Archive | November, 2012

Fun Times at the Chinese Consulate: Virtual Edition

30 Nov

In two weeks I’m heading up to Chicago again for my annual visit to see one of my favorite cities, some old friends, and of course the Chinese consulate. As usual, I am trying to fit too many things into a short amount of time, as I’ll only be in Chicago for 24 hours before I head to Milwaukee to visit one of my best friends and celebrate our December birthdays. I need to get more pages added to my passport, which I can either do by mail (which takes four to six weeks, which would be cutting it close) or at the Chicago Passport Agency. The complicated part is that the Chinese visa office needs my passport to add the visa, so my passport cannot be in two places at once, so I am trying to determine if it’s possible to get both things done in 24 hours. Since I like to avoid actual human interaction and paying 10 cents a minute on my pay-as-you-go phone, I decided to email the Chinese consulate to inquire about their same-day express processing. Maybe I could drop my passport off as soon as I got into Chicago (presuming Megabus was on time), pick up my passport and shiny new visa the next morning, and then go straight to the passport agency before my train to Milwaukee. (There’s no way that plan could backfire, I know!)

Here is the email I sent to the Chinese consulate:

Hello,
I am interested in applying for a multiple-entry tourist “L” visa. If I come to the office and drop my application and passport off between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. and pay the extra $30 for the rush service, when is the earliest I can pick up my visa on the next day?

And this is what they wrote back:

You need to provide the hotel reservation and flight ticket for applying the tourist visa.

… OK, that is helpful information, but in what way does it answer my question? I guess that’s what I get for taking the lazy way out. I may have to forget about the passport pages until I get back to Cincinnati and pay for express processing through the mail. I don’t miss the high taxes and parking costs of living in Chicago, but I do miss the convenience of having consulates and major government agencies just down the block. Come on, Cincinnati, both Detroit and Hot Springs, Arkansas have passport agencies, it’s time to step up your game!

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The magical failed quest for the best Jingle Jammies

24 Nov

I am sensing a Thanksgiving pattern in our household. It goes something like this:

“Thanksgiving should be all about enjoying good food and precious time with family. It’s such a shame that our capitalistic commercialism-driven society has pressured stores to open up earlier and earlier and those poor employees have to work on Thanksgiving.”

::Looks through ads in newspaper on Thanksgiving::

“Dude! Have you seen these deals? We’re going out now!”

Such was the case both last year and this year, in particular with Old Navy. I didn’t particularly want or need anything from Old Navy, until I studied their ad. That’s when I saw them — $8 Jingle Jammie pants covered in Boston terriers wearing Santa hats. I do not need any new pajama pants. But I needed those.

So after stuffing ourselves with stuffing and the like, we headed off to Old Navy — my mom in search of deals, my brother along for the ride until the next store, and me in search of the magical Santa Boston terrier pants.

After searching the entire women’s section to no avail, I had to cave and ask an employee. It went down something like this:

“Excuse me, where are the maroon Jingle Jammies with the Boston terriers wearing Santa hats on them?”

The employee studied the photo in the ad closely. “Which one?” she asked, pointing to a pair of pink plaid pajama pants on the wall that clearly featured neither Boston terriers nor Santa hats. “These?”

“No, these,” I said, pointing again at the photo. “They’re maroon. And there are Boston terriers wearing Santa hats on them.”

“Oh.” She said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen those.” And she proceeded to look in all the same places I had just looked, before we moved onto the girls section. Soon enough several employees were involved in my quest for Santa hat-wearing Boston terrier pajama pants. It reminded me of the task force often assigned to me in China to find a sit-down toilet. One of the employees checked in the back, but came back empty-handed. “Sorry,” she said. “I thought we had everything in the ad in stock. I guess not.” Obviously disappointed, I told her it wasn’t a problem.

I went home empty-handed, but the magical Jingle Jammies that got away were always in the back of my mind. I finally decided to check the Old Navy website. As predicted, no Boston terriers wearing Santa hats. Then on a whim I googled “jingle jammies” and this photo appeared:


It’s hard to make out, but those maroon pants second from the left appear to be covered in Boston terriers. Wearing Santa hats. And they appear to be worn by a man. The wheels began to turn — the ad said “for the family.” Maroon is one of those androgynous colors. Why did I think only girls or women would wear Santa BTs? Why did I not check the men’s section when I was at the store? So I checked online under “Men,” and there they were:

And what time did I realize this? At 11 p.m. Saturday, the day the $8 Jingle Jammie sale ended. Their original price is $16.94. Do I pay that now? Do I return to the store and demand a price match because none of the employees helping me the other day thought to check the men’s section? Or should I just let them be the Jingle Jammies that got away?

