Saturday, September 30, 2017

A love letter to London's public transport

Public transportation is truly a thing of wonder. When I was in college, I had a U-Pass, which gave me unlimited rides on Metro and Sound Transit, and I took full advantage of it. On Fridays I would go on excursions to Sand Point, downtown, South Seattle or Ballard; on the bus it would often take me up to an hour to arrive at my destination but I considered it all a part of my "urban pilgrimage." Since that time, King County has expanded its transportation infrastructure to not only include local and express buses, but Link Light Rail and downtown streetcars as well. I'm pretty proud of our public transpo, but I must tell you, it's nothing compared to London.

King County's Link Light Rail: One line, 77k daily ridership

London Underground: 11 lines, 4.8M daily ridership

London public transport, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Stratford to London Fields

Our first day outing to London we decided to park and ride from Stratford station, which is located near the stadiums constructed for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Little did we know that it was the weekend of the World Athletic Championshps, where Usain Bolt was soon to run his last competitive race. Needless to say, the place was a zoo. In order to catch the tube to downtown London, we had to walk through one of the largest indoor/outdoor malls I have ever seen in my entire life: Westfield Stratford City.

We made our painfully slow way through the heart of the mall, shoulder to shoulder with the enormous and unending crowd. Bear in mind, we were with Naomi's family, and they have three small children, and had never been into the city before. When we got to the station, we had to get a couple floors underground to actually catch the tube--and unfortunately the lift was broken. So we lifted the double stroller and the children through a series of escalators and stairs (it really did feel like a labyrinth) to hop onto the Central Line.

One thing I learned about the tube is that they keep some lines up better than others. The Central Line is definitely not as well kept as others. It is physically small. Riders sit in rows facing each other with one aisle for people to stand. The seats are upholstered with a vibrant pattern that looks like it came out of the late 90s. Also, it has no air conditioning and since we were there in mid-August it was muggy, so all the windows were open. Thus, the whole way in, we could hear every scrape of metal and bump along the tracks. It was so un-glamorous. I loved it.

When we got to Bethnal Green, we ended up walking a little over a mile to get to Broadway Market and London Fields. I played "I spy" the entire way with Naomi's niece, though she says "My spy with my little eye," which is one of the cutest things ever.

London Fields where we met a lot of hilarious local kids on the playground

We ended up catching a bus from Hackney to get to Blackfriars, and like the tourists we are, the first thing we did was run up the stairs and sit in the very front, which, of course, is the best place to take photos and Snapchat selfies.

Being hella cheesy

I must say, the ride was exhilarating. Some "local youths" sat behind us, conversing loudly with much profanity and mentions of alcohol/drug use. And I saw a billboard for Jay-Z/Craig David, the gherkin and St. Paul's! 

Epping to South Bank

Our second time into the city, we took the Central Line again, but this time decided to park and ride from Epping, which is further from the city than Stratford. Epping definitely felt more like a suburb, and I enjoyed the part of the ride looking out into neighborhoods and industrial zones before we plunged into the darkness of the underground tunnel.

One thing you need to know is that we were going to see Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe, and since I had no notion of what the dress code might be, I was in a sheath dress with 2" heels (turns out I was WAY overdressed; major fail). Well, we ended up having to transfer from the underground to a double-decker bus. However, when we got to the bus stop, it was not in operation due to construction! So we started walking up to the next stop and watched our bus peel off when we were less than half a block away.

"We still have time," I reasoned, as we waited for the next one to arrive. The show started at 19:00, so even though we weren't getting there right when the doors opened to get the best spot in the yard (we got tickets where you stand in front of the stage the entire time, kind of like a mosh pit without the lingering fear of getting trampled to death), I figured we'd be fine.

The bus dropped us off near the Thames, and then we had another 10 minute walk. When we got to the venue, the lobby was entirely empty. I should have known then that something was off, but in my mind we still had time to spare. When I gave my name to the guy at the box office, he said, "The first act started about 15 minutes ago but if you go through those doors and to the left there should still be plenty of room." I blinked several times. "Wait, you mean it already started? I thought it started at 19:00 and that doors opened at 18:30!" He explained to me that the play started at 18:30; the doors had opened at 18:00. We had missed the beginning of the play! "I was wondering why you were so chill," he added, and I gave him my best self-deprecating shrug as we ran up the stairs to catch what was left of the play. "Americans," I'm sure he muttered to himself.

Slightly frazzled from the lengthy commute, I nonetheless greatly enjoyed the play. It was pretty funny, if a bit absurd. Next time, though, I'm wearing Keds.

