23 January 2011

Being impecunious-Part I: Living in Central London for <£850/month

Ever since I have moved out of residential housing, I've averaged about £830 in monthly expenditures. It amazes me that I can live in Central London for this little, and I don't necessarily recommend living the way I do, b/c I rarely go out. . . but that said, it's doable.

What's even crazier is that 3 of my busiest months as a student, I was able to live for under £500 a month--from April till June. Part of this is because of the weird way the residence hall charged our rent--so for the spring term (April, May, June), rent was £300/month. Those were the three months that I (well, our entire class) spent about 15 hours in the library, 7 days a week. It turns out that if you do nothing but spend time at the library, save the occasional food break, you can live on very little.

Sadly, life hasn't changed much since then. I still spend the bulk of my time at the library. . .. Perhaps this is why I can live on so little.

Another reason I can do this is my cheap rent. Rent is slightly over half of my monthly expenses--it is a steal for this area at the all-inclusive price of £450. In this area, rent normally costs £600-£800. The price I have to pay is zero freedom, which, to be honest, isn't worth the rent savings, but given that I'm not gainfully employed, I'm not in much of a position to be choosy. Well, it is letting me stretch out my last bit of savings, for which I am thankful.

Now, there are many things I don't buy or do in order to live for this little, but I certainly don't feel like I'm destitute (yet) or that I'm depriving myself too much. For example, today, I bought snob olive oil. What is snob olive oil, you ask? Uber-expensive olive oil that tastes so good, it is worth every penny. This bottle will keep me happy for at least a few months, so stuff like this is well-worth splurging for. So are the occasional £1.50-per unit Pierre Hermes macarons. I realize, there are many entire boxes of cookies that can be bought for £1.50 that are actually quite good. Ginger snaps, speculoos, chocolate-covered digestives, to name a few, but every once in a blue moon, it's really worth spending £1.50 to buy the Pierre Hermes macaron. All of you should do this before you die. Mind you, I've only done it once since I've arrived here. But they are seriously orgasmically good. However, to be able to buy that £1.50 macaron every once in a while, and still spend less than £850/month, I have a few self-imposed rules or budget restrictions.

1. Buying the FT at the school co-op-Some people have a discretionary coffee fund. I have a discretionary FT-at-school fund. At school, the FT costs a mere 25p. I don't buy it every day, but I buy it on average, 2-3 times per week. I mean, how can you not at this price point? At an 87.5 percent discount? Also, in my case, I need to be reading it regularly, for job interviews. So I spend an average of say, 65p/week on FT purchases.

2. Not paying service fees. There are several things that even as a working adult, I absolutely, positively hate paying. One of them is exorbitant (relative to the price of the ticket) service fees. The other is parking, when there is free street parking. If I am paying $40 for a ticket, I will grudgingly pay $2 or $2.50 as a service fee. That is reasonable. But anything above 10 percent is ridiculous. I flat-out refuse to pay it. So I never buy movie tickets online. There is no way it should cost $1.50 worth of services to issue a movie ticket. I know $1.50 is peanuts, but it raises the price of a ticket from "very high but worth it for some movies" (say, 9.50) to "No. Freaking. Way." ($11) Maybe some day, I will earn so much I won't care, but right now, I care. A lot. So for example, I went ice-skating. It was £10.50 for the ticket, and then another £1.30 to buy it online. It failed the under-10-percent rule, so I risked having the session sold out rather than pay the service fee. Again, I know that £1.30 is not much. But to someone who is unemployed, £10.50 (roughly $16!) is already a big chunk of my monthly "entertainment" fund.

3. Avoiding pubs. I actually don't care for beer, so I don't spend much at pubs. When I do go, I usually get sparkling water. Beer and most alcohol are ridiculously expensive here. At some places, it is £5. Again, since my savings are in dollars, I'm still thinking in dollars after a year and a half of being here--but that's $7.50--for a beer that I'm very lukewarm about. So, I very rarely drink in pubs. This probably saves me a lot of money.

3a. Not buying beverages in general. My only exception to this is sparkling water. Over the past year, I've really taken a liking to this stuff. It probably started out as wanting something less pedestrian than plain old water at a pub. Anyway, this is the one drink that I will actually order--again, never at a restaurant, b/c the markup price is ridiculous--but the student center only charges 70p for a one-litre bottle, so I occasionally get that, or at a pub as per above. However, in general, I find that at restaurants and pubs, the price of drinks, relative to food is really high. I don't like beer or even wine enough to pay an extra 5 quid. Marginal utility never equals marginal cost. I'd much rather spend that 5 pounds on food or several PH macarons. If I forego that glass of wine twice, that is the cost of a meal. I also rarely buy teas or coffees. I rarely did this when I lived in the U.S., but now, given the relatively higher price of beverages, I buy them even less-frequently. There are actually times that I've wanted a Starbucks drink--and walk in there with the intention of buying a latte or whatever--and then walk out after deciding that rather than spend the equivalent of $4 on a chai latte, I'll forego this feeling twice, and buy myself dinner instead. So I guess I'm not a beverage-buying kind of person. Water from a tap is completely free.

4. Don't use the tube--ever. Ok, I use it for interviews, if the interview is far enough, or to get to Heathrow, since that is like in zone 6, but since I live in zone 1, one way to immediately cut costs is to never use the tube. I have used it a few times to go see friends, but most of my friends live near LSE or we always meet close to LSE, and the few out-of-town people I meet up with, I usually ask them to meet me half way somewhere that is walk- or bus-able. I used to live in zone 3 and 4, where I had no choice but to use the tube to get to school. A weekly tube/transport pass costs about £27, so in a given month, you are spending a little over £100 on transport costs. I now walk or take the bus everywhere, when I can.

