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The video has been made, edited, and is now online. Special thanks go to Duncan and Sarah for being really jazzed about learning a dance one day before they had to do it in public all over town. It was very, very fun to film and it wouldn’t have been half so much as fun without them. YES.

LINK TO THE SKIBIDI

  1. Make a huge facebook/whatsapp messaging group with all your friends. Bandy about the idea for curry and beers. Send lots of happy or thumbs up or vomming emojis/gifs. Everyone suggests the soonest possible weekend, and the soonest possible weekend wil be inevitably shot down for a weekday or compromise weekend date.
  2. Three people drop out of the whatsapp/facebook messaging group before curry day, or message to say that they can’t make it.
  3. Everyone comes from different directions on different trains/buses/bikes/super-jumps and meets somewhere in the middle of Brick Lane. It is raining, and nobody has brought an umbrella.
  4. Since you haven’t obtained a quorum yet, go to the Pride of Spitalfields for a pre-dinner drink. The Pride of Spitalfields is a tiny pub full of armchairs, framed black and white pictures of pancake-necked men, and wall-to-wall red carpets stained with centuries of dried alcohol. Stand outside in the rain and drink your beer with the three other people who are on time.
  5. Four other people arrive, and everyone decides they are hungry enough to deny any stragglers a vote in which restaurant we end up going to.
  6. Start shopping for a deal. Brick Lane, before becoming a gentrified street-art-covered hipster demilitarized zone, first was a Bangla community. Every family opened up their own curry restaurant along Brick Lane, and each restaurant offers a “set menu” deal — for in between nine and twenty pounds you can get an appetizer, curry, rice, naan, and some quantity of beer. Outside each restaurant, a buyruncu will try to talk you into coming in, and bargain with you to reach a good price. The trick is to get three courses and at least two big beers for less than 13 pounds. Bargain down until you feel your guts wrench with the absolute shamelessness of what kind of a deal you’re asking for. But if you go too low, you risk creating an adversarial relationship between you and the restaurant staff. Who’s ripping who off?
  7. Always refuse the first deal you get and look somewhere else.
  8. Unless you’re me, and starving, in which case vociferously recommend that everyone take the very first restaurant you can.
  9. Get seated in a large group, realize there aren’t enough seats available in the restaurant for your large party, and then negotiate with the other patrons/waiters to move everyone around in a logistical curry shuffle.
  10. Receive a text from the last person in your group, cancelling because something came up at the last minute.
  11. Order. Ask for really spicy, because remember that they had to tailor their food for English people, who did not natively eat spicy food. Do not, under any circumstances, order the Tikka Masala or Butter Chicken. Again, they were created for an english palate, and taste like chicken in fancy ketchup. Get the pilau rice and the garlic naan.
  12. Your starters and beer arrive. Everyone is in a great mood and talking loudly/yelling. The other patrons begin to eat faster in order to escape the drunken revelery they see coming from your end of the restaurant. Half of the starters are incredible homemade bhajis or samosas, and half are from a frozen packet bought down the street. There is no way to predict which starter will be which.
  13. The waiters come by and try to upsell you on pappadams. You decline.
  14. The mains arrive. Everyone either says this is the worst or the best dish they’ve ever gotten on Brick Lane. None of them are truly spicy. You flag down a waiter and remind him of your deal, and that it included a second big beer. You feast
  15. The bollywood music kicks up. It is awesome.
  16. You are all impossibly stuffed, due to several meals’ worth of curry and fried things, combined with dense starchy carbohydrates.
  17. Get up one by one to pay by card, or be a lazy fatass and wait for them to bring you the card reader.
  18. Everyone heads to the Pride of Spitalfields for a post-curry drink. Brendon buys everyone beers and tries to get the karaoke piano guy to sing Tutira Mai Nga Iwi, which he doesn’t know, so we all settle for Piano Man. It is great.
  19. The next morning, a sludgy hangover. Questionable bowel movements for a day or so.

