward so they can see the dragon dancers and catch the Chinese candies and biscuits being thrown into the crowd.  Red envelopes are also thrown, but they contain vouchers or candy, rather than money.  I look at the envelopes strewn on the ground and remember the number of red envelopes lining my childhood desk at home in Washington, waiting for my return.  They have my (maternal) grandmother's familiar Chinese script and each envelope is carefully labeled, "Birthday" or "New Year" or some other holiday.  Some contain a couple dollar bills for luck and others contain carefully folded fifties, for spending.

Later, when the parade ends and the crowd disperses, I walk past a man demonstrating how to make Dragon's beard candy and buy a pack even though I don't really like it.  I don't know why I do it.  The dryness and the combination of peanuts and sugar make me cough and choke a bit.  I don't eat the rest. 

For a minute, during the parade, I felt a kind of happiness and pride that this is my culture, I am Chinese, I am a part of these dragons, these dancers, these lanterns, these firecrackers, this smoke, this sound, these songs ... and I'm glad that I'm able to attend a Chinese New Year celebration away from home.  But then Chinatown quickly reverts to its grimy, dirty, rude, honking self.  The Cantonese voices disappear and I'm left with the jarring, sharp and even piercing four tones of Mandarin, which makes me wince.  I eat the overpriced and tasteless pineapple bun I bought in a Chinatown bakery on my way home on the tube and cry when I get off at my stop.  How sad it is that I lose a bit of my Chinese culture every day I live here and even every day I live in the States.  I belong to nowhere.

Valentine's Part 2: Dinner at The Criterion

I'm kicking myself for not bringing my camera to The Criterion last night because the photo on the left doesn't even begin to show how amazing the restaurant looks.  I can't remember the last time I dined in place as opulent, grand, or - for lack of a better word, breath-taking (maybe I don't get out much) and tried not to gawk at the gilded mosaic ceiling when I entered, but couldn't help myself.  I was in my element.  Surrounded by people with glossy manes and shiny cuff-links somehow comforted me.  
The dinner was an early Valentine's present from John, and we had the aptly named "Sherlock Holmes" set menu (as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a regular visitor) which was a bargain (I obviously didn't say that word aloud in the restaurant - I think forks would have clattered to plates and glasses would have shattered) at £25 for three courses, including a glass of champagne upon arrival.   The set menu had plenty to choose from and I had a delightful prawn salad (served in a martini glass) to start, kedgeree (very British) for my main and warm cinnamon apples served with cream to finish, while John had Welsh rarebit to begin, a divine pork chop with rosemary and apple sauce main and bread and butter pudding for dessert.  Afterward, we couldn't resist in indulging ourselves with a cup of extra hot espresso to finish, which was served with a cold slate topped with white chocolate and milk chocolate brownie slices.  Absolutely.  Heavenly.  Our meal was accompanied by an (initially questionable, but later revealed to be quite talented) jazz pianist/singer and the charming restaurant staff attended to us wonderfully.  So pleasant were our surroundings that we lingered long after we had paid our bill, debating whether or not to go for a drink at the bar. 

Perhaps the biggest selling point of The Criterion Brasserie is its location in the heart of London, at Piccadilly.  Next door, of course, is the famous Criterion Theatre, home of John Buchan's The 39 Steps.  Piccadilly Circus tube station is only a few steps away from the entrance of the restaurant, so we were able to be quickly whisked away from the hustle and bustle of weekend-tourist-London and transported to quiet-sleepy-North-London in a matter of minutes.  Needless to say, the whole experience from door-to-door was most enjoyable.

I can't wait till my parents come to visit in May, so we have another excuse to go!  In the meantime, we just might pop in for a drink in the bar area after work to soak in the luxurious ambience or book tickets for The 39 Steps next door.  A word of advice if you do go - please don't wear jeans.  Please, please don't wear jeans.  It's not exactly a black-tie affair, but I find it extremely rude to dine at a restaurant like The Criterion in jeans and a rugby-striped sweater.  Just my opinion.  Plus, it's always fun to dress up.


Valentine's Part 1: Cat and the Cream

Move over Hummingbird, there's a new bakery in town and I daresay, for all your snobbery and long queues, this one makes even more charming and attractive cupcakes.  Threatened?  You should be.  Meet Cat and the Cream, the "brainchild of 25-year-old Cat Lyne" based in Dulwich Village.  When I hopped out of bed this morning, a trail of red tulip petals led me to these delightful treats and a wonderful card on the dining table.  As far as artistic presentation goes, Cat and the Cream gets an A+ for me (and an A*, if you're from the UK).  The photo above simply does *not* do them justice.  Taste-wise, they also don't disappoint.  The chocolate cupcake topped with (what appears to be - I haven't tried it yet) a necco-wafer heart candy was moist and the frosting rich and creamy.  And for all you vegans out there, I've discovered she also makes a Vegan Chocolate flavor, featured on the website.  I, myself, am dying to try the Chai and Pistachio combination. 

