Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

In Korea, you’ll have so much fun that two years will only feel like one!

(Apologies for the blurriness.)

Ad on the back of a bus in Singapore

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A Soul-Crushing Search

I’ll eventually write about how I almost got married in Myanmar and why I wound up moving to London, but here’s why I’ve been MIA for several weeks.

Trust me, they're all gone! (Estate Agent Overload by blech/Paul Mison.)

Combine the pain of looking for a job with the suffering of going on blind dates and you know what it’s like to flat-hunt in London.  (Job Search): First, you spend hours online scouring every related website.  Then you send off dozens, if not hundreds, of emails.  The response rate to your emails is maybe five percent.  From these, you manage to make a few appointments. (Blind Date): You put on a nice outfit and find your way to the appointed place at the appointed time. Within the first minute you know if you like what you see.  There is small-talk involving questions such as, “where are you from?” and “what do you do?”  At the end there are promises to contact each other.  You never hear from some of them again, although this isn’t always a bad thing.  Other times, even if you didn’t think it was your soulmate, you still feel a little rejected when they email to say they’ve found someone else.

I didn’t really want to deal with someone deciding if they liked me more than 50 other people they’d just met.  After all, I’m not  a contestant on The Bachelor.  Even though my housing budget steadily increased every hour as I realized how expensive London really is, I still felt studios were a little out of my range.  So after a few days of going through this, I found someone else in the same situation and we started looking for 2-bedroom flats to rent.  This would be easier because we just had to be the first ones to hand over money and sign a contract, right?

Well, theoretically that’s how it works.  Except it seemed we had arrived in time for the Great London Housing Shortage of 2010.  We saw nice flats advertised online, but when we called they were no longer available.  I saw a lot of “To Let” signs, like the ones pictured above, and called them.  They were no longer available, either.  I asked if there was anything and was told, “No, it’s student season.  We have nothing left in Central London for less than £1000/week.”  Right.  I’ll ring you back if I win the lottery.

We repeated this process over and over.  In response to one phone call, we heard that something had just come across the agent’s desk and he was heading to see it.  Could we meet him there?  Forget The Bachelor, we were now on The Amazing Race.  We dashed across town.  We hadn’t even had time to ask questions about the flat; while it was nice, it was a little out of budget, and a pain to get to from school.

We ran across town, managing to scarf down a sandwich in the 5 minutes before our 3pm viewing – the only other one we had been able to set-up.  But the flat wasn’t available until November and so we moved on.  At 4pm we managed to arrange another viewing for 5:30pm.  However, at 5, we got a call that an offer had just been made and our viewing was cancelled.  At this point, we were ready to sign a lease for a box in Trafalgar Square.

And then it turned out that yes, Virginia, there is a housing god.  After dejectedly returning to campus to plan our weekend (let’s start at 9am Saturday!), we got a call from a private landlord we had emailed earlier.  We looked at the pictures , fell in love, and mentally moved in.  We tried not to get our hopes up – clearly the people who saw it before us would make an offer and it would be gone.  We arrived ten minutes early – the landlord was talking to the previous viewers and asked us to come back.  We paced the nearby street, plotting ways to eliminate the competition. (Now we’re on Survivor?)

After viewing the flat, we told the landlord we wanted it.  She said she needed to think about it, as the people before us also wanted it.  However, after asking us a few more questions, she decided we could have it over the other couple.  (Apparently our efforts to be charming had worked.)

But let’s not get too excited.  More drama ensued, during which we convinced ourselves it was actually too good to be true and a scam.  The landlord wanted a holding deposit  so that she could stop showing the flat.  While she seemed very nice, she didn’t have ID on her, and we needed to either wire her money or get her cash immediately.  Neither of those seemed particularly appealing, especially since we had heard about a lot of housing scams in London.  We finally worked out a compromise whereby we could bring cash/wire receipt to her house and sign the lease that night.  We roamed the cold, wet streets of London trying to work this out, which was complicated by the fact that I discovered I didn’t have my ATM card on me and my roommate couldn’t reach his U.S. bank on the phone.  We were rescued by my English aunt and finally made it to the landlord’s house at 9:30pm, determined to see her ID and to look for baby pictures (she claimed she had 3 kids).

There were baby pictures, we saw passports of the entire family, and had a lovely chat with the landlord and her husband over tea and biscuits.  I got home around midnight and ate dinner, relieved it seemed to be settled, but worried that something would still go wrong – I wasn’t considering it a done deal until I had working keys in my hand. We got those Monday and are happily settling-in.  Now, if only I can figure out the temperamental hot water in the shower…

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Discovering a New Species (and wine) in Myanmar

I discovered a new species in Myanmar.  And I didn’t even have to go into a jungle and get bitten by malarial mosquitoes.  Instead, I made this exciting discovery at the grocery store (and got bitten by infectious insects at my crappy hostel).