A few months ago Matt Smith visited and we went up the tallest mountain in Wales with the Kiwis. Were you aware that Britain as an island even had mountains? I was not. As I had grown up in a place where mountains are both 1) large, and 2) everywhere, it just hadn’t occured to me that the flat glacier-scraped plains of England would or could taper to a point.

We took the train up to Llandudno on the north coast of Wales. I was so nature-starved after months in the big city that even the dinky green hills and froppy surf of the Llandudno landscape got me excited.

Here is where I would post a photograph of the moutain, but it was so foggy that it took away all the majesty. We had no idea what we were climbing up half the time. We could see below us into the valleys — and the view was wonderful — but above it was just damp cloud.

The other extremely strange thing (to the visiting Alaskans and Kiwis) was how crowded it was. There were people everywhere. It felt far more like a pilgrimage up a sacred mountain than a hike in the wilderness. There was a dozen charity walking organizations, tens of schools groups, packs of people on guided tours, a race complete with trailside medics, cheerleaders and snack captains. We were on the most recommended and direct path up the mountain, I suppose, but none of us had anticipated it.

We actually stopped here on the way down, but it gives you an idea of the crush of humans

When we got to the top, we saw the trolley line that connects the summit to the base, a cafe/bar, and most bizarre of all, a stone staircase up to an artificial summit where you could take a selfie. There was at least fifty people in line.

Important summit selfies

Upon getting down the mountain we went to Sir Edmund Hilary’s favorite pub. He had apparently trained here before going up Everest.

I had a dream that God rose above the horizon, pointed at me, and started telling me to get people to prevent the impending collapse of society. God took the form of a giant klingon with dreadlocks who had squid arms and giant lobster claws. When he spoke, it was like when you’re trying to get a really old shitty pair of headphones to work by turning them around in the jack, only I had no headphones. This made sense, in the dream, because it was all sort of divine language, and it makes sense in the 21st century instead of angels he’d use technology. A group of scientists and myself had done some pretty wacky experiments on each other (one of them had a single antler growing straight up, like an oak tree, out of the top of his head) and we were just trying to enjoy ourselves in a symposium-like fashion of sitting around and chit-chatting about the good times, waiting for society to collapse, when we had to step outside and see this very strange vision. There were some other bits involving two lesbian secret agents and two gay secret lovers, time travel, and a death highway that we had to cross in order deliver the recordings to the past. I think the dream was: a metaphor. At least I hope it was. Honestly at this point I find the apparition of God in the form of a giant klingon with dreadlocks and squid arms and lobster claws to be far more plausible than some bearded ghost. The 21st century is a strange time to be alive.

Hello, my name is Ernie, and besides the details of my very interesting dreams, I have the basics about my life to share with you all:

1. I currently work in a plant shop run by an irascible Scottish man named Ian and his partner Anne, who runs the homewares/kitchen shop next door. We sell houseplants. (“We” being myself and Ian. There are no other employees.) The shops are in Brixton Market, an indoor market which is half-gentrified and half-not, which makes it a lively mix of people from all over the world. (This can be said about many places in London, but it’s very much on display in Brixton Market.) Anne and Ian have changed the function of their shops multiple times throughout their ten years at Brixton Market, and they’ve just switched from coffee to houseplants. Their business model is simple: they buy houseplants at Covent Garden market at four in the morning when all the wholesalers go, drive them south across the river, and jack up the prices triple to sell to the hipsters there. People are absolutely cookoo for houseplants. I did not know this, because I barely use instagram, but that’s really where the trend started to take off. I also think it has to do with the economic strangulation of my entire generation, and so desperate as we are to care for another living thing but unwilling to submit to the financial burden of a child, or even a dog, houseplants are a safe middle ground. You don’t even need a yard.