5. Better yet, walk everywhere. Now that it has gotten considerably warmer, I have been making a conscious effort to walk more. London is a wonderful walking city, and is relatively safe to walk around at night, so this definitely helps. Also, since I'm paying the zone 1 premium, the price for this should be to walk more. I also enjoy walking a lot, so I don't find this particularly hard to do.

6. Don't call people; text them instead. And don't pay for a monthly plan. I use my phone for 4 things. 1. Text people, 2. Make only domestic calls that are job-related. 3. Call internationally. 4. Receive calls. Compared to the US, my monthly cellphone expenditures are much much lower here. One reason is that I don't have a monthly plan. In the US, I paid $40/month for a plan I barely used. I had something like 400 minutes and free weekends--and I rarely used my cellphone. Reception was crappy. I don't like committing to 2yr plans, so I never upgraded my phone, so technology was shit. Here, I pay an average of £7/month for 2 phones/plans. Why do I have 2 phones? I got one as a bequest, and I've now optimized my calling system. Plan A charges me a flat rate of 10p to send a text or talk for 1 minute. So I use this one to make outgoing calls. Plan B gives me 600 free texts if I top up every 3 months--but calls cost 26p/min for domestic, but only 3p/min to call the U.S. It doesn't make any economic sense to pay 26p for calls, when I only have to pay 3p to call abroad, so the result of this is that I make a lot of international calls, and text everyone who lives locally.

Actually, people in general don't seem to talk on the phone much the way we do in the US. We "miss call" each other a lot, for example, if we are meeting up, but other than the people who have plans that give them unlimited minutes, others are usually very mindful of other people's top-up minutes/limits. If I need to talk at length to someone, we either use alternative media, or the person with the unlimited plan usually calls everyone else back. I never texted back in the US, but here, they are a lifesaver.

7. Hang out with students or like-minded people. I really like hanging out with other poor students who are also living on a tight budget, b/c they are on the same page about things like this. They never scoff at you if you take a dinner break at the library, and you bring your own lunch and dinner from home. And today, when I texted one of my friends to see if they want to take a food break, he texted back and told me that actually, he was going to eat from home to save money. I religiously try to bring packed lunches (and dinners) as much as I can--probably more so than most of my other classmates. But whenever we went somewhere to take a food break, people always accommodated those of us who brought food from home. Either we ate at places where they allowed outside food in, or they would buy the food and bring it back. It's definitely possible to eat cheaply at school, but even then, the people who bought every meal spent an average of £11/day. I don't know how much I spent per day, but I know I spent considerably less.

Also, since we are all living with tight finances, when we do go out, people are good about picking reasonably priced restaurants. And if you tell people, "Nah, I'll pass today, b/c I've already eaten out this week", people understand. They don't give you a hard time about it.

7a. And not just any students, but mostly school-of-despotic-regime-studies students. I have nothing against hanging out with other students, but let me point out the differences between SDRS students and students from Rich-MBA-School. First, the topic of buying a plane for 6.7 million dollars--and mentioned in the first person, as in I bought said plane for blah-million-dollars--never ever comes up among SDRS students. We talk about how we worked 3 jobs to save up for our program. I can talk for hours with these people.

Second, I had the chance to go ice-skating with RMBAS students, and they have quite a different budget, in terms of an evening of entertainment. Now, with SDRS students, we were all on a budget, so we typically did one activity per evening whenever we got together. Except graduation and end-of-term, when we felt justified in splurging a bit. But even then--even then, someone printed out a 30% off voucher. Not that I am a student anymore, but I am also still not working and living on the last scraps of savings, so if I go ice-skating, I can't also go to dinner. SDRS students understand that, without my having to explain this. But when I went with RMBAS students and tried to make an excuse for not joining them for dinner, the slightly-pressure-wielding guy was like, "come on--you can study tomorrow." I know that he was just trying to be friendly, but with SDRS students, there is never this sort of annoying pressure that irks me b/c they understand. This guy is getting paid a salary to attend RMBAS, so he doesn't understand such things and ends up being slightly inconsiderate. I suppose I could've said something about my financial situation, but I don't really want to have to spell this out to people every time, you know? Especially, since we spent the past half-hour talking about my wanting to find a job and earn income. This is where I feel like Asian so-called "passive aggressiveness" (I call it being tuned in to people's needs without having everything SPELLED OUT, but many "let's be explicit and spell out every feeling we have" white people probably think anything that is not direct is just passive aggressive. . . in their culturally intolerant way. But you know what? Passive aggressiveness is sometimes really useful for reading between the lines, so we don't have to spell everything out for you.) Anyway, I did want to hang out with them a bit more, so I did end up going to a pub with them and joining them for a little bit. But again, RMBAS students: ice-skating+pre-prandial drinks at pub+dinner. SDRS students: ice skating OR dinner.

8. One fun per week. This one is not a strict rule, but like I said above, I generally allow myself one source of paid fun per week. Most of the times, that is dinner with friends. And to be honest, most of the people who have enough time to meet regularly are also students or not earning much, so we are all on similar money-saving mode, so it actually ends up being even less frequent. There are some months, like graduation month, I've spent over £100, but these days, I've been keeping extraneous expenses (eating out, getting that occasional tea, ice-skating) to £40-£50/month. It turns out there are lots of fun things one can do in London for free.

There are the other standard things, like packing lunches and snacks to bring with you. I also don't currently have as much access to a kitchen as I'd like (one of the prices I pay for this cheap rent), so it also means I'm living on stuff like hummus and pita and cereal and yogurt and the occasional vegetable thrown in. Actually, I have salad and fruit daily. But I also never buy processed food. I'd like to, sometimes, but not for £5-£6. For that price, I can make my own moussaka or whatever.

