Archive | October, 2011

Changing time — British time

30 Oct

Last night was the end of British Summer Time, which is like Daylight Saving Time, except it’s British and it occurs a week earlier. I knew it was coming, but for some reason it completely threw me off. I used to make fun of those people — the ones who were always an hour early or late to church on Sunday because they forgot to switch their clocks, but it happened to me this morning.

For starters, I had a hard time falling asleep because I drank too much Pepsi Max at dinner (side note: is it called Max instead of Diet to appeal to men, or does it have the maximum amount of caffeine?) I laid there for a while thinking about all kinds of crazy things, then I dreamed about all kinds of crazy things, like Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) from Entourage was my driver in Shanghai, and I woke up discombobulated. Since I fell asleep late, I wanted to sleep in. Despite being taught “Spring forward, fall back,” I was convinced I was going to lose an hour this morning, so I wanted to sleep even later. I woke up and checked the time on my phone. Then I checked the time on my iPod. My phone was an hour later, and since phones usually update themselves, I thought my phone was the correct time. Then I opened my computer and it was showing the same time as my iPod, an hour earlier than my phone. The TV showed the computer time as well. “Why is my phone the only thing that changed to the correct time?!” I wondered. I even googled “current time London” and “end of British Summer Time” to make sure I had the right date (fun fact: It takes them five hours to change the time on Big Ben). I finally pushed through my Pepsi Max hangover/sleepy fog and realized time had “fallen back” and my phone was the one thing that didn’t change itself.

In short, I wasted the hour I gained trying to determine whether I gained it or not.

Could you drive in the UK?

20 Oct

Technically I can — my US licenses is valid here for a year, and any rental car company would happily hand me the keys to a vehicle that I have no idea how to shift with my left hand, yet alone remember to drive in the left lane. Thankfully I choose not to put myself or the people of this great nation at risk, but Stephen has decided he wants to get his licenses. And, of course, because this is the UK, it is not an easy process. He applied for his permit, where they held onto his passport for so long he was convinced it was lost, and now he must take a written test. I’m not sure of the rest of the process (again, I will never drive here), but I managed to steal his study book and read some of the practice questions. I say I won’t drive here because I’m afraid I’ll veer to the right and kill somebody (highly possible), but it’s also because I don’t think I could pass the test. Could you? Below are a few example questions I typed verbatim from the book (minus option e. … I may have added those for good humour).

1. The road marking warns :

a. Drivers to use the hard shoulder
b. Overtaking drivers there is a bend to the left
c. Overtaking drivers to move back to the left
d. Driver that it is safe to overtake
e. Americans and inhabitants of countries that drive on the right side of the road that they should remain on the left

Answer: c.
To begin overtaking where you see this ‘throw back’ road marking would be unsafe

2. You see a pedestrian with a dog. The dog has a yellow or burgundy coat. This especially warns you that the pedestrian is:

a. Elderly
b. Dog training
c. Colour blind
d. Deaf
e. Spending too much money on clothing for his dog

Answer: d.
This colour combination is designed to alert the driver’s attention to a potential hazard

3. A horse rider is in the left-hand lane approaching a roundabout. You should expect the rider to:

a. Go in any direction
b. Turn right
c. Turn left
d. Go ahead
e. Shout “Look kids, Big Ben! Parliament!”

Answer: a.
Because of their speed and unpredictable nature, it is usually safer for riders to approach in the left-hand lane regardless of their final destination

4.There is a tractor ahead of you. You wish to overtake but you are NOT sure if it is safe to do so. You should:

a. Follow another overtaking vehicle through
b. Sound your horn to the slow vehicle to pull over
c. Speed through but flash your lights to oncoming traffic
d. Not overtake if you are in doubt
e. Call for backup and arm yourself, just in case the owner does not give up his tractor easily

Answer: d.
Use discretion — only overtake if it is necessary, safe and permissible.

5. You are towing a caravan. Which is the safest type of rear-view mirror to use?

a. Interior wide-angle mirror
b. Extended-arm side mirrors
c. Ordinary door mirrors
d. Ordinary interior mirror
e. You don’t need mirrors, the camels in the caravan will alert you

Answer: b.
These will give you a view past the caravan which will most likely be wider than your vehicle

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if he had 550g of wood and there is 150 kCal per 100g?