2. I work in a houseplant shop because I got hit by a car at the end of May. I had got on my bike and was riding towards south bank to hang out with Harriet after work. I was biking past a long line of traffic when one of the drivers, bored with waiting, decided to yank the steering wheel to the left and scoot. She didn’t signal, I was coming down a hill, the bike stopped moving when she hit it, I didn’t. I flew over the hood of the car and landed on my right side. I was wearing my helmet, so even mid-air I was like “eh this is fine I’ll be fine” and due to the shock, I had no idea that my elbow was no longer where elbows are supposed to be. The driver was very apologetic and offered to drive me to the hospital, but I declined and said I just wanted to sit down for a minute. I sat in front of Sainsbury’s (it’s a supermarket chain, for my american audience) dizzy and feeling weird. Some other people had stopped to help; one ran inside the market to buy me some juice, one called an ambulace. “I’m fine, I don’t need an ambulance,” I said, taking off my jacket. I then saw my arm. Which, while the skin wasn’t even broken, it did look awfully … strange. “Maybe we can call that ambulance after all,” I said.

Several weeks of casts, reconstructive surgery, recovery, and bad sleeps later, I was wandering around with my flatmate Ceara in Brixton Market and saw an ad for a part-time shop assistant in the plant shop window. It was exactly what I needed, really: a low intensity job run by nice, sane human beings willing to hire a man who had little-to-no experience with plants and whose arm didn’t really work yet. So now I spend my workdays potting cacti in terrariums and talking up the virtues of sansevaria. My arm is fine, mostly. I had some titanium plates installed on my bones and a lot of great physiotherapy. My room is full of plants.

3. Because I only work part-time, and I have had this crazy idea at the back of my head for a long time, I started working on a book. It’s a novel. It’s set in Istanbul and explores the lives of several characters from wildly different social places — a Syrian refugee boy living on the streets, a trans kid from Anatolia who runs away from home, a rich housewife, a Kurdish handyman squatting in an abandoned home, an American teacher with an archaeology habit, a working-class fisherman — and how they accidentally unconver a conspiracy involving murder, gold smuggling, and political corruption. It is really ambitious as projects for me go, and I desperately want it to be good, and I am desperately scared it will not be. I have written a first draft which I of course hate and I start working on the second draft tomorrow, and I suspect I will hate that too, but slightly less than I hate draft one. This is what writing a book is like, unfortunately. You work for a very long time to make something you hate. You hate it because you have a vision of what you want it to be, you compare it, and it’s so obviously not that. But an author’s first readers are super helpful because instead of seeing the vision, they see the actual writing — they have nothing to compare it to, no vision to taunt them — and a first draft is always going to be better than the nothing of a no draft.

Those are the basics of the things I literally spend my time doing. I’ll write more about daily life stuff in the future, because, as I indicated in my very rash promise yesteryday, I have thirty days of time to fill, and daily life stuff is great for killing time. I promise dreams will feature less, unless they are as good as the one listed above.

(My favorite dream I ever had was in college. There was a bunch of animals all gamboling around in a perfect continent of perfect fields, and then they all went up in a big crowd to watch a rocketship land. The rocketship was like Air Force One — some politician was expected to come out, and a little staircase and podium was wheeled up to the door of the rocketship. All the animals held their breath and watched. A guy in a dark suit with a bright red shirt and a huge afro came out. “I’m Ron,” he shouted, and waved his hand. “Goddammit I’m Roooooooooon!” The crowd went nuts. It was: a metaphor. I hope.)

 

A lot of you are probably wondering why I am in the UK at all. Those of you who know me but whom I haven’t talken to in ages probably think something along the lines of, “Hey! It’s that guy I met in spanish class/theater camp/a foreign city, once/school/other school/yelling somewhere! I thought he was in Turkey forever!”

Yes. This is true, people! I was in Turkey forever. And then there was a coup, and then the expat population started fleeing the city, and then Harriet and I realized we didn’t want to be doing unchanging English jobs for the rest of our natural lives. Istanbul is great for many reasons — including the ability to get entry-level employment and a living wage without requiring impossible qualifications, like in many big western cities right now — but working there becomes a treadmill at some point. You might accellerate, but you don’t actually get anywhere.

Harriet and I wanted to move somewhere English-speaking for awhile, just for funsies. New York was a top choice since a bunch of our Istanbul expat friends absconded there in the past few years. But therein lies a hilarious modern challenge of international dating: how do you get both parties in a bi-national relationship to get full residence and working permission in the same place? It’s a head-scratcher. In the USA, it’s just marriage. Green card marriage. We talked to a lawyer (several times!) and he informed us that was basically our only choice.