So, I'm not in dire straits, and I'm getting by and still getting to eat my fancy chocolate bars (none of that Hersheys or Cadbury shit), but an income soon would be nice. Not just nice, but I really. Need. To. Earn. Money. Soon.

16 January 2011

Surreal chats with friends--Bay Area angst, gay vs. straight guys and promising to watch Fox News. . .oh and Tom Browkaw worked for NBC, not Fox News.

me: D! When are you coming to Europe?
D: Hi! I have no idea!! I hope soon!
How are you?
me: I need a job, but otherwise, good.
Are you flipping houses?
D: haha.. are you going to stay in london?
Well, not right now...
me: I was gonna ask about exciting love prospects, but doesn't seem like you'd have time for such things!
How is your mom?
D: oh she's really stressed out.. so it's hard on her.. I'll probably go back soon for another few weeks. but it's (redneck state)! I hate being there!
so it's always nice to come back to SF for a bit to refresh and start over
me: But. . . you grew up there. It can't be that bad. It can't possibly be as right as say, Kansas. At least you have good local food!
D: Yes, it's that bad.. Actually all the good food is gone. It's all just olive garden and chilis now.. But Kansas would be worse
me: Serious?
D: So how are you doing? How is London really? It sounds like you like it there.. I'm pretty serious actually
me: Hah! I like london, but I need a job. I have been getting by, so it's not a problem, but it would be nice to live here and not have to keep converting everything into dollars and thinking, $8 for a drink?? No way! Or $16 for a bowl of udon when I can get it in Japan for 600 yen??
D: yes, the pound is still pretty strong! That has to be a pain. It would be nice to get a paycheck in pounds.. It'd be great coming back here then!
me: But I like the international flavor, the fact that it is close to Europe, the fact that my classmates (who are friends) are from all over the world, and there's none of this bored, Bay Area angst--or at least I haven't seen it yet, though I'm sure it exists.
Actually, a paycheck in yen, given the current exchange rate, would make me filthy rich.
Um, I forget who I'm talking to here, but my definition of filthy rich =salary of over $80K/year.*

(*To provide context, the boy I am chatting w/ is a multi-millionaire, so obviously, we have different scales.)

D: I think that's probably true. It's definitely one of the world class cities... Something that we don't really have in CA. Also, SF isn't so bad, but Stanford was definitely angsty..lol. A paycheck in yen would be great - definitely... Most of my friends in Japan though seem so stressed out..
me: Well, true, perhaps, but I've met some pretty angsty people on dates in SF, too. Actually, you made a comment about that once. You didn't use the word angst, but lots of complacent, bored, linear folk out there. . .But very smart and well off.
D: Oh that's still very true..It's also a maturity issue..
me: Is the gay dating scene any different? I feel like you guys do much more interesting things and take more risks.
D: Men in particular here lack motivation to move into adulthood.. It's very easy to stay in this odd infantile state here..
You know, I don't really know.. I think there's a little more drama involved though..
me: Like there are (were) at least 3 people I had mad crushes on--all of who were gay. So freaking unfair. . ..
D: I think though after 30, a lot of gay guys finally transition into adulthood..
me: Somehow the Bay Area seems to feed this. And I'm guilty of this myself--I'm nearing (some age) and I have not a single vestige of so-called establishment.
D: It makes sense though... A lot of gay people have a reality check earlier on and can seems a lot more settled than straight men...
me: Yeah, they seem much more attractive, except that they don't like vaginas, which is a problem. Um, maybe I shouldn't be typing such things at a library computer. . .
D: It does... and I'm more or less in the same position. But I think too many men are still meandering..
I think it's ok.. Gay men are sort of forced to take care of themselves..
I'm not sure why more straight men don't feel that pressure.. many do, and I think it's changing somewhat..
me: They also have taste and fashion sense, and COOK. Remind me why you guys (well not in CA, but in weirdo places like Kansas) are ostracized again?
D: haha...Well, the main reason we don't have full equality is probably Fox News.. lol
I can't cook though
I hate cooking.. It's stressful!!
me: Ha ha ha.
It's funny but it's not--the Fox News thing. . .You need to learn how to cook!
No but it's also Bill Clinton's fault.
D: It's actually very strange... I mean, I certainly don't mind people being conservative, but it's transitioned into something bizarre.. Especially in (redneck state). People were always redneck, but now aggressively so!
me: Here, it's amazing how non-issue it is. I mean, it should be non issue, but you really notice it when you leave the states.
D: Well, I don't know really, but the tory party in London is conservative, but they aren't totally nuts..
your experience may be different however..
me: But it used to be your home, so isn't there some level of comfort/familiarity in your home town? Or are you like me and every time you go back to NJ, you feel a bit disjoint, and everything that should be familiar feels surreally foreign.
Ah, ok. I don't hang out w/ brits--I mostly hang out w/ other nationalities.
D: oh it's completely surreal.. I have many issues.. It's hard to have conversations with people. I was talking to a cousin about alligators.. I mean, I don't really know how to contribute to that..
me: But if they mostly are just large carbon footprint producers and shoot animals and don't talk, then it's not so bad.
D: and the endless driving.
Well, I don't care, but I always feel awkward when people are talking their guns and whatnot as though I have any idea what they're talking about. I feel completely alien..
me: The last time I went back to my hometown, one of my childhood friends (well her mom) was complaining about too many Jewish people "buying up" property, and I was like, did we grow up in the same town? Why on earth is this a problem? Can I remind you that our town, to begin with, is 40+PERCENT JEWISH???
Ah, yes. I don't understand gun culture either.
I dated a guy once--WAIT. YOU KNEW HIM. C. He was pro-gun ownership.
And he was "uncomfortable" w/ having gays in the military, until I chewed him out bigtime.
I mean, seriously, people WTF.
D: The gun thing is just odd... I mean, it wouldn't be so much of an issue, but there's this disturbing aggressiveness in their gun love..
And that was a while back..
me: Yeah, a certain amt of jingoism. I can understand if they served active duty or something--then maybe you really understand and appreciate freedom, and maybe gun ownership epitomizes this freedom in some special way.
D: Sure... And everyone watches Fox... and they can't really recognize it for what it is... Many otherwise intelligent successful people their quite literally believe Obama is trying to destroy the country..
It does..
It does symbolize that sort of frontier attitude and a type of masculinity that's still really valued in the south..
me: Ok, to be honest, I confess that I haven't watched FOX news in ages. Didn't Tom Browkaw used to work for FOX? I must listen to it just to see what it's about. I always joke about it, but can't imagine it can be that bad. . .
D: That said, I have noticed a lot more GLBT people out and about in my hometown.. Which I never saw 20 years ago when I was there..
me: But Tom Browkaw didn't used to be a rabblerowser.
D: The Fox thing is strange... Glen Beck, Sarah Palin.. They're transformed conservative politics into something unrecognizable. I know nothing about Brokaw.
me: Ok, I should watch it someday for kicks.
D: Yeah, watch Glen Beck.. He puts on this little glasses and gives revisionist history lessons... and then cries.. It's very odd
me: I have to admit, I completely tune out that section of the news, so I barely have any idea who Glen Beck is, except that people keep mentioning him on FB.
me: I barely know what Sarah P is up to, but I should pay more attention, b/c if she ever heads our country, I might have to--ah never mind. I shouldn't say these things on a forum like this.
D: Well, it's good that you don't subject yourself to it, but it's still interesting how much of an impact he's having... He really puts people on edge. My dad used to have a rational view of politics, but now he thinks the US is going to be destroyed in a very literal way..
Yeah, avoid the Palin. She's like our Eva Peron only right wing.. lol
me: Ha ha. Hey, I just got timed out of some job app I was doing, so I should get back to it. . .but we should catch up sometime! I'll try to watch some Fox in the meantime for cultural edification.
D: I recommend a drink or two before you start watching it!