A++ to the boy who knows that a way to a girl's heart is truly through her tummy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I don't even think we take our coffee in the States as seriously as Brits take their tea.  Tea is at the heart of British culture - whether it's taken in a paper cup or fine bone china.

On my first day of temping at the York Health Economic Consortium, the woman in charge welcomed me to the office and told me to hang up my jacket.  Next, she showed me to the computer I would be working at.  "But most importantly," she said anxiously, "I need to show you where the kitchen is, as you don't even have a cup of tea yet!"  She seemed almost embarrassed I wasn't sipping a cup of hot brew within five minutes of my arrival.

And when I started working at Little, Brown, I learned the etiquette of tea-making at the office, which is, as I found out, extremely important to maintaining good inter-personal relationships at work.  It's polite to glance around the room at appropriate moments and, seeing that everyone is low on tea, offer to make everyone a cup.  The most difficult part is remembering how everyone takes their tea.  Suzy Sue likes her's "extra milky, with no sugar."  Grumpy Gordon takes "four sugars and a 'splash' of milk - no more, no less."  Finally, Plastic Polly wants her special green tea which should steep for exactly four and a half minutes.  Right.  By the time I've taken everyone's orders, I've already forgotten the first person's requests.

At my current office, I recently saw a travel editor carry a makeshift cardboard tray into the kitchen that he'd created himself with Sharpie circles drawn in, labeled with everyone's name and the way they take their tea.  "That is SO clever," I said.  He beamed proudly.  Too bad we don't make tea for each other in our department.  No, tea time for us is a welcomed, collective break from the tedium of work.

Tea also seems to carry an emotional attachment in Britain.  When I've ran to a friend's flat, upset or crying over something, they've greeted me at the door and immediately rushed off to "put the kettle on," heaping spoonfuls of sugar into a cup of milky, Yorkshire Gold.  And it's not just women who enjoy their tea - it's just as important for men, if not more.  I've seen big, burly construction workers stop for their tea breaks, sometimes accompanied with a generous wedge of Victoria sponge cake. 

Offering someone a cup of tea in this country doesn't equal politeness, but is rather, a necessity - as if conversation cannot ensue or continue without a hot cup of steaming liquid being simultaneously sipped.  Sometimes I don't think it has to do with dignity or social class, but instead, comfort.  I suppose there is something soothing and calming about tea that provides the weak or weary with instant nourishment and reassurance.

As for me, I grew up with Chinese tea, made the proper way - loose tea leaves in a tea pot and absolutely NO milk taken.  My parents spend a fortune each year on buying specialty Chinese teas that are imported from Hong Kong or China and every morning, lunchtime, and evening, a pot of tea is guaranteed to be ready in the kitchen.  So in that way, I identify with the important role tea plays in one's culture or society.  Just a little bit differently (for the record, I take my English tea extra milky, with two and a half sugars).

Friday, February 12, 2010

Things I Miss Most About the USA #327: Tar-zhayyy

When I think of America, I don't automatically think "Land of the Free", I think "Land of Convenience".  Why do you think so many Americans are lazy (actually, Americans either lazy or super-highly-motivated-overachievers, there's no in-between)?  Because you can get what you want, when you want.  There's no waiting, no inconveniences (for the most part), no shoddy last-year's-model.

Take, for example, Target.  Your one stop shop for almost everything.  Whether you need a replacement iPod or an attractive doormat, Target has every solution.  I know I sound like a walking advertisement and I also know Brits will say, "We have that - it's called Asda," but I'm sorry, Asda has NOTHING on Target.  First of all, Target quality is far superior so you really get your bang for your buck (so American).  And the choices ... the choices!!!  Your options are endless.  Say you want to do some scrapbooking and you're looking for cardstock.  What colour?  What size?  Borders?  No borders?  Patterns?  Stickers?  Glue?  Glitter?  Multi-pack or individual sheets? 

So to illustrate the brilliance that is Target, I've come up with some scenarios you'd might face in the grand ol' US of A and how Target can help:

Scenario #1: It's your dad's birthday and you need a last minute present - Ok, so Target doesn't have fois gras, but it does have Moet and Chandon.  On your way past the food section, you can stop by the Electronics section to buy him a new GPS system for his car.  Or a chair neck-massage insert.  Or an electronic photo frame so he can see his children's beautiful faces 24/7 a day at the office.

Scenario #2: You're eating in the food court with your mom when she suddenly requests a glass of milk but every single (yes, that's right, EVERY SINGLE) food stall is out of milk (including Cinnabon - how is this possible?  How can you eat a cinnamon roll without milk?) - Naturally, you rush back to Target, where they have plenty of fresh milk choices.  Pint?  Half a pint?  In a handy to-go container?  No problem.  And you get into the "10 Items or Less" line, which is only about 2 people long.

Scenario #3:  You're invited out to dinner with your dad and his boss but all your nice clothes are in another country and the choices of formal wear currently in your closet of your childhood home consist of either a) a lilac prom dress with poufy sleeves or b) an all-black ensemble which you used to wear for youth symphony concerts (and your budget is $50 or below for everything) - There is a wide selection to choose from in Womenswear and Juniors ... Target currently houses GO:International designers (such as Anya Hindemarch, etc.) who make limited edition diffusion lines.  Accessories are also cheap but if chosen carefully, can make you look like a million bucks.  Need a clutch to go with the outfit? Also do-able at Target.

