11 – UK is *not* Socal

I recently spent two weeks on business travel in the UK where I assisted with lab testing and executed tests in front of customers. I averaged about 11-hour days and had to interface with teams from the UK, Switzerland, Germany, Saudi, Florida, and California. Needless to say, it was a lesson in frustration, and I spent many nights in my hotel room sitting in front of my computer wondering how the next day would fare.

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It wasn’t until the second week that I turned the TV on and realized that BBC 3 and Dave (TV channels in the UK) showed Top Gear many times a night, so it was nice to have the Rezza and the Stig in the background while I sent out emails.

I did have most of the weekend off, so my local coworkers took me and my Irvine coworker (his first business trip and his first time out of the Southern California area) out to London for the day. We took a bus from our hotel, then the train to London, then when we got to London, after walking around a bit, we took the river boat to Greenwich, then took another train (the DLR), then the Underground, then back on the train and the bus. It was a day of public transportation and lots of walking. Unfortunately, we didn’t have an occasion to ride a double-decker bus.

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These buses and the black taxis were ubiquitous.

Also, by the end of my two-week trip, I was so accustomed to looking right – then left – before crossing a street that when I landed in LAX and had to cross to the street to catch my shuttle, I almost got run over because I forgot to look left then right…

Anyway, London. Yes, we saw most of the tourist sites…but I was actually more interested in the nuances of daily life that are quite peculiar (to me).

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What’s a trip to London without passing by Big Ben and crossing the bridge to get accosted by Eastern European and African street vendors?

Not to sound racist, but biggest noticeable difference between the UK and Socal: lack of Mexicans. Seriously. Our close proximity to Mexico means that we’re graced with everything that the people and the culture have to offer – from the food to the music to the people – and it’s normal. It didn’t feel normal to have no Mexicans anywhere. It might sound like a bad Carlos Mencia joke (he had a joke about Mexicans complaining about being under-represented in the movie “Schindler’s List”), but not hearing any Mexican Spanish while waking around was unsettling. Instead, I heard Eastern European languages that didn’t have any vowels and lots of V’s and X’s. I also heard lots of Spanish. From Spain…which made me recall my Spanish roommate from my sophomore year at UCLA.

Another thing – there were still lots of phone booths and pay phones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGranted, these red phone booths are culturally-significant, but there were working phones inside them. The inside also smelled like several bums turned it into a Soup Kitchen. My childhood was also revisited by seeing these red mail boxes:

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…and expecting this guy to be inside. I mentioned Danger Mouse to my significantly older British coworker and he seemed pretty amazed that I knew about Danger Mouse.

Another thing about my trip: the full English Breakfast.

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My hotel served a full English Breakfast, buffet style, every morning. Every typical restaurant/pub we went to had the full English breakfast in their menu…so yes, even though I had the full breakfast every morning, I had a full English breakfast for lunch in London. I accompanied this meal with a paddle of local beer.

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They had indicated that the paddle had “four thirds” on it…and I got all excited because I was shooting with a micro-4/3 camera…then it came out, and I was a bit disappointed because it was four 1/3 pint glasses and not a selection of Zuiko Digital lenses. I was going to slap my ass with the paddle afterwards, but I already looked and sounded like an American and doing something extremely American (and thinking of doing it) made me feel quite American, so I didn’t do it.

For my second week while on travel, I stayed away from the English Breakfast at the hotel and just had cereal and ‘fruit’ – which I found was sufficient until lunch time.

While we’re on the topic of breakfast, what’s with not using real creamer (half-and-half) in the UK? Whenever I went to Costa or Cafe Nero for coffee, I was visually attacked when I asked for creamer in my Cafe Americano, and each time, I would be asked, “oh, you mean, MILK?” Yes, I mean MILK, but not plain MILK. Regular milk doesn’t add the ‘fullness’ that I am accustomed to in my morning coffee…

Anyway, the English Breakfast in London was consumed at a pub called “Meantime” – which was in Greenwich. Get it – Greenwich Mean Time. What’s a trip to Greenwich without visiting the Royal Observatory where Greenwich Mean Time originated from?

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Yep – that’s me, putting my watch against the GMT line. Ironically, my watch has six receivers which automatically sync the time with a time reference…and there’s no time reference in the UK.

From Greenwich, we walked along the Thames and took trains and the Underground and saw sights along the way. The Shard. The Tower of London. Tower Bridge. Beefeaters. The Globe Theater. Tate Modern. The Wobbly Bridge. Trafalgar Square. Piccadilly Circus. ‘Chinatown.’ The Eye. Here are some random pictures.

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While walking around, there were lots of street vendors frying nuts and selling them on the street. I paid two pounds for a cup of nuts – they were honey roasted and just meh, to be honest.

We walked around until almost midnight and I swear, the streets got more crowded as the evening got later and later…

I kind of wish I was by myself and not with a local while we walked around London. I find that I really enjoy just getting lost in a city and finding my way around and seeing things by chance. I get more from serendipity than purpose when it comes to travel – though I do appreciate learning about the history and “getting a proper appreciation of the city from the river” (my British coworker’s words, not mine). I also wish my family was with me – sure my kids would have complained about the walking and my wife would not have liked the lack of variety in the food, but seeing a new place was an experience I really wanted to share with them…

I had two days free, but I spent Saturday in London and hoped to return on Sunday by myself, but instead, I did laundry (at a coin-operated “launderette”) in the morning, had proper fish and chips for lunch (cod, large, with chips doused in vinegar – I finished about 1/3 of it), and went on a long run in the afternoon. It was good to just do mundane things while in a foreign country…because even though they speak English in the UK and this was my second trip here, it’s still such a foreign place to me.

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