05 December 2010

Child Abuse and FB Proselytizing

So there is this new movement on FB. Oddly enough, the movement started out in Europe over a month ago. I know this, b/c some of my classmates participated. But in Europe, it was just "let's take a fun walk down memory lane and post our favorite cartoon as a profile pic".

Then one month later, this movement made its way to the US* but with an annoying armchair-activist twist, as many things that get imported to the US are wont to do. Instead of just a fun walk down memory lane, it became, let's-do-this-to-show-your-stance-against-child-abuse-and-raise-child-abuse-awareness.

*(note to editor-type geeks: you will notice that I now write US instead of U.S. This is b/c the editors of the 16th edition of Chicago, much to my dismay, has decided that US, instead of U.S., is now the preferred way to abbreviate our country. After years and years of writing U.S., this is taking some getting used to, but I'm practicing this convention on my blog.)

If only it really did. Well, actually, it can, indirectly, b/c one of my FB friends is posting eye-opening statistics about child abuse on her status--like the fact that five children die from child abuse daily. And she is a counselor and special-education teacher actually doing something in her day-to-day life to raise awareness and prevent future occurrences. Another friend of mine said she prayed for these poor children.

But besides this, I'm not sure how effective such acts of so-called awareness are at actually helping the cause. I mean, change your profile pic and have fun with it, but please don't turn it into a non-cause.

I don't mean to belittle child abuse and suggest that it is not a worthy cause. Nor do I suggest that I am doing anything right now to help prevent child abuse. But the majority of people who are changing their profiles--well, I don't (be)friend indecent people, so I'm sure they are against child abuse. You don't really need to tell me this or make a point of posting this in your status update. However, I don't think people should change their profile pic from the comfort of their home, and feel good about this and call it a day. I think this sort of passive armchair activism is a disservice to the people who do actually do make a difference in people's lives. How many of these people actually know an abused child, I wonder.

And likewise, who are you to tell me to post this status update about some battalion in Afghanistan who lost people to show support or else I am a coward?

It is this sort of passive activism (and then people patting themselves on their back) that annoys me. Not to mention the annoying peer pressure. It feels so high school-ish. Except instead of being peer pressured into having uber-high 2-inch hair-sprayed bangs by 15-year-olds, now it is pressure to post status updates by middle-aged people. There's still the same name-calling (e.g. coward, if you don't post this update, etc.)

There are people who love our country so much that they are willing to put their lives on the line, so people like me can sit and bloviate in a blog post in safety and silly heads of states can wage wars that they will never have to fight themselves. Right now, I can't do much more than feel extremely thankful that there are such amazing, brave people. We (myself included) take these people too much for granted. I can't possibly imagine how big of a sacrifice these people make. I am very thankful for the freedom and rights that I have, but I personally can't imagine risking my life for them. So I am very thankful that there are people who will. It's not something I take lightly. And to think that one can show support and appreciation by just posting some status update? I know it's well-meant, but it almost seems like a cop-out.

You fight and die for my country, and I'll show you my appreciation by changing my FB status for an hour and browbeat others to do the same. How's that for a bargain?

