A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about living abroad

Powering Life Just Got Easy to Carry

A new electrical plug could mean I can reclaim some of the space in my laptop bag!

sunny 15 °C

As a consultant (or, at present a former consultant - hopefully new consultant again soon), one gets used to packing up the laptop bag quite frequently. Laptop in the case, electrical cord wrapped loosely around the transformer, tucked away in the corner.

Putting away the laptop in North America was never an issue. I often had extra space in my laptop bag to stow away stuff for the trip, like a can of coke or a snack. I never do here in England, though. That’s because the power plug is so massive.

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Power plugs here are bulky. When plugging something in here, it feels a little bit like I am in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. These are plugs that look like they could power electrical appliances from the Victorian age.

Despite the Victorian bulkiness, the plugs, known as British Standard BS 1363, were adopted in 1947. They are much larger than the North American standard plugs (the two-pin ungrounded NEMA 1 and three-pin grounded NEMA 5).

It is this bulkiness that makes it such a pain to transport. Back in 1947, that probably wasn’t such a big deal. After all, one didn’t move the wireless or lamp all that often.

Nowadays, with laptops, mobile phones, ipods and other electronic devices common place, lots of people are walking around with chargers and power adapters that are taking up lots of space. It is especially galling to have an ultra thin mobile phone or laptop, and then have a power plug that takes up more space than the device it is meant to power.

Enter 29 year-old Min-Kyu Choi, a student at London's Royal College of Art. Mr. Choi bought a Macbook Air, thin enough to fit into an envelope, but was unimpressed when the power plug was so large. Unlike me, who just whines about such things, Mr. Choi decided to do something.

He designed a new plug. One that folds flat when not in use, with the pins on hinges to allow them to snap out and into place when needed.

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It is impressive. So impressive that Mr. Choi has just won the Brit Insurance design of the year award.

Bravo Mr. Choi! This is good news for all of us here in the UK with portable devices. I’m looking forward to the day when I can get my hand on one of these, and replace the bulky plugs powering my laptop, mobile phone and iPod.

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Posted by GregW 02:36 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Ploughed Under

On the hunt... for both housing and work... again.

sunny 5 °C

I woke up today at 7:30 AM. I don’t know why. Probably force of habit. I’m used to getting up early in the morning, and even though I don’t have to, my body is still so used to rolling out of bed at that hour, it still does.

Two months ago, things seemed to be going along quite well. I’d been in the UK for a little over a year and a half, and I had a good job, a nice place to live, a decent group of good friends and was really starting to fell settled.

Then in quick succession, changes.

Firstly, mid-January I find out that my landlord decided to sell the flat I am renting. The flat isn’t sold yet, and even once it is I’ll get two months notice, so it’s not like I’m sleeping on the street just yet. However, it does mean that the shadow of change is hovering over me.

Then, less than two weeks after getting that little nugget of news, I find out that I am going to be unemployed in early March. Ironically, on January 26th, as the UK press was reporting that the UK economy was coming out of recession, I was finding out that I had a little over a month before my pay cheques would stop. A coworker in a similar boat said that he had joined the company because he felt it was recession-proof. “What I didn’t realise was the company wasn’t growth-proof,” he quipped.

Anyway, the details of my job loss aren’t really important, but the end outcome is that as of Monday, March 8th, I no longer have to get up in the morning to go to work.

To extend my (perhaps already overextended) metaphor of the green field a little further - it seems my green field has been ploughed under. I am back to where I was about when I wrote that entry back in July of 2008 - without a permanent place to live and without a job.

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This though, I suppose is life. As Mary Schmich, columnist for the Chicago Tribune wrote in here column Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young (famously turned into song Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann), “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.”

My random Tuesday was the 26th of January, though it was actually at a 10 AM meeting.

So I am back again with a mostly green field to build a new life on. This time, I have a head start, though. I have a a network of professional contacts to mine for opportunities. I have experience in the UK that I can point to, which many companies indicated as being a problem during my last round of job hunting. I’m not hunting during the deepest recession in a generation, like I was in 2008, but rather during a time of economy growth, even if it is slight and tenuous. Finally, I have a good group of friends here in the UK to support me in my quest.

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So I am off to pound the pavement, and plant some new seeds that I hope to grow into opportunities. In 2008, I wound up in Phoenix before landing a job in the UK. Who knows where the hunt will lead this time.

Posted by GregW 03:24 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (0)

Merry Eight Days to Christmas

It's snowing!

snow 4 °C

Working from home, beavered away in my room, I was staring at my computer screen and ignoring the window. Then I heard a voice call out. My flatmate.

"Greg, It's SNOWING!"

My goodness, she was making such a clatter. I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

What do you know, it was snowing.