I’m going to spare you the details, but since Porsidarnt Trungo’s election immigration has unsurprisingly gotten much harder. Harriet was interrogated at the border by some clueless homeland security employees who told her she had an “unstable life” (ironic, since out of everyone I know in Istanbul, she’s had the same job for the entire three years she’d been there) and said they didn’t understand why anyone would want to live abroad (also ironic, considering we were going through the “pre-clearance” border in Ireland, and the American employees questioning her all lived in Dublin. )

Our lawyer told us the plan would still work, but it was going to be much harder and we’d pretty much have to stay in the US forever and ever. That sounded bad. We panicked for a few months, spending time at my dad’s house in Boston, and on Anna’s/the Doshaches’ couch in New York, and eventually decided to move to London.

I am confused. How is it that you can move to London and work?

Yes, it is confusing. My mom is Canadian by technicality of birth, and so that means I’m commonwealth and can live as a “youth” in the UK for two years, despite being nearly 30. Harriet’s got the same permission as a New Zealand citizen. Plus, London is dope.

Why would you want to go there instead of New Zealand? Isn’t it all idyllic hobbit houses?

True, but getting a residency card there for me would have taken at least eight or nine months of separation and paperwork, and that sounded bad. The UK visa could be taken care of relatively quickly, cheaply, and buy us two years of time before our next stop.

So what on earth have you been doing?

After two months in the states, Harriet flew home to New Zealand to apply for her visa. I stuck around in the states another month for Christmas and spent the holiday in Colorado with my uncle Erik & Co. We played a lot of ping pong and spent a lot of time drinking in the sauna. Pretty ace. After that Harriet’s parents sprung for a ticket for me to join her in New Zealand, which I will forever be grateful for, and then we flew to the UK in January. Now we live in a neighborhood neighbourhood called West Norwood in South London. Our roommates are all cool.

But like it’s halfway through May now. What have you been doing?

Welllllllllllllllllllll finding a decent job in this city is a bastard. So I’ve been writing a lot, exploring the city with my no money, and trying to make new friends. I am in an improv class. I have a bike, which I bought with my first and only paycheck from the escape room (that is another story altogether), and London is really flat, which makes it great for biking.

Thank you for updating me. I feel enriched by knowledge of your life.

This is what I endeavor endevour to do. Stay tuned, I might actually try and post here regularly.

Nobody could have expected this, but finding a job in the capitol city of the most bureaucratically rigid nation on the planet has proven, oh, difficult. I was interviewing with this travel company for six weeks (!!!!!) over the phone, email, in person, and they sent me an email last week saying “Yo it was suuuuuper hard deciding between you and this other dude, but with went with the other dude. You cool though! You cool!” Which is just as well because judging by their sub-par interview skills — I think they googled “what to ask in an interivew” about ten minutes before I showed up and asked them off a laptop, for two intense yet wholly indirect hours — I’m not sure I’d enjoy working there. This was the most egregious example of what I’ve been dealing with here, but eh. One place asked me to write an example news article, and then after I’d written it, told me “oh actually we wanted a different kind of article” and I said “Oh, that wasn’t clear.” (because they had, in fact, not asked for that kind of article.) “Can I write one now?” and the reply was a swift “No.”

So in the meantime I’ve taken a job at an escape room as a stopgap. An escape room, for those who don’t know (I wrote an article for that paper in Turkey about them), is a game where you get locked in a room and have to solve puzzles to escape. There are ones kind of like haunted houses where you have to search for a key, and then there are ones where everything has a padlock on it and you need to deduce the combinations from wheel-charts and numbers scrawled on the wall.

The interview there was a ten-minute interrogation from a woman from the former Soviet nation of Latvia about my deepest hopes and dreams. I was taken aback, but answered the questions as honestly as I could. “We like to help people achieve their dreams here,” she said. “Are you ready to work 12 hours a day?” Okay. There was no contract nor forms to fill out. I was hired.