And likewise with this silly child abuse awareness movement. I have friends (both FB and real) who are counselors and actually chose to make a living out of helping children or other victims of hate crimes and violence. I wish I were altruistic enough to make a living out of helping people. I wish I had the people skills and the commitment to become a teacher. But I don't. However, I don't pretend I'm making a difference by just posting a blog about it or FB status about it. When I'm financially able, I do contribute to causes and volunteer time and try to make some difference that way, but the reality is that most of us just aren't that dedicated. Yes we care. What decent human being wouldn't care about child abuse, battered women, dying soldiers, etc. But other than sending money, how many of my cartoon-profiled friends are willing to actually effect change and do something about it?

I'm sure a lot of people passively cared about and were aware of the Jewish people (and gay people and communists) who were sent off to concentration camps. But the point is that awareness wasn't enough.

There is the famous and powerful quote by Niemoeller:
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

My second point, and more of a question, is ok, I am aware of child abuse. Or at least the concept of it. But a) how do I become more actively aware of it, and b) short of changing careers, what else can I do that is less passive than sending money?

On my first question, I think that we will think it is easy to detect child abuse. Look for external signs--e.g. bruises in weird places, right?

But it's not this straightforward. I recently discovered (via random google-stalking) that one of my former classmates was a victim of domestic violence. I went to school with her for 9? 10? years, and lived down the street from her, but never noticed. I mean, she was always put together, and didn't fit the "abused household" profile. I was friends with her for several years, and went to several birthday parties at her house, and played with her after school in my younger years, but never once suspected anything and she never once mentioned anything. And likewise for other friends who later tell me that they were abused (sexually, physically, etc.). These are all straight-A-honor students, defying the typical broken-home stereotype. Also, there are complications. At least one of my friends (and heck, me too), has been hit as a form of discipline. While I don't agree with this method of discipline, we both agreed that calling some social services agency and having the home broken up would not have been ideal. I realize that occasional corporeal punishment is a far cry from child abuse, but this brings me to my second point (and I speak, partly from experience, and partly from feedback from other friends)--that unless the abuse is blatant, sometimes, if it's a these-parents-use-corporeal-punishment-to-discipline-children case, I'm not sure it's in the best interest of the children to have the family split up. By all means intervene and educate, but I think the child, other siblings, and other parent should probably be consulted.

And on point b), when I found out about my friends and classmates being victims, the first thing I ask myself is, what should I have done differently to notice? Should I have asked? Probably. But this kind of information is very hard to get out of people. People are very good at hiding domestic problems. I know this firsthand. (And no, I was not a victim of child abuse, but there were other problems that I won't go into here.) So how do you reach out to someone who is witholding information, and genuinely show that you want to help? B/c I've been on the other side of the fence, and I've had child study teams harass my family, but I never shared anything with them, because well, other than one fifth grade teacher who really showed that he genuinely cared, I never got the sense from these counselors, child-study this-and-that people, that people actually gave a damn or truly understood. I mean, how can you, if you are not living 24-7 with whatever problem? Or at least, this is what I thought as a 17-year old. I realize now that this a bit of a fallacy--one can still be sympathetic and understand, without being subject to abuse, alcoholism, depression, whatever 24-7. But to return to my point--once I recognize this, what can I do to help? Are there other tangible things I can do that falls between passive awareness and devoting my career to helping these people?

So I don't mean to pooh-pooh a passive-but-well-meant cause, but simply changing ones profile picture to raise child abuse awareness doesn't answer the difficult questions I have.

I have always been aware. So were these neighbors of people who were wisked off to concentration camps. I am not changing my career, since I just spent an entire year studying to become a despotic ruler. So please tell me something concrete I can do to help this situation.

01 November 2010

My fantasy answers to silly job questions

Application question that I should be answering instead of blogging: Describe a time when you successfully solved a challenging problem or overcame a difficult situation using your initiative.

Dear Bank,

I really cannot think of a time that I overcame a difficult situation using my initiative. I dislike such questions. You expect us to show originality, yet, you ask such unoriginal questions. . ..Can I tell you about the pretty butterflies I drew instead? Or would you like me to tell you about my favorite cookie recipe?

10 January 2010

The grammar Nazi

From a FB status:

"If your selling a car on Craigs list make sure you spell at least the name of the car correctly or you make yourself look stupid. Chevy isn't spelled Chevie..."

I suppose that people who cannot properly distinguish between "your" and "you're" don't make themselves look stupid at all. (Not to mention the fact that Craigslist, last time I checked, wasn't two words, but that's less egregious of an error.)

Which brings me to a question/pet peeve. Why can't the average native English speaking, college-educated, monolingual adult in this country use proper grammar/spelling at a fifth grade level? I don't mean making occasional typos or mistaking "your" for "you're" once or twice because you're typing emails at 4 a.m., but really not knowing the difference to the point that you post 14 FB status updates (not that I'm counting), all with the same damn mistakes. Which means that you really don't know that cannot is one word, or that it's is not possessive, etc. I swear we learned this back in fifth grade, or maybe even third grade.
Why aren't they teaching this and drilling this ad nauseum in the schools?

It's not like I expect people to know that peruse actually means "to read carefully" or that comprise, used in this context, is incorrect: "The orchestra is comprised of fifty gazillion trombones and two oboes (oboi, if you prefer Italian)" Or that data is a plural noun. That is a should-I-buy-the-Fowler-or-Garner-style-guide?- level nitpick.
(Aside answer: Get the Garner. It's very practical, and it's not the annoying prescriptive style editing that I find really narrow. It's really ok to end a sentence with a preposition, as Winston Churchill has once pointed out. )

But you're/your? They're/their? Too/to? C'mon people. Every native English speaker over the age of 11 should have mastery of such basic grammatical concepts.