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Just another reminder that the Christmas season is upon us, replete as it often is with grumpy shoppers, snarly unions and stranded travellers.

It is also the season of Christmas parties. My work party was a couple weekends past, for which I had to wear a dinner suit.

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I am wearing a regular tie because I couldn't figure out how to work out the bow tie. Especially sad as it was a pre-tied clip on. When one is defeated by an already tied tie, one feels especially stupid.

My flatmates have been decking out the flat in Christmas cheer. Pictures of Santa, festival candles, poinsettias and a miniture Christmas tree have appeared in the last few weeks.

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"We have no angel for the top of our tree," one of my flatmates said.

I felt like I needed to contribute to the decorating. "Don't worry, I shall take care of that," I said. The next day I bought some pink construction paper and a pink pipe cleaner, and using the candy holders I purchased at the Japanese fair back in September, created a little cherub for the top of the tree.

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Hello Kitty Angel!

Fitting, actually. Many people don't know this, but Hello Kitty is a Londoner. From the Sanrio website description of the Hello Kitty character...

Hello Kitty was born on November 1st, and lives in London, England with her parents and her twin sister, Mimmy.

So therefore fitting that Hello Kitty should be the angel atop our tree for my first Christmas run-up in London. Last year I was in Arizona for the run up to Christmas, so this is the first year that I've been here in England.

It won't be my first Christmas in England, though. Come next Monday, one of Britain's non-striking airlines, easyJet, will be whisking me away some place where there is likely to be no snow.

Morocco.

Christmas in Marrakesh. Sounds like a Bing Crosby-Bob Hope film...

Happy holidays to all, whatever it is that you celebrate this time of year.

Posted by GregW 03:37 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Look Up and Remind Yourself Where You Are

The difference between remembering that I LIVE in London and that I live IN LONDON.

sunny 11 °C

I’ve been back from Madrid for a couple weeks now, and have fallen back into the daily routine of work and home life. I was quite tired on returning from Madrid, and the scramble of catching up with what I had missed on my week away from work along with the nightly sessions organising my photos and writing up my five blog entries on my trip kept me busy.

This week has been more of the same - catching up on TV programmes missed while I was away (Flashforward and the new series of Top Gear mostly), doing planning for upcoming Christmas shin-digs and dinner parties, doing laundry, shopping for new shoes after my fall in Sintra along with the constant buzz of work. All in all, it is a lot like life.

In this daily rush of life, it is often easy to forget where I am. I don’t mean that in any sort of amnesiac sort of way. I am not walking around wondering to myself where I am, how I got here, what my name is and why I am covered in the blood of another man. (That would make a good opening for a short story or novel - anyone want to run with that?).

Rather, I mean that life gets you wrapped up so much in its minutiae that you miss the bigger picture. I get so focused on LIVING in London that I forget I am living IN LONDON.

Every once in a while though, I get pulled out of the fog of daily life to remember what I am living in another country and actually quite giddy about that. A recent event was last weekend. On my search for new shoes, I went down with my flatmate to the area around Covent Garden, where there is a number of outdoor shops all within a two block radius. The outdoor shop district, if you will. Much like the hammock district in Cypress Creek from the Simpsons.

Hank Scorpio: Uh, hi, Homer. What can I do for you?
Homer: Sir, I need to know where I can get some business hammocks.
Hank Scorpio: Hammocks? My goodness, what an idea. Why didn't I think of that? Hammocks! Homer, there's four places. There's the Hammock Hut, that's on third.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Hank Scorpio: There's Hammocks-R-Us, that's on third too. You got Put-Your-Butt-There.
Homer: Mm-Hmm.
Hank Scorpio: That's on third. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... Matter of fact, they're all in the same complex; it's the hammock complex on third.
Homer: Oh, the hammock district!
Hank Scorpio: That's right.

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After shopping for shoes (unsuccessfully, unfortunately) and grabbing a coffee, we started the long march home. It was just after four in the afternoon, which sadly now means darkness has fallen, and we were walking up Bow Street when I looked up.

There, lit in a beautiful set of lights, was the Royal Opera House. All pretty and white and Greek revival with its columns. Just seeing it suddenly snapped me out of the detail induced fog surrounding shoe styles and threw me up to the 50,000 foot level.

“I live IN LONDON,” I suddenly thought to myself, and smiled.

I, like most of us, I think, spend a lot of time walking around absorbed in my own thoughts. Work deadlines, emails that need to be sent, tomorrow’s Outlook calendar, the shopping list and tonight’s TV schedule are most likely to be found bouncing around in there. Sometimes all it takes to break the spell is to look up and see something you weren’t expecting. Sometimes, like last Saturday, it occurs as a happenstance.

