iPhone - Chinatown

Picking up where I left off last post, I spent the Sunday after ringing in the Year of the Snake with a trip to Manchester. For someone who had never previously been to a Chinese New Year celebration, I would say I’ve done pretty well this year, tallying one festivity, and doubling that number the next day.

When I first arrived in Preston, I took a taxi from the rail station to my flat, partially because a full day in transit had made my luggage unbearably heavy, partially because I had no idea where I was.

I’ve realized since that the trains are a short 15-minute walk from my place. After a quick 40-minute scenic tour of grassy hills, covered in sheep and black spidery trees, I was in a real city.

I fell in love with Manchester the moment our train entered Victoria Station. Half of the buildings in the city are historic, weathered with age, and architecturally beautiful. The other half are modern, avant-garde compared to Vancouver standards. It’s almost like being in a miniature display one might find in a museum: The contrast inherent to the city is itself a form of art.

Had it not been a miserably cold and wet day, I would have brought along my camera. Unfortunately, I’m still in that new-purchase phase, where I’m extra cautiously trying to avoid subjecting my camera to the tiniest scratch or speck of dirt.

iPhone - Fireworks

But there’s no doubt I’ll be going back.

I took the trip with two new friends who are studying at UCLan for the year, both of whom are from Spain. One had to take photos of the city’s Chinese New Year festivities for a class, so off to Chinatown we went.

We saw dragons, we heard music, we braved the crowds and the rain and eventually took a break to warm up in an English pub. I had the classic fish and chips, which came with the typically British “mushy peas” that, although looking like baby food, tasted not too bad.

After wandering around a bit more, we chatted about the differences between Spain and Canada, about education, and stereotypes, over coffees and cakes until it was time for the fireworks. It was a perfect end to the weekend.

The next day – back to reality. Well, my reality: A class I enjoy that starts at two in the afternoon, and a random eco-friendly rickshaw ride to get me there. Carpe diem.

PS – Hi Grandma.

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After having been overseas for a whopping grand-total of three whole weeks – without sniffle-filled calls back home, or the stifling of sorrows with Molson Canadian and grade-A bacon – I’ve settled.

Not “settled” in the sense that I’m resigning myself to some mundane, routine sort of existence: “Settled” in the sense that I’m on both feet, standing tall, fiercely looking out towards an Atlantic horizon (picture me on the coast, because I’m not actually near it), and possibly craving bacon, but definitely not crying about it.

I won’t pretend to get a lot of questions from fans: I won’t pretend to have any fans. But I do get questions, some from people who care about me, some from those who probably couldn’t care less. Here are my answers:

So, what do you think of Preston so far?

I actually think Preston is kind of a lovely little-feeling but not really little town: The brickwork is old and crumbling, the pubs have interesting names, the accents are thick, there is always something to do…

You think Preston is lovely?

Well, ya. I’m in a new country, everything is different.

Preston is boring, I feel sorry for you.

Okay.

What course are you in?

[Editor’s note: The term “course” in England refers to the program or Major you’re in.] I’m studying International Journalism.

What classes are you taking?

International Journalism, which is basically a class in advanced feature writing. I’m also taking Terrorism & Human Rights, and Political Islam & Islamic Movements. They are all great. Especially the fact that they all just happen to fall on Monday and Tuesday.

What do you mean? You only have class two days a week?

Five-day weekends.

So what do you do with all your time?

I explore Preston…

Are you American?

I’m Canadian.

What’s the weather like there?

Preston feels colder to me, being from mild-weathered Vancouver.

Where’s Vancouver?

West Coast, near the U.S. border.

I always thought Canada would be really cold…

It can be further up north, away from the coast, back east.

Do you like hockey?

Yes.

You have nice Wellies.

What’s a Wellie?

Rain boots. Why, what do you call them?

Gumboots…

That’s so American.

So what are you going to do this “weekend”?

Explore Prest-… I’m going to Manchester.

 

PS – Hi Grandma.

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I hadn’t realized I’d been avoiding going grocery shopping until I felt a calming wave of relief wash over me as I hauled my overstuffed reusable bag into my kitchen, with change to spare in my pocket.