(Update: I am in the middle of exams, so I am not moderating any more comments on this post! Sorry. )

03 January 2010

and four months later. . .

I'm wondering why I'm still on people's blog rolls, since I haven't managed to post a thing during that time.

It has been quite a whirlwind of 4 months, though I have nothing exciting to report, except how much my life has changed. I'm in a foreign country, completely uprooted from the comforts and stability of my past life, far from friends, with very few material things
(no TV, no CD player to play the CDs I just bought), surrounded by people who are 10-15 years younger than I am, immersed in full-time despotic regime studies.

Between end of June and early October, I moved a total of 7 times, before finally settling into my current dwelling place.

This move--this packing up of things, the downsizing and selling off of many of my worldly belongings (well, except some of my beloved kitchen stuff and about 20 boxes of books), including my car, the shedding of all of the responsibilities that come with being a productive working citizen (e.g. paying taxes, somehow contributing to GDP, and I dunno--making monthly contributions to one's retirement plan and social security, etc.) and flitting off to a foreign land (to a world class city, no less!) and starting anew sans attachments and hardly any material possessions--it sounds so carefree and romantic, doesn't it?

It certainly did when my friends regaled me with their own U.K. study abroad adventures. The same uprooting. The same packing up of one's belongings and moving on short notice. The same sense of exhilaration over the new and unknown. The excitement. Ah, the excitement. Yes, I remember thinking that, experiencing that, when I finally decided and put my reply in the post.

It influenced my decision to come here. Many of my friends still buy into this romanticized notion of studying in the U.K. I keep getting emails from people who want to hear of my "exciting adventures!" (exclamation mark theirs.)

But now I am here and half done with my program already, and my life couldn't possibly be further from this idealized notion of studying abroad that many of my friends and colleagues seem to have conjured up.

What do I tell these people? That I spend 87 percent of my free time in the library? That my life has become so one-dimensional? That I might as well be studying in Siberia, since it's not like I have time to enjoy or take advantage of the fact that I'm in actually London, where there are hundreds of cool things one can do for free--if one had spare time?

And lest I sound curmudgeonly, don't get me wrong--the wonders of this city hasn't been completely lost on me. In fact, most days this city continues to enchant, and more often than not, I find myself marveling over the fact that, "Wow. I'm really living in London!"--Like on new year's eve when I was there to enjoy the fireworks spectacle among tens of thousands of people and rang in the new year in a city that ranks among the top 10 for NYE celebrations.
Like on Christmas Eve, when I got to enjoy the glories of midnight mass at St. Paul's Cathedral.
Like when I go running along the Thames, just because I can.
Like when I pass by the oldest cathedral church in London on my (almost) daily walk to school and many other cool, old structures or places of historic significance.

But for the most part, the nitty-gritty details of my life (or lack thereof) would disappoint my friends who want to be entertained with stories of my "new and exciting life".

It's not that I expected life to be a picnic, but despite my preparations last year, this return to full-time studenthood has been a tougher adjustment than I imagined. I didn't think I'd have literally no time to explore the city during studies. I thought I'd have plenty of time to go catch a concert or two, frequent museums, or hell, go on weekend excursions to Paris or Lausanne in my spare time. Ha! Spare time.

I thought I'd be grown up enough to not be overconsumed by school. I thought I would've learned by now the importance of work/school-life balance.

Yes, yes. I thought many many things. And well, no sense in dwelling on how different things are from what I expected. I guess things not going as expected is part of this whole experience, though I wouldn't mind a bit more balance in my life.
(Again, lest I sound extreme, it's not like I had zero free time, but given the choice between vegging and doing some sort of low brainwave activity or going to a (brain-)taxing classical music concert and sitting through an entire symphony or two. . .I usually chose the former.)

Anyway, speaking of spare time, and lack of it, (in this time, I've also lost the ability to write my thoughts and organize them in a coherent manner. And given my lack of practice and time for editing, you will have to just deal with my Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness style of writing.) I need to wrap this meandering up soon, so I can catch up on my sleep.

So for 2010, I'm hoping for better work-life balance and better composure, though with the libraries threatening to be open 24/7, and the material only getting harder, plus the added burden of a thesis, I'm not sure exactly how this will happen.

Happy New Years to y'all. And perhaps if I have some time before classes start, I will post something on what I have been learning, because despite my whining, some of it is actually quite fascinating stuff.

10 August 2009

Why Citibank is having troubles

In short, it's because the people who work there are idiots. I mean, class A idiots. They might only take the best and the brightest from places such as Harvard and Stanford (they don't even deign to interview at my alma mater), but these people have zero common sense. To wit:

I have been trying to obtain a visa so I can properly study how to become a despotic ruler. But one needs a visa to do this, and one needs proof that one has enough money to study this to submit an application for a visa.

Thus, on 18 July, I requested such a letter. My appointment with the visa people (which I have already had to postpone once) is 12 August--roughly 4 weeks later. In four week's time, I have learned a year's worth of advanced statistics material. I've attended my first prom. (of the British musical variety--not the high school dance) I've seen Waiting for Godot. I've moved 3 times. I've learned how to say "United Kingdom" in French.

And these people can't properly mail me one stupid letter, so I can study to become a despotic ruler some day.

Why has 4 weeks passed and still no proper visa letter?

July 18: I send email to my banker requesting visa letter. I tell him that this is a standard format--on official letterhead, stamped and list the information that is needed--exact amount in my acct, acct #, etc.

July 21: No reply. I send follow up email asking if he has received my request.