…Oh crap, they come in green flannel too?!

OldNavy.com, why must I spend $50 for free shipping?!

A cool job and the most interesting single-serving friend I’ve ever met

22 Nov

I’m back in the US and currently running on a sugar and caffeine buzz so I can go Black Friday shopping at midnight, which got me thinking: You know what must be a cool job? Being a crew member of a popular band. You get to travel the world doing what you love, but you can also explore the cities you’re playing in without paparazzi following you. I know that life isn’t for everyone — all the nights away from home (wherever that is) and crappy hotels, but I think it would be fun. Why am I thinking about this? Because I sat next to the guitar tech for The Band Perry on my flight from London to Chicago.

I am really awkward when it comes to airplane “single-serving friends,” especially on a long international flight. It’s nice to have someone to talk to while you can’t use electronic devices, but when the movies start, is there a polite way to say, “Well, nice talking with you, but I really want to watch ‘The Watch’ now?” Luckily guitar tech guy and I didn’t have that problem. He was a polite Nashville gentleman who exchanged pleasantries as I sat down, but then put in his headphones. We basically ignored each other the entire flight until they shut off the entertainment for landing. Then we got to small-talking about why we were traveling. He said he had been traveling around Europe for business. It was only several minutes later that I asked him what line of work he was in. He said “music,” then explained that he fixes guitars for a band. And then I let several more minutes go by before I thought to ask him what band he worked for. After I told him I didn’t listen to much country music, he told me he was with The Band Perry, to which I responded something along the lines of, “Oh, I know them! I always get their songs wrong on SongPop!” (Like I said, I am awkward in these situations.) I then asked him if the whole band was on the plane, to which he replied, “Oh, they’re around here somewhere… some of them are wearing hats.” And then I realized the guy he had been talking to across the aisle was one of THE Perry brothers. When I told this story to my brother, he chastised me for not sneaking an instagram photo of him, which apparently is a must with celebrity sightings on planes and in airports. Whoops.

Looking back, I wonder if I should have handled the situation differently. Should I have volunteered my editing services when he said he was working on a book? Should I have asked for VIP passes to the next Cincinnati or London show so I can learn to like country music? I wonder if Hat Man Perry (who likely overheard our conversation) was offended that I didn’t recognize him, or happy I didn’t fan girl? Who knows, but at least I got a good Facebook status out of it when I got home.

Sucking the marrow, theatre and waffles out of London

16 Nov

I believe it was Thoreau who wrote that he wanted to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” I decided I needed to suck out all the marrow of London in my last week here in 2012 – particularly the theatre marrow. How did I accomplish that? Queuing for day seats. Two days in a row.  Insanity, I know. But the theatre marrow is quite succulent (taking the metaphor too far yet?) and I got some good Black Friday practice in. (If only the people of Walmart lined up as nicely as folks outside the National Theatre.)

Normally I wouldn’t dream of waking up early, taking the Tube at rush hour and standing outside in the cold for an hour two days in a row, but there were two shows I was itching to see, and they close before I return to London in January. Lately I’ve been choosing my shows based on actors. “A Chorus of Disapproval” stars Rob Brydon, also known as Bryn on “Gavin and Stacey.” I had to see him work his magic in real life (and from the front row!). And then while waiting for a ticket for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” last month, I saw a poster for “Scenes from an Execution,” starring Fiona Shaw. She was brilliant as Marnie the witch in “True Blood,” and I had to see her on the stage as well. The two shows couldn’t have been more different, but each was brilliant and well worth the day seat hassle. It’s always worth it to see a good live show from the front row for less than the price of a movie ticket in London. I’m glad I got to sleep in today though.