16 Oct

For the most part, I’m starting to feel at home in London, and it doesn’t feel like “OMG I’m in a foreign country.” I’ve become more familiar with the food here and — dare I admit — discontinued using some of my US toiletries in favour of British brands. But there’s one thing about daily English life that has bothered me since Day 1 of living here — their nutritional information.

Lately, in an effort to eat better, I’ve been trying to monitor my food intact. To be blunt, I’ve been doing a little bit of calorie counting. (You have my word — if I ever become that skinny girl at the party who asks how many calories are in everything then refuses to eat the dessert, please shove said dessert in my face.) I’m not obsessive about it, but I’ve realized if I want my daily exercise to count, I’ve got to stop eating more than my body can burn off. So I’ve been paying more attention to nutritional labels and have been trying to stay closer to the serving size. In England, this is easier said than done.

I complained about how British food is packaged in my posts about cooking here, but their package-by-weight bothers me even more when I look at the nutritional facts.

For example, both of these cereal boxes are technically the same size — 375g.

And this box of Coco Pops (why not Cocoa Krispies, Kellogg’s UK?) is only 50g larger than this tiny “whopping 500g” box of Chocolatey Squares (creative name!). (And yes, I did buy the Coco Pops solely because I got the free bowl. Sometimes I am still 5 years old).

And then we come to the nutritional facts, where the serving size is listed as “30g.” How am I supposed to eyeball 30g of cereal in my bowl? Am I supposed to get a little kitchen scale and weigh out 30g of cereal? Am I supposed to do math? (Let’s see, 550 divided by 30 equals 18.33333, so I just have to pour 1/18 of the box into my bowl!)

It’s not just cereal that is like this — every food is. For lunch today I had some of these little cheese crackers:

In the US, they would give a serving size of number of crackers, so I would know if, for example, I only wanted to ingest 150 calories, I should only eat 10 crackers.

But here is what these cracker’s nutritional info looks like:

At least they do the math for me and let me know the drum contains 10 25g servings, but that doesn’t tell me when to stop shoving crackers in my mouth at 129 calories.

My other complaint is that nutritional facts are often give per 100g (note the left column in the photo). That’s cool if the entire container or serving size is 100g, but most of the time it isn’t, and occasionally I’ve encountered labels that don’t give you the facts per serving size, so I’m forced to do the math myself. I don’t usually mind mental math, but it seems like way too much effort just to figure out how much food I should be eating.

I’m looking forward to going back to the US next month, when I will likely forget all about calories as I’m shoving Taco Bell and Spaghetti-Os in my mouth, but I will take comfort in the fact that I could easily calculate the amount of calories in that crunchy beef-product taco or bowl of watered down tomato soup with alphabet noodles if I wanted to.

Having too much fun studying 汉语

12 Oct

When I was younger, I had this obsession with colored markers and pens. From second grade through high school, my homework assignments always looked like, well, a rainbow threw up on them (in the best way possible). In the younger grades I had to save my colors for coloring assignments, as all work had to be completed in pencil. But once I got to high school and several teachers let us use pens that weren’t black or blue, my homework turned psychedelic. I had almost every type of gel pen imaginable, from metallic to sparkly to swirled. Using my fancy pens actually got me excited to do my homework, especially when I had a new batch.

As you know, I’ve been trying to teach myself Chinese. This is my third attempt at learning the language, but I promised myself I was really in it this time. Of course tackling a language is easier said than done, so I need something to motivate myself. So I pulled out my colored markers.

If you can read Chinese, please ignore my obvious stroke order and radical errors. If you can’t read Chinese, look how cool that looks! And it definitely says important stuff like “peace, love and harmony,” and not “electric fan” and “communal garden.” Practically, it seems more important to be able to read Chinese characters than to write them, but I have a lot of fun writing them, especially with colorful markers.

That seven character-long blue word in the middle is the word for DVD player, according to my book. I showed it to Stephen who said that was crazy. “Just say DVD,” he said. Helpful.