July 22: banker was away for personal reasons. Says he'll get right on it. Let's call this visa letter #1.

Fine. So 4 days lost, but for valid reasons. No big deal. I will be in the UK for another 13 days. Plenty of time for a letter to reach me. I confirm that he has my UK address and wait.

July 29: still no letter. I follow up and ask him when he sent the letter. As a precautionary measure, I ask him to have the letter sent to my address in Djibouti, where I will be flying to in a few days. (This would've been visa letter 1.5 had he sent it out as requested, but he didn't.)

July 30: banker emails me and tells me that the letter (visa letter #1) got sent back to him. He asks to confirm my address.
-I am puzzled by this, b/c I asked my roommates for the exact address. I confirm the address details (which match the address I emailed him); I re-send him the address. I don't want to condescend, but just in case, I remind him that one needs international postage rate, and that one needs to write the country and "Air Mail" on international correspondence.

-At this point, I'm not confident it will get to me by 4 Aug (my departure date), so ask him again to also send it to my address in Djibouti (we shall call this visa letter #2).
-I also reconfirm the exact details of what I need in the letter: bank acct. #, how long I've held the acct, date, amount in account, etc.

-Meanwhile, I fill out an online visa application form and make an appointment at the visa office for 7 August at the Djibouti office.

Aug 5: I arrive in Djibouti; visa bank letter is still not there.

Aug 6: Still no visa letter. I call Mr. Banker to ask him when he sent the letter; he says 31 July. At this point, I also ask him what was wrong with the original letter he was supposed to send to the UK. He tells me he didn't bother writing "UK" or "Air mail". No international stamp, either.

I think to myself, damn. I couldn't even get an interview w/ you guys, and I've known to write Air Mail to (country) on all international correspondences, since about 5, which was evidently when I started writing letters to my grandparents. With help.

-I cancel my visa appt. scheduled for the next day, and reschedule for 12 August.

August 7: Still no visa letter. Just in case, as another precautionary measure (since it was Friday, and if the visa letter (#2) didn't arrive on Saturday, I'd have no recourse to do anything about it till Monday U.S. CA time, by which time it would've been too late. . .), I request that a third letter be expedited to my Djibouti address. (This is visa letter #3.)

Banker obliges; I thank him and obsessively track progress of document.

August 10: I receive visa letter #3. (#2, which he sent out via snail mail is still not here.) I open up visa letter #3, and this is how it reads:

Dear _______________,

This Letter (sic) is to confirm that Anzu has a valid account with Citibank. She probably has a balance of about _________ in the account. If you need to verify this, please call me at _________.

Probably has a balance of about.

Probably has a balance of about.

Ok, if you worked at an international bank which boasts of being worldly, would you seriously write an official letter that I need as verification in this manner? But here was the letter staring straight at me with those exact words.

People (warning. Lots of expletives ahead. . .), I can't f-ing get a visa to enter the UK with a letter that speculates that I "probably have a balance of about".

Or the U.S. for that matter.

How does anyone with half a brain think that saying I "probably have about" _______ dollars counts as an official document??

This is a f-ing visa letter for f's sake. You know-- an official appeal to the UK government to get permission to live there for a year or so. So I can study to become a despotic ruler and behead everyone who is this stupid. (Ok, not really. It's been 4 weeks since I've requested this letter, and I still don't have a legitimate letter in my hands, I have an appt. w/ the visa office in less than 2 days, and I just spent 4 hours on the phone w/ the Citibank people in the U.S. trying to see what can be done about this. It takes a minimum of 3 weeks to process a visa application, and I need to be back in the UK on September 1. So you do the math. I haven't even mentioned my sick grandmother who I can't visit, until I get this visa pickle squared away. Thus, now you see why I'm not exactly of the most rational disposition right now. . . which is probably a bad time to be posting a blog entry, but I'm on hold and held hostage here while someone in the Citibank Djibouti office checks to see if they can help me. Update: they can't.)

And you wonder why the financial sector is in dire straits.

Also, note to people who know me personally-- if I'm being obsessive and pesky about a request that is important, and state the obvious, now you know why. I mean what 20-something (who works for an international bank) needs to be told that you need to put international postage and the country name on a letter that you send overseas?

20 June 2009

A tale of two apartments

Actually, it's the same apartment, but photographed on different dates.

1. Before June 10:

2. Current state of affairs
Same room, on 16 June:
No wall decor, and no furniture-- at least in the living and bedrooms.

However, it's much improved from how it looked just 2 days ago:
And the bedroom:
Not that I ever had that much furniture to begin with, but kindof looks spacious w/o the furniture.

31 May 2009

Men--vain or illogical?

Why are men so damn vain? But before we ponder this, here's a GRE math question:

Marsha, a half-time student who works full-time, does not have a lot of free time. She told her friend Fred that she did not have time this weekend to do dinner, because she was studying for exams. Which of the following activities would Marsha most likely agree to, if Fred were to ask her to join him?:

a) A study-break that involved getting frozen yogurt on campus (~30-40 minutes)
b) a casual dinner at a Thai place (~1-1.5 hours)
c) formal sit-down multi-course dinner (3+ hours)
d) dinner and concert or opera in the city (~6-7 hours)
e) Going to see the Ring cycle

But to return to the question of vain men who think d is the answer. . .