On Friday of this week, I will have been in the UK for a year and a half. 18 months abroad, and London will surpass Ottawa in the “places I have lived the longest” list - now fourth behind Burlington, Ontario, Canada; Toronto, Ontario, Canada and - strangely, perhaps - London, Ontario, Canada, where I went to university. As I approach that anniversary, I like to remind myself of that fact, and force myself to look up.

On Tuesday, after a day down at my office in Surrey, I came back on the train. We pulled into a crowded and noisy Waterloo Station, where it took a good five minutes to shuffle along with the crowd off the platform and through the ticket barriers. Work was rattling around in my head, so I decided to get outside for some fresh air and a reminder of where I am.

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I started my hour long walk home from Waterloo by crossing the Waterloo Bridge, my iPod on shuffle in my ears. About halfway across, the last song ended and the iPod choose its next record. The Theme from Dr. No, aka the James Bond Theme came on. I smiled to myself. Super spies in London, and here I was crossing the Waterloo Bridge, where one of the most James-Bond-like things to ever happen in real life took place, when in 1978, Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was stabbed by a passerby with a poisoned umbrella while walking across Waterloo Bridge.

Just then, an Aston Martin DBS slunk by across the bridge, the car that James Bond himself drove in Casino Royale and Quatum of Solace.

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Walking across Waterloo Bridge, the Parliament buildings and the London Eye in the background, with the James Bond Theme playing in my ears and perhaps even Mr. Bond himself driving by. Yup, I’m living IN LONDON alright.

Posted by GregW 03:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences migration_philosophy Comments (0)

The Stranger in a Strangely Comfortable-Feeling Land

Dissecting life in London

rain 14 °C

Home.

Stop and think for a moment of “home.”

What did you think of? Did you think of the place you live now? Did you think of the house you grew up in? Did you think of some place you used to live but have moved away from? Did you think of some place you want to live – a house in the country or a cottage on the lake?

Why did I ask you to think of home?

I did this same exercise back in July, and again recently a few days ago, and came up with some interesting results.

Why was I thinking of home?

It has to do with some thinking I’ve been doing recently about my move to London.

I recently posted an article on the website travelblogs.com about existential migration called Feeling at Home as the Foreigner. As I’ve mentioned previously in my entry I am not a Traveller, I am a Migrant, existential migration is a term invented by Dr. Greg Madison to describe the process that some people go through in deciding and executing a voluntary move abroad. It is those who choose migration as a means to find or drive a meaning in their life that they feel they cannot get in their native country.

One of the key themes in Madison’s research on migration deals with the concept of home. Home, Madison says, is not a place, but rather an interaction between a person and their surroundings. The ‘feeling of home’ arises from specific interactions with our surroundings that could potentially occur anywhere, at any time.

When I first read that in statement in July, I sat back and thought of home. The first thing that popped into my head was the Residence Inn San Ramon in California. It is an extended stay hotel in a town just south of Oakland, California, about an hour from San Francisco. I stayed there for 75 days in 2002 and haven’t been back since.

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As I mulled it over a little more, I came up with other places that felt homey, at least for a time. My corporate apartment in Denver, the hotel I stayed at for my last two weeks in Paris, my place last November in Phoenix and my parent’s house all came to mind, along with other places.

In each of these places, I experienced a period where I felt comfortable and settled in my work and life. That comfort in my personal life bled over into my physical surroundings. For a time, I felt comfortable enough in a place to call it home, even if it was just a hotel or a temporary corporate apartment.

It was interesting that in all the places I thought of as home, my apartment in Toronto where I lived for 12 years never came to mind.

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In the article on travelblogs, I talk about the feelings that drove me to leave Canada in the first place, and my feelings now that I am living in London.

I realise now that I never really felt comfortable in Canada. Despite having a good set of friends and a loving family, I always felt like I was a bit of an outsider. My Toronto apartment never really felt like home to me because I never quite felt at ease in Toronto.

Since moving to London, I feel more at ease with my surroundings. I’ve started to not just reference my London flat as my home, but actually feel it as such. I’ve started to connect with my neighbourhood as well, even going as far as buying a t-shirt with a close up of the King’s Cross St. Pancras tube station just down the street from me.

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I am starting to feel like London is home and I feel at ease here. It is not because I necessarily fit better in London, but because I am free to feel like a foreigner here in England because, after all, I am one.

I am a stranger in a strange land. However, at home I felt like a stranger as well. If home is the interaction between a person and a place, then living abroad allows me to match my internal feelings of being foreign with my external environment.

I’ve become a foreigner so that I can feel more at home.

Posted by GregW 12:52 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_philosophy existential_migration Comments (2)

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