Whenever I’m back in the US, people always ask me what I like and miss about being in London or America. The problem with moving around is that there are always people, things and experiences you miss in each place. When I’m back “home” in Kentucky I miss walking everywhere. I get used to walking through the beautiful Regent’s Park on a regular basis and every once in a while have to remind myself to really take it in. But then when I’m in London and we’re circling the block trying to find a parking space (which isn’t putting it right – there are no blocks in London, so returning to the same street to hawk a spot takes a good 15 minutes), I miss the giant free parking lots of suburban America.

In an effort to suck out all the marrow of London Christmas, I decided to do a little Christmas lights tour down Regent, Carnaby and Oxford Streets as I walked to the bus stop after Wednesday’s show. In my mind it was going to be magical – that Christmas spirit in the air, choirs singing, children laughing, people passing (meeting smile after smile)… but in reality, it was cold. And crowded. And I was really, really hungry. They say there’s a correlation between lack of sleep and hunger, and I believe it now. In the air there was a feeling of Christmas, but there was also the smell of waffles. Oxford Street always smells like waffles, which is torture when you’re famished but trying to exercise self-control. So instead of taking in all the beautiful lights and store displays, all I could think about was waffles. The hunger really ruined my happy Christmas mood. Since I couldn’t eat waffles, I imagined myself throwing waffles at all the tourists who clogged the sidewalk up trying to take photos of the lights. I really wanted to make a much more elegant post about Christmas in London and the lights, complete with many photos, but I was so irritated by those tourists that I couldn’t bare to turn into one and get my camera out. And did I mention the evil waffles? And the cold and hunger?

Here is the one photo I took of Rolling Stones Christmas on Carnaby Street.

What’s with London selling out all its decorations? I guess the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary is better than Marmite Gold yeast extract spread, but still…

 

Election Day from far away

7 Nov

It’s odd experiencing an election outside the US. I am forever grateful I was spared the onslaught of political ads and signs, but I also felt disconnected. If it weren’t for all my friends going on about it on Facebook and the occasional BBC “U.S. President Barack Obama and this bloke named Mitt Romney had a debate. Now on to weather!” blips, I wouldn’t have known it was happening. Being five hours ahead on Election Night certainly didn’t help. The BBC had in-depth coverage about the election, but most polls didn’t even begin to close until after midnight GMT. I was torn. They say the average person only sees 18 election in their lifetime. Seems like something worth staying up for, even more so than the Super Bowl. So I plopped myself in front of BBC’s coverage, which as usual was entertaining. I think my favorite comment came from some important British guy: “Over two hours to vote? I think most of us Brits would go home after 10 minutes of waiting.” Even I’m amazed that some Americans waited that long to vote. They had various BBC corespondents reporting in from bars across the US, including Ohio and Florida. Random people kept popping up behind the reporter and shouting “Obama!” A little after midnight some of the numbers started coming in. “This is exciting!” I thought. But then my eyes started to get heavy. They started talking about the same things over and over again because no new states were reporting. I realized this was not an election that was going to be called at a reasonable hour for me. So I went to bed. Around 5 a.m. (midnight EST) I woke up and saw the breaking news alert on my iTouch from USA Today: “Barack Obama re-elected president of the United States.” In 2008 I heard fireworks and cheers all night, just blocks away from Obama’s party in Grant Park. In 2012 I found out who won by checking my iPod half-asleep. Who knows where I’ll be or how I’ll find out in 2016!

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend near Oxford Circus. As we were leaving we stumbled upon an aggressive fish and chips peddler who insisted we take one of his flyers. When we refused, fibbing that we didn’t like fish and chips, he asked if we were American. It being election day, I expected him to ask us about Obama or Romney. Instead he said, “Oh, that explains it. Americans like, what, steak sandwiches? Oh, and hot dogs!” And then he preceded to give us unsolicited recommendations on hot dog joints in London, including a place with “massive” ones. It seemed like an odd business tactic — get customers to eat at your fish and chips shop. If they try to ignore you and hope you go away, recommend hot dog places.

After the guy finally left us alone, I did a little Christmas shopping along London’s most popular shopping street. The stores and street were fully decked out, and it would have been truly magical were it not raining. I’ll leave you with this photo I took of the street lights, brought to you by … Marmite Gold.

I’m not sure if “You either love it or hate it” refers to the yeast extract spread itself or the fact that London sold out and turned its Christmas decorations into an advertising campaign.