Ok, it's not that I'm not interested in you. But I have too much going on right now to have the energy to pursue this. People really don't seem to understand this. Really it baffles me, b/c my gender seems to get the whole "sorry, I'm too preoccupied to hang out right now" thing. I sure as hell get it. If someone-- friend, love interest, etc. told me, "hey, I'm going to be busy these next few weeks and might not have time to hang out much", I'll call or email to check up on them-- maybe invite them for a quick tea or something, but otherwise, give that person space, until they are done with whatever they need to do. But guys. Eh. Why do you people not get it? Also, if I don't have time to do dinner with you, why, why, why do you think I have time to go see a 3-hour opera with you? In the city? Really. I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOUR GENDER. Because you're not the first guy who has done this-- which might mean that I'm being too subtle. But I think I told you very point blank, that I'm going to be preoccupied till my classes are over and that I'd have more free time mid-June-ish (which is now a lie, b/c now, I'm scrambling to move).

It's flattering and endearing and all, but I just don't have the time/energy for this right now. And ok, maybe I'm also slightly not as into it either, b/c if this were Mr. Guy-I-have-a-mad-crush-on, I'd try to find some time. For dinner, though. However, as I've mentioned, I'm juggling school and work, am trying to move in less than a month and now, I'm sick and miserably behind (to the point that I'm blogging). And we've already established that my brain cells can only handle two things at a time and I'm currently doing 3.5.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful or curmudgeonly (though of course, we all know that "I don't mean to do X is a signal that X will happen. . ..), but I don't understand how we went from "Sorry--I'm kindof tied up for the next few weeks till mid-June; but I'll have much more free time to hang out and stuff once classes are over" to "Wanna go do opera and dinner in the city with me?" If I weren't dealing with a move, and the end of the quarter and finals and final problem sets, then the answer would probably be a yes. But I tend to be very one-track-minded about my time and things that need to get done (studies, learning choir music, etc.) and get protective about my time, especially the more people pester me about it.

Or maybe I'm commitment-phobic, b/c he was fine when he was just another dude in my Tai Chi class. (Note: it may or may not actually be a Tai Chi class. But this internet is a small world, thanks to the power of Google, so if I write Linda's Pole-Dancing Studio, there's probably a higher possibility of someone in my class actually landing here. So pole-dancing, Tai Chi. . . it's all the same. Oh, except the partnering up thing doesn't quite work with Tai Chi. Hmm. Well, no matter. Just humor me.) We partnered up a couple of times and got along, so we exchanged emails. I should've figured out then that that was a sign of interest. Again, it's not that I wasn't interested in him, but if I'm taking classes, I hate that I'm like this sometimes, but the class and learning the material pretty much trumps everything else in my life--including even work.

Anyway, he asked me out to dinner a few times, and actually, each time, I legitimately couldn't, either b/c I already had plans or 3 out of the 5 nights a week (1 night a week, we go to the Tai Chi class, which leaves me one night a week to leave open for dinners, etc.), I actually have to work really late, to make up for the time spent in class. Then weekends? I hate when people start asking me minute details of my schedule, but I can honestly say that most weekends I've spent 80 percent of it working on school work. One weekend I played in a BANG, which meant staying up till 3 a.m. every weeknight to finish enough of the problem set so I can play guilt-free for six hours, and another weekend, I went out of town to see my friend's newborn, and 2 of the weekends, I helped a friend who was moving into her new house--but other than those aberrations, my life revolved around problem sets and exams. But I didn't want to keep saying no, so I finally had coffee w/ him one evening after Tai Chi class so I could tell him I'm-not-not-interested-but-I've-got-too-much-going-on-right-now; why-don't-we-revisit-this-in-3-weeks sort of thing. I thought he finally got it, b/c the every-other-day emails finally stopped. But no. I don't have time for a local dinner, so now, I suppose I have time to go to an opera and do dinner beforehand in the city.

Men. Sigh. Why are you people so damn illogical?

Bad Audience Manners. . .

This time, I was the one guilty of the transgressive behavior.

So a question to all you performer types. Suppose someone wants to attend your recital, choral concert, etc., but a)he/she doesn't have the energy to sit up, sohe/ she wants to listen lying down in one of the pews, and b) about halfway into the second part of the program, the person's energy is drained to the point of needing to leave in the middle of a piece.

Would you rather that someone like that just stay at home and not bother coming to your performance?

That probably would've been the sensible thing to do.

I don't normally go to concerts when I'm feeling, well, dizzy to the point of needing to lie down and not being able to make it to the end of the concert. But a)I have not been able to go to a single classical music performance since last holiday season, b)my friend was performing in this concert, and c) I thought some Haydn choral pieces in the reverberant Memorial Church would be a nice way to wind down the quarter. Also, this might be the last concert I might be able to attend of his, and he has always been a loyal audience of our concerts. So I went.

The place was barely full, so there were many many empty pews. Thus no one gave me odd looks when I occupied half a pew and lay (laid? layed? er, I think it's lay. . .) down.

The program was Haydn's Schöpfungsmesse and Missa Brevis. I was hoping that they'd perform the Schöpfungsmesse first, and then I could leave during intermission. But no. However, it turned out for the better, since I haven't heard the Missa Brevis before, whereas I've performed the Creation Mass before and so was familiar with it. However, I haven't heard it live in years.

The MB was lovely, except that the stuttering/hiccupping during the Gloria made my pew vibrate in such a way that it exacerbated my dizziness. Generally, though, I'm not a fan of the Brevis format. We've sung the Britten version (which has an awesome but ominous-sounding organ line) but I'd rather hear each line separately.

After the intermission, I stayed for half of the
Schöpfungsmesse. I mean, I would've stayed for the whole entire thing, if my body hadn't suddenly rebelled and crashed. I found the next least disruptive entrance (loud brass, fortissimo section) and tried to exit as quietly as I could.

* * * *

I spent the next 2.5 days in bed, completely out of commission, so in retrospect, I probably should've stayed home, even though I don't necessarily regret going.