We have three rooms — a pirate themed room, a “witches and wizards” (read: Harry Potter) room, and a serial killer room. It’s kind of fun. There are secret doors, codes written in ropes or crazy drawings, a magic star, a cryptex, a life-size floppy man who’s been locked up in a cell, and plenty more.

cryptex

Congratulations! You opened a wacky puzzle-tube.

In the pirate room, you actually start out locked in the brig. I get into the spirit of things sometimes: I dyed a bunch of paper yellow with Earl Grey and wrote longhand clues for our pirate room — the previous clues had been typed out on construction paper, and it looked not at all like an antique Ship’s Log.

The actual job consists of watching people scratch their heads on CCTV, and sending them hints if they can’t figure it out. You greet them, of course, explain what they’re about to do, and then follow their progress on camera as they notice and piece together all the elements of the puzzles. Our “hints” consist of pictures of powerpoint presentations, broadcast on to screens in each room. Then, after the guests have torn off every drawer handle and unscrewed every lightbulb and thrown every prop in a pile in the middle of the room, you go back in, tidy, reset the puzzles, put the clues back into their drawers, relock the locks. It is monkey work, but it is by far the strangest monkey work I’ve ever done. After six or so rounds of this, you can go home.

I was trained by a neurotic Chinese-English girl five years my actual junior but who comes off as much younger, because her entire life is work, martial arts class, and family time. Every time I mention something outside those topics, she freely admits ignorance. I mentioned that Harriet had snagged 15 pound tickets to a West End show. “Oh, I don’t know much about theatre shows.” I once identified a customer named Jesus as Spanish. “Oh, I don’t know much about languages.” (She’s bilingual.) One time someone buzzed the door, and she moved her mug down behind the desk.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want the guests to see my tea,” she said.

“God forbid they find out you drink tea,” I teased.

“Haha, right. It’s much too casual,” she said, completely serious. An employee at a game room drinking tea in the UK: yep, sounds hugely unprofessional. I admit to cultural ignorance, and perhaps Turkey has skewed my perceptions on when it is okay to drink tea (100% of the time, with anyone and everyone) but still.

She is of course very good at her job of greeting people, entertaining them, sending them hints, and resetting the rooms at blitzkrieg speed. It just becomes difficult to work with people, for me anyways, when I can’t get a sense of what they care about outside of work.

The hardest part about my job are honestly the hours: the times that people play escape room games are, surprise! not during the work day, which means I’m busy in the evenings and on weekends.

Really, I’m beginning to look at the prospect of finding work in this country as its own escape room, but with much shittier puzzles. Here’s the setup: you’re trapped in a dead-end job in a foreign country, you work unsocial hours and make minimum wage. Your employer is trained in Soviet-era interrogation. You have to decode both the postal system and two government websites in order to obtain an NI number so you can be taxed at the correct rate. Most employers and government services are impervious to the sorts of cajoling that worked in the last country you lived in. How do you: 1) find challenging employment, 2) make friends, 3) earn enough money to enjoy one of the most lively cities on earth while still being able to save a little on the side, and 4) do everything legally? You have one more month before you go mad. Aaaaaand the clock starts now!

 

The title for this blog post comes from a cursory bit of research I did a few days ago. What did people sleep on in antiquity? The obvious off-the-top answer would be “a filthy mat of straw, animal droppings, and live animals” but it turns out the answer is fascinating. The ancient Egyptians built tiny, curved football goalposts as headrests. The word ‘mattress’ comes from Arabic and basically was a mat or pile of cushions, which the crusaders thought was pretty neat and adopted the idea, prompting me to ask what the hell were the Crusaders sleeping on before they realized cushions was a good idea?!