For the most part I’m happy with my Teach Yourself book, but it’s a British book so I occasionally I find myself learning two languages at once. For example, it asked me to translate, “I’m a teetotaller. What about you?” I have never heard the word “teetotaller” in my life and had no idea how to translate it into Chinese or English. Then there was, “Don’t stand on ceremony!” It’s a bit difficult to translate sentences and phrases into Chinese when you have to look up their meaning in English first. I’m currently learning “around the house” words, and had to make some modifications to my flashcards, changing “hob” to “stove,” “tap” to “faucet” and “coffee filter machine” to “coffeemaker” (really, England, “coffee filter machine?” I guess that’s what it is though).

Speaking of flashcards, I’ve really joined the 21st century — I use electric flashcards now. You see, I’m slightly addicted to my iPod Touch and have a hard time putting it down and picking up my flashcard pile. So I found a free flashcard app and entered all my cards. I even figured out how to switch my keyboard to Chinese, which is pretty cool. Check it out:

All you have to do is swipe your finger across to reveal:

(The numbers refer to the tones. Typing the characters in Chinese was hard enough, I wasn’t about to attempt official tone marks.)

And now you know the Chinese word for England. I can always pick it out during a conversation because everyone is always asking Stephen, “Is she from England or America?” Soon enough I will be able to answer for myself!

The long-promised post about our August holiday

6 Oct

Our epic August mega holiday was two months ago, so naturally I’m writing about it now. I’m focusing on the Italy portion of our trip, because everything in Vienna was beautiful and went smoothly, and nothing makes a more boring blog post than “Everything was beautiful and went smoothly.”

Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Obviously you don't want me to go on about how beautiful it was.

 The more research I did on Milan, the more excited I got to go there. To be honest, the reason we put Milan into our itinerary was because there is a Park Hyatt there and Stephen racked up enough Hyatt points so we could stay for free. And when you have the opportunity to stay at a Park Hyatt — for free! — you do it. So Milan became our second destination on the trip.

I was excited to go to Milan for two reasons:
1. to see the beautiful Duomo cathedral and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Duomo did not disappoint — I’ve seen a decent amount of cathedrals, and this is one of my favorites.

And Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was equally impressive (on the left in the photo below), especially since our hotel room looked into it. (It’s a shopping center, home to the Prada flagship store.)

Shopping, however, was another story.
I did my research and found all the places we wanted to hit. Stephen is a big fan of Armani, so we had to hit the 8,000-square-foot Armani megastore. I, on the other hand, am a big fan of discounts and sales, so I found the two best designer discount stores. (Think TJ Maxx, except with Armani and Prada instead of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger). We dedicated an entire day to shopping in Milan, and set out in the morning for the Armani megastore. It was about a mile walk from the hotel and it was a gorgeous day out. As we neared closer to the golden triangle of shopping, something didn’t feel right — we saw no one with shopping bags, just loads of map-and-camera-clutching tourists. We finally came upon Armani Mecca, and….

It was closed for renovations for the next two weeks. (Renee’s Tourist Tip: don’t go to Italy in August.) We were disappointed, but figured we could find Armani even cheaper at a discount store, so we ventured onward. The discount store was around the corner, but was depressingly small and picked over. So we decided to hike to the mega discount store, which looked deceivingly close on the map. As we walked, we noticed less and less tourists and more and more “real” Italians. We soon found ourselves outside of touristy Milan and on the proverbial backstreets. We had come too far to turn around though, and the deals were calling us. So we walked for about a half hour and finally found the correct street. It too was quiet and deserted in an unsettling way. Where were all the people with their shopping bags? We stumbled upon the front entrance of the store, which told us to use the back entrance. We went to the back entrance, which told us the store was… closed for renovation.

So there we were in the middle of nowhere, Milan, having spent an entire morning walking around with no designer goods to show for it. We decided there was no way we were walking back, and walked towards the subway stop on the map. We eventually found it, but were greeted with ticket machines we couldn’t figure out how to switch to English and a subway map with way more lines than my little hotel map showed. We had walked so far we were no longer in the city central, and thus were on the suburban train line. It smells like a recipe for disaster — I imagined us boarding a train thinking we were going back to the city and ending up in a small town miles away where no one spoke English. But fortunately things went smoothly — we managed to get the ticket machine into English finally and boarded the right train to take us back to Duomo and tourist central. I complain about tourists a lot, but you don’t realize how comforting they are until you’re in a near-abandoned train station or back alley in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language.

As usual I wrote more than expected, so I’ll write about Venice in a new post (which I promise will come in less than two months).