Sometimes the things you'll get are so unbelievably cheap but good, people will gasp when they hear you purchased it from Target, hence the reason why so many of us pronounce it as Tar-jhayy (much like many Primark addicts refer to the shop as "Primarni") to give the illusion of an exclusive boutique when really the whole thing is just an indulgent free-for-all. 

From toilet scrubbers to filing systems, yoga mats to Pop-Tarts, Target can fulfill all your needs and make you feel trendy and fashionable while doing so.  I miss it.

Photo source

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mall Rat

During my most recent trip into the operating room (last April), the anesthesiologist smiled down at me on the operating table and said, "Think of a happy dream ..." before hooking up my IV and placing a mask on my face.  "Shopping ..." I murmured dreamily as I drifted off to my happy place.  And dream of shopping, I certainly did.  In fact, the Marc Jacobs orange jellied gladiator sandals at Bergdorf Goodman were so vivid in my mind that as I reached out for one of their shiny new straps and was rudely woken by a surgery nurse pulling out one of my breathing tubes, I yelled, "OH MY GOD!!!" not out of pain, but out of annoyance.  "WHY DID YOU WAKE ME UP??? I WAS HAVING THE BEST DREAM!!!  I DREAMT I WAS SHOPPING AT BERGDORF!!!  HOW DARE YOU!!!"  "Ma'am, calm down," came the placid response.  "You've just woken up from surgery.  I need to wheel you to the recovery suite now."  I didn't answer.  I was extremely irritated.  She could have at least waited until the part where I try them on and admire them adoringly in the mirror, but no.  A dream cut short.

Most of my pre-teen, teen, and - who am I kidding - 20-something years were spent at the mall.  Any mall.  When I was bored, I went to the mall.  When my mom and I wanted to spend "quality time" together, we went to the mall.  When I was happy, I went to the mall.  When I was down ... you get the idea.

At college, we didn't live near a mall (we didn't live near anything, for that matter - MHC was in the middle of blissful nowhere, in the heart of the Pioneer Valley of Western Mass), so Udita and I would take the weekly "mall bus" to Holyoke Mall (which has got to be THE most depressing building in the world for lack of natural light, not to mention the skanky locals - sorry, locals) for a three-hour break, running from H&M to Forever 21 and never getting tired of it.  And we had to get a bag of Mrs. Fields' Cookies.  And occasionally nasty sushi from the food court.

And recently when I was home for Christmas, my mom would excitedly tick off the shopping adventures we would have on her fingers:  "I was thinking, Monday, Dad can leave work in the middle of the day to take us to South Center Mall since I don't want to drive there, and we can go for about 3 or 4 hours until I have to teach.  Tuesday, I was thinking we could go to the Supermall early in the day and you know, you can find some work clothes at BR or Nordy Rack.  Wednesday I get a 10% senior citizen discount at Marshall's so we can go to Marshall's then, and Ross is next door but I was thinking we could go to Ross in Federal Way on Thursday as well since they have another Marshall's there too.  Friday, we should go to Macy's at the South Hill Mall and since I don't have to teach we can even have lunch there and then walk the rest of the mall if you're interested."  Then she'd smile brightly at me.  "How does that sound?"

So you can kind of guess how I felt when I found out there aren't malls in England.  Devastated.  But there is the "high street" - it's like a mall, but outside and not ... um ... mall-like.  So think of Oxford Street, which is basically a couple (or more) miles of stores stretched out, facing each other.  At first, I was confused.  "But ... but ... where will I lunch?  Where can I have my mid-shop-rest-my-feet-break?" And the answer is that you simply don't do either, or else duck into your nearest Pret, Eat, or Starbucks for such breaks.  You don't "hang out" on the high street, you have a mission, a purpose.  You're there to shop and not necessarily to enjoy the experience. 

I'm not saying the mall experience makes my shopping more enjoyable, but there's something about the carpeted seating areas, the bright lights, and the suited and booted sales assistants in the shoe department of Nordstrom, eager to fetch me both a pair of size 7 and 7 1/2 heels that I really, really love.

When Westfield opened in Shepherd's Bush, I jumped and clapped with glee.  Even we have Westfield in Washington (formerly known as South Center).  Finally, something familiar, something American - a real mall.  But Londoners refuse to call it a mall.  It's either referred to as "Westfield" or by its full name, "Westfield Shopping Centre".  Hell will freeze over before Britons refer to any "shopping centre" as a "mall".  And I was not disappointed by my first 5-hour (yes, FIVE hour) visit there with Udita last year.  All my high-street favorites in one place, without having to duck in and out of the rain or shove through people on the sidewalk.  At Westfield mall, I feel at home.
Photo Source
© angloyankophile

This site uses cookies from Google to deliver its services - Click here for information.

Blogger Template Created by pipdig