But it’s not just for the actual bed material — it’s also the social function of a bed. Romans for instance lived in a bed culture. Well-to-do citizens divided their rooms by bed usage. There was a sleep bed, a sex bed, a bed for eating in, a bed for studying in, and a party bed — domestic life was really a rotation between different rooms for lying down. The Greeks had a similar thing going: in traditional symposium (semiritualized kegger) all the couches were arranged in a rectangle and everyone reclined on their left side, ate a meal course, and then the house slaves mixed wine and water into a giant bowl. Then the guests would all chat about love, beauty, war, the gods, the inflation of the drachma, whether they should restrict the sale of giant spears and bows to under-21s. All at a bed party. The 17th century was the magnificent one for beds, apparently. Fat cushions, drapes, four-posters, canopies all became the norm for the unbelievably wealthy.

I was conducting research on this because the mattress in our house in West Norwood was terrible. Every morning we both woke up with our vertebre rattling around in our ribcages. Our inherited mattress had a layer of the much-celebrated ‘memory foam’ which, along with conforming to your body’s every curve, supported none of them. So, to the Swedes.

We went to Ikea, where I’d never been before, and bought a roll. They sell mattresses in rolls. Because it was an additional 35 pounds to have it delievered, we called an Uber. The driver took off his shades when he saw us in with the roll in the parking lot, and said simply “the doors won’t close.” Since we have been living in Turkey, we ignored what the cab driver had to say, stuffed it in, unrolled the top window, and gently eased the door shut. It fit. The guy shrugged. [Side note: 100% of our (two) uber drivers in this town have been entrepreneurial men with Pakistani roots but who were raised in London. Both complained about immigrants. Both had luxurious cars.] We have the Daily Sabah to thank for the purchase of our new discount Swedish mattress: I put it on my Turkish card and spent a small fortune in liras.

We hauled the mattress roll upstairs, cut the plastic, and watch the whole thing…inflate? expand? on our bedroom floor. As a rolled Ikea mattress unfurls, it makes a splendid series of noises — sproingy pops, gasping whooshes, deep alien groans. It takes three days for it to fully relax into its new configuration, so we had to recline on the saggy disaster cot for another three sleeps.

BUT WHAT A THREE-DAY STRETCH IT WAS. Harriet got a job as an “account manager” for her friend’s “Creative Content Agency”. I registered at a recruitment company because, as it turns out, finding jobs here is extraordinarily hard, so you need one or more companies actively looking for jobs for you. What? We won cheap tickets to see the Book of Mormon on the West End (this didn’t actually happen during this three-day stretch of bed waiting, it happened about a week ago; but Harriet did download the soundtrack in those three days, and now all of those songs are burned into my noggin from now until Kingdom Come). Asli visited from Istanbul to do a stand-up show in Turkish with a few other Turkmedians at the Eastern European Comedy festival, and Harriet and I watched our first ever second-language comedy show. Thankfully two out of four on the slate had been raised in the UK and their jokes were phrased rather simply, or were based around the same sort of Turkish-English puns we’ve been making stupidly to ourselves for years.* And Asli’s jokes we either know already, or she’s so emotive it’s easy to follow. And we went to pub quiz again and we invited everyone we had even the flimsiest connection to in this town, and they all showed up and we had a wonderful time, and we won and plowed all our earnings into free drinks. And there was a winter storm called “Beast from the East” which turned London into a snowy blowy Canadian prarie city. (Just kidding ha ha ha it’s like 25 C colder in Winnipeg). And we finally got a contract from the agency for our apartment. (It’s a long story but yes, they hadn’t given it to us yet, and yes they’re terrible. We got the contract, in any case.)

In any case, it was a pretty magnificent three days. We’ll see about the rest of the century.

 

 

*”Who’s there?”

“Ben kim.”

“Evet sen kim?”

“Yes, I’m Ben Kim.”