I’ve done this countless times back at home, ranging from what I call “extreme” grocery shopping – the bi-annual Costco shop that ensures we’d be okay for months if the world outside were to melt away – to the last-minute “oops-I-forgot-the-yeast” shop, where the amount of time spent searching for what you’re after is 10 times greater in comparison than the size of the item.

I usually find some pleasure in leisurely strolling up and down the aisles, looking for what I need but also keeping my eyes open for things that I may instantly decide I want.

Here in Preston, where I can buy a day’s worth of fresh eats from the local bakery for £2, I have absolutely no interest in dropping $75 on food I would not only need to prepare, but that comes with a consumption time-limit.

Yesterday, however, after leafing through Jamie Oliver’s 30-Minutes Meals, I had developed a hankering for sweet chili rice that just wouldn’t go away.

Off to the store it was.

Time slipped away as I slowly trekked up and down the rows of produce, poultry, and non-perishables, making sure I wasn’t missing any deals, until my blue basket weighed something like 20 pounds.

They make you pack your own bags at Aldi. I also realized after the fact that if you want to put your groceries in bags, you have to hook them off the shelf and buy them before checking-out. I fit the soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, and sesame oil in my purse. The rest, thankfully, all fit in my bag.

What I most thankful for, was the price tag.

After buying lemons, apples, and bananas, local Lancashire cheese, Greek-style houmous (British spelling of “hummus”), crumpets, crackers, and crunchy chocolate granola cereal, two mini pizzas, six mini yogurts, a bag of rice, a sprig of green onions, 15 eggs, a jug of milk, and a bottle of wine (“Grove Manor: Fruity Rosé”), take a guess how much it cost me.

iPhone - Groceries

I’m sure my bag weighed more in pounds than what its contents cost in pounds: £15.99.

Going off of today’s exchange rate, that’s $25.06 in Canadian dollars.

According to my sources back home (a.k.a. my dear mother), a bundle of groceries like this could easily cost $75. Of course, price depends in part on size and quality.

Size-wise, well, it’s a lot of food for one person. If I were to go out for a meal and a pint, I would probably only eat once, maybe one-and-a-half times, for that price. And I have yet to find a place that offers half-portions and half-pints for exactly half the price.

Quality-wise, the batch of rice I didn’t botch was pretty fantastic. This morning, my chocolatey cereal – which, if we’re being honest, tasted more like dessert – was amazing. Unfortunately it seems to be a UK-only brand.

Bon appétit!

PS- Hi Grandma, Grandpa & Auntie Eleanore.

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I can never help but do the math.

On my long (really short) walks home from high school, I would count the number of steps needed to take me away from school and back home. Then I’d count how many steps I would take on average per cement sidewalk square, multiply that by the rough number of squares there were, and compare the product to the exact number of steps I was actually taking.

Like I am sure most people do, I calculate which jug of laundry detergent gives me the most value for my money, navigate the figures around caloric intake, and determine the average amount of time it takes someone to text me back. Like I’m sure most people don’t, I sometimes catch myself counting how long it takes me to inhale and exhale (and it is a little nerve-racking to discover that those numbers don’t always match up), and I practice basic grade four multiplications.

If I decided to “do the math” to find out how much time I spent adding, subtracting, and dividing, I think I’d conclude that it is, on a general basis, a severe waste of my time.

Regardless, I’m doing a little math:

My last day of third year was April 26, 32 days ago. Summer is flying by. Assuming I will have classes on Tuesdays next term, my next is 99 days away.

So far, I’ve accumulated 87 university credits, with just a handful more to go.

There are 217 days left until January 1, 2013 and, here’s the big one, about 231 days until I leave for the UK.

Although it’s too early to tell the exact date I’ll be leaving, I know my semester at the University of Central Lancashire is set to start near the end of January. This will be the furthest away I have ever been from my sunny seaside city of White Rock, at some 7,600 kilometres. It will almost be the longest I’ve been away: If the math (and my plans) check out, I will be off learning, adventuring, and satisfying my curiosity for four months in Preston, England, and then for another four months in Some Country, Europe.

Given that I have consistently thought about this trip every day, for the past umpteen days, I figured I would do the math and figure out how much longer I’ll be waiting for. And so the countdown begins…

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