In the refrigerated section, I noticed the following package:

Obviously, chicken person was some sort of amusing mistranslation – although one wonders why the label was translated into English anyway.  My mother solved the first mystery – it should be chicken parson’s nose.  I have never heard this term before, but it apparently refers to the tail end of a chicken.   (It’s also called a Pope’s nose or Sultan’s nose, depending upon whom you want to offend.)  Now I know, although I’m still not certain how one should prepare them.

Perhaps they might pair well with Burmese wine, which I wound up buying in Myanmar, but trying in the Tokyo airport.  (Despite the fact that the bottle was in a sealed duty-free bag and I had taken it through the Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, Da Nang, and Singapore airports without a problem, Tokyo security would not let it through.  I pleaded to be allowed to try it.  At first, I was refused.  But I persisted, and was finally led out of the security area and left to my own devices.  I tried it after first recording the bottle’s description:

“The decent Muscat aroma in combination with a trace of Hollander and Acacia flowers dominates the overall aroma.  Extract-rich, full-mouth taste reflects the berries at the moment when they were freshly harvested.  The ensuing elegant acid structure gives this wine its full and famous and lasting after-taste.”

It certainly had a lasting after-taste – a pretty horrible one.  Oh well, what was I really expecting from a $3 bottle of Burmese wine?

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Pictures from Myanmar and Vietnam

Can be found here: http://picasaweb.google.com/107243734739290991264

Posts will follow as I battle jet-lag and uncertain internet access for the next week or so.

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Some More Random Snack Foods

In Bali, I spotted milk sodas, which just did not sound appetizing to me.  For some reason, I assumed that they were carbonated, but I now see that it says “cultured milk drink,” not “carbonated milk drink.”  Granted, to me the word “soda” still implies carbonation.  I normally love carbonation – I drink sparkling water like I’m a dehydrated European camel – but I don’t think I would want to drink carbonated, flavored milk.  It sounded too disgusting to try, but now I’m wishing I had, just to know what it was like.

In Thailand, I found French Salad Flavored Chips.  I really loved the packaging – if you look closely there’s an Eiffel Tower on the far right of the package.  I get that the Eiffel Tower is to symbolize the French part of the chips.  I’m just not sure what the smiling Asian guy is supposed to symbolize….

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The Chewing Gum Myth

Whenever I told people I was going to move to Singapore, I usually got one of two responses: don’t chew gum and don’t get caned.  (The next most popular was, “are you going to have to learn the language?”)  It seems the only two things the average American (not you, my dear reader) knows about Singapore are that chewing gum is forbidden and caning is allowed.

As someone who suffers from what might be considered a chewing gum addiction (particularly when I am stressed, which happens frequently), some family members and friends expressed concern over my decision to move to the only country in the world where it is illegal.  And while there have been several occasions (usually when working on upcoming presentations) that I have craved gum, I’ve somehow managed to survive.

So what did I recently discover, 8 months into my 9 month grant? You CAN BUY CHEWING GUM in Singapore.  Early on, I had heard that you could buy chewing gum for medicinal purposes, but I didn’t pay much attention.  After all, I don’t smoke, so I have no need for (or interest in) Nicorette, and I couldn’t think of a plausible reason for a doctor to write me a prescription.  However, it turns out that you can actually buy it over the counter at a pharmacy.

I finally discovered this shocking little secret from my roommate last week.  I was working on my 9th speech for Toastmasters; it’s a persuasive speech and I was, of course, arguing that Singapore should legalize chewing gum.  In support of my argument, I was using the findings of some ridiculous studies (funded by Wrigley’s, a fact I neglected to mention) that have shown chewing gum helps prevent tooth decay AND can help improve test scores and increase weight loss.  Learning that you could actually buy chewing gum at a pharmacy seemed to kill a large part of my argument, so I decided to test it out.

I envisioned the gum in a little, nondescript blue packet, having been manufactured at some pharmaceutical plant.  I figured that the gum itself would be overly chewy (or stale) with not much taste.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that you can buy several different flavors of Orbit.  (You do, however, have to write down your name and identity card number – I guess in case the chewing gum police need to talk to you.  That being said, the pharmacist didn’t verify what I wrote down.)  The gum is about the same price as normal (it was S$5 or US$3.60 for 40 pieces).  The only indication that I was buying something special (besides feeling like I was trying to buy Sudafed in the U.S.) was that there was some sort of dental hygiene approval seal on the bottle of gum.

I haven’t been back for another bottle (is it possible I’m overcoming my gum addiction?), but it’s nice to know the option is there.  Viva la chewing gum!

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It’s not cool to pick your nose.

I wrote too soon about good Singaporean PSAs – I saw this yesterday on the MRT.  I can’t decide which is my favorite – this one or the clam costumes.

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