“KIMSIN YAAA”

So we live in a suburb called West Norwood. It is a dinky and secure suburb, full of what my roommate Caera (pronounced ‘Cara’) calls “yummy mummies”. Every other person on the street is a younger woman with a baby in a stroller. The local cafe is a “babies welcome” cafe, which means there is always one screaming toddler outside the front door, disrupting the relative quiet of the neighborhood. This place was actually the first one we looked at, and after four days of looking at homes in different parts of the city, we realized that a) every house in London was actually pretty nice b) every house in london was also hugely expensive, and c) the first place we’d looked at was simultaneously the cheapest and the nicest, and it achieved that combination by being a bit out of the city center. We’re in “Zone 3” which as I gather is basically the moon as far as London is concerned, even though it’s literally 15 minutes on the train to get to Buckingham Palace. Our place is a flatshare with three other roommates. We’ve got a massive kitchen with a gas stove with six burners, a backyard where there are (no joke) a sculpture of the clay impressions of someone’s butt, a cat named Mavis, and a huge bedroom with lots of light.

Today it was a gorgeous sunny winter’s day, no clouds, and a spectral freezing wind. I decided it was time to go for a run. After about three months of holiday binging at Dad’s house in Marblehead, Uncle Erik’s home in Boulder, and Harriet’s parents’ place in Wellington, I have reached my fattest-ever state. The uncomfortable truth of aging is watching your matter expand horizontally. Oh well. It is run day.

As I am horribly out of shape, a great deal of mucus and saliva was building up in my larynx as I ran, and I had to either position my neck in such a way that my nasal cavities and throat had more space so I wouldn’t choke, or hawk an impressive lugie every thirty seconds. Also it was way too cold to run in shorts, so I’d donned a pair of pajama pants rather than try my luck with shorts. The neighborhood looks stately, organized, well-kempt. Houses in England (or at least this part of this city in England) are well-maintained brick duplexes of two or more stories, gleaming white trim around the windows, every house boasting a modest garden. The houses even look like they have turrets, sometimes. Little castlelly things. Amidst the spindly trees, either leafless from winter or clipped to permit the power lines overhead to pass untouched, an old church steeple occasionally poked up across the skyline. Everything was beautiful and I was a dirty unshaven spitting man running in my pajama pants. I felt like a cat pee stain on an antique Persian rug.

Even though it was really nice out, I barely saw anyone walking. One guy emerged from his door with his three-year-old daughter and I opened my mouth to give a friendly “Good morning!” but instead I said “Gughhmmnthshss” because a horrible gob of mucus which had been building up behind my lips spilled out all over my shirt. The man looked at me with steely eyes, sizing me up like I was a predator. His daughter started crying. I am not a predator. I am just a mess.

I’m happy to be bringing that ol’ Ernie charm to my new home in the UK.

 

For those of you in the know, Chinese Lunar New Year happened a few days ago. Harriet and I went to Trafalgar square to watch the Chinese New Year’s celebrations. Trafalgar square had been decorated with thousands of hanging red laterns, all bearing pictures of ornate dragons or chubby-cheeked cherubs in silk gowns. A couple of “bespoke”* noodle shops had set up at the periphery of the square, and several Chinese banks and/or insurance organizations were passing out leaflets at booths.

Here are a few things I learned at the London Chinese New Year’s Celebrations:

  1. The year of the dog is a prosperous year.
  2. The number 18 means “prosperity” and it was the 18th consecutive year of celebration of the London Chinese New Year celebrations. Double prosperity!
  3. It was the speaker’s 16th time doing this opening ceremony, and 16 in Chinese numerology means “smooth.” Smooth double prosperity!** Everyone’s going to work hard and get rich this year! (Is there ever a year in Chinese astrology where there’s only misfortune? Zero auspisciousness or prosperity??)
  4. Gung Hei Fat Choi is in fact Cantonese, not Mandarin. Most of the Chinese diaspora communities worldwide are made up of Cantonese people, which is why that was the phrase we all learned in primary school.
  5. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has the ability to turn even the most banal procession of ceremonial speeches into a rally. He spoke without a script, pacing back and forth on stage with a hand mic, thrusting his pointer finger into the air to make, well, points.
  6. There are a lot of Very Important Dignitaries in London involved with the creation of the London Chinese New Year Celebrations.
  7. Each one of these Very Important Dignitaries feels obliged to make a short speech about how thankful they are about the thing. We were about an hour into the speeches now. The crowd was beginning to get antsy.
  8. There was going to be a lion dance, and the dancers would put on amazing lion costumes and jump on the poles in the middle of the square! How acrobatic! Hooray!
  9. Before the Lion Dance, you have to paint little red dots on the forehead, nose, eyes, and body of the big shaggy Lion suits hanging over the dancers. Okay! Interesting cultural thing! The crowd was beginning to get excited.
  10. Each one of the Very Important Dignitaries had to paint little red dots on the forehead, nose, eyes and body of the big shaggy lion suit hanging over the dancers, and also be photographed doing it. The crowd got much less excited, and even booed a little.
  11. The lions woke up! Hooray!
  12. The lions went backstage for a photo op. Booo.
  13. The lions re-emerged, and people came out with drums!
  14. THE LION DANCE IS AMAZING. ACROBATS WEARING LION COSTUMES JUMPED ON POLES.
  15. Everyone leaves. They’ve seen the lion dance. Happy Chinese New Year.
  16. Harriet informs me that in most of China, nobody does the lion dance.
  17. Neither one of us have jobs yet. Prosperity has yet to materialize. I still hold out hope for the year of the dawg.
  18. We buy 79-pence handmade noodles in a market and I make lemon chicken and bok choy.

 

*In the past two weeks I have seen the word “bespoke” more than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I didn’t even really know what it meant. “Unique”, I guess. But it’s a buzzword found everywhere — advertisements, boutiques, real estate listings, job postings, we even saw that somewhere offered ‘bespoke’ training. What?

**this was a few days ago now, and I do not remember which number exactly meant smooth, nor was I even sure he said the word ‘smooth’, since it was an English Chinese accent, something I have relatively no experience with. Do not cite me.

Just before we left New Zealand, Harriet’s friend Tegan suggested we all go to a pub quiz. She knew of a good one in a stodgy pub down on Lampton Quays (which — blowing all your minds here — is pronounced “keys” everywhere else in the English-speaking world). The pub looked more like a library, or an old-fashioned salon where aristocrats stuffed tobacco in their pipes and quoted Alexander Pope and Churchill. It was packed. Every table in there (or on our side of the pub, anyways) was playing. People came to this quiz every week and played for blood. The quizmaster actually called himself the quizmaster and had prepared a slideshow, one slide for all 80 questions or however many there was. One of the additional rounds was a puzzle round with anagrams and other opaque word games. We placed in the middle of the pack and won one of the side contests, and got showered in candies and toys.

A few nights ago, I suggested we all go to a pub quiz. I’d passed a chalkboard outside Broadway Markey advertising the best pub quiz in East London at a pub called Cat & Mutton. The pub looked decidedly unstodgy — probably a hundred or more years old, all wood, giant ceilings, significantly dingy. The quiz room upstairs was almost empty, only four other groups there to play, and the staff hadn’t even bothered to put someone at the bar. The hosts were a Canadian girl and an English guy with an completely incomprehensible accent filling in for their friend on vacation. There was no slideshow. The questions were unbelievably specific and nobody got more than half of them right per round. The judges didn’t even get some of them right — during the pancake round, we had to identity where each kind of pancake was from, and they insisted that the fat puffy pancakes in Picture 8 were Russian blini.

Screenshot-2018-2-15 blini - Google Search

LOOK AT THE FIRST PAGE OF A GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH HERE DO YOU SEE ANYTHING FAT OR PUFFY HERE HUH

For the “creative round” they gave us a huge sheet of aluminum foil and asked us to come up with a new olympic sport. Our team made snowmen in a snowman-making contest. We even had five tiny foil Olympic rings and a three-tiered foil awards podium. The winning team made a functional foil beer bong. We didn’t even place.

Despite their blatant bias against us, they gave Miranda at our table like four chances to win a free drink in the free drink round. The judges were also terrible at math, and we wound up with at least ten more points than we thought we should have. We got first place. We won five pounds each. (We had a chance to win much more, but I pulled the wrong prize envelope.) The quiz ended. We were utterly confused. I find it striking that I had my first English pub quiz in New Zealand, and my first Kiwi pub quiz in England. We’re definitely going back next week.