Heathrow to Stepney Green

My last public transport story is my first solo trip in the city on my way back from Madrid. Flying from Madrid to Heathrow was kind of fun, actually. I had tons of time to kill at the airport, which worked out because the line for passport control was huge. It was an unexpected blessing to be able to speak to a couple of ladies next to me in line (who were from Central America) in my Mexican accent. They understood me (I was getting tired of the funny looks I kept getting in Spain because of the verbs and idioms I use) and their accents felt like home.

(Another aside that has nothing to do with public transportation: Spanish vending machines are on a whole other level! I purchased a smoked salmon sandwich on poppyseed bread... from a vending machine. Is there some way we can get these kinds of boutique offerings in the U.S.???)

When I touched down at Heathrow I followed the signs for the Heathrow Express, which is more or less a bullet train that gets you to London in less than half the time it might take through traditional routes. The first thing that was strange to me, was that they didn't ask for my fare; I just hopped onto the train, stowed my luggage on the rack and chilled. I kept waiting for some security guard to escort me off the train and arrest me. Turns out that they check your fare partway through the ride, kind of like they do on the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter. Apparently they're really trusting!

Heathrow Express is NOT paying me to say this but it was honestly one of the most luxurious mass transit rides I've ever experienced. You can watch the news on a small flatscreen, charge your phone, connect to complimentary WiFi and enjoy the smooth as silk ride. I think my dad would like the Heathrow Express. It's like the Cadillac of trains.

From there I transferred at Paddington station to the Hammersmith & City Line to Stepney Green to get to 40 Winks, a very unique and memorable B&B. Paddington station is HUGE. It's also hugely under construction. The first thing I noticed when I got off the train was there were tons of staff people just standing there, waiting to help clueless travelers like me. A man greeted me, then looked at me with some pity. He had to break the bad news that there was no working lift to the platform, so I would need to lug my rolling check-in, rolling carry-on and a backpack up a couple flights' worth of stairs. "It's okay!" I assured him as I walked away. "I'm strong!" I lied.

Dear reader, may I share a word of advice with you? If you travel in London, pack light. When entering an underground station, you place your oyster card on a sensor that opens gates swinging inward. Well, when I tried to go through with all my luggage, I wasn't fast enough because the gates closed on my check-in bag. I yelped, trying to pull the surprisingly strong gates apart so I could extricate it. A man behind me immediately tried to help; trying to push the luggage through but it just seemed to make the gates close even harder. As I was frantically working with him on this, my check-in luggage and backpack fell over onto the ground with a dramatic crash. By then the man had waved over a transport staff, who used her card to open the gates. I scrambled to pick up my other bag and guy with a European accent asked, "Are you all right?" I must have looked distraught. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," I insisted, more embarrassed than anything as I headed to the lift to the platform.

Another reason to pack light: When I got on the tube, I had to stand at first and it was a nightmare. Spinner luggage is great for getting around in airports with smooth, pristine, polished stone floors, but my bags rolled around with a mind of their own at every stop along the tube route, much to my chagrin. When I managed to get a seat, I assumed an assortment of different positions to keep my luggage stationary with marginal success. Thankfully, the Hammersmith & City Line is much more spacious and better kept than the District Line so I didn't feel like I was being too annoying with all my luggage.

As we neared the downtown stations, a Chinese British couple (or so I assumed based on their appearance and accents) stepped onto the train and sat down next to me. They were smartly dressed and had their Starbucks in hand. The guy pulled out an enormous iPad and started fiddling with it.

At some point during the journey, one of them spilled their latte, creating an ever-growing pool of light brown liquid right in the middle of the train. The guy seemed pretty pained and embarrassed about it, so I dug through my backpack and handed them half of the travel-size pack of tissues that my mom had given me (thanks, Mom). He scrambled to mop up what he could as she kept insisting that it wasn't a big deal. When the train arrived at their stop, I noticed the guy hanging around near the door. He paused briefly. "Thank you," he said in his British accent. "Oh yeah, no prob," I replied.

When I finally got to Stepney Green I made my way to the exit only to find... they didn't have a lift. As I sighed, preparing myself mentally for the climb with my bags, which at this point felt like they were full of literal rocks, a guy stopped and offered to carry the largest one for me! It ended up being three flights up to the street surface level, so I was so grateful for his help.

I then rolled my way through Mile End another 15 minutes as the sun was going down. I really appreciated the paint at every sidewalk intersection with guidance for out of towners like me: "LOOK RIGHT."

After such a long day of travel, it was wonderful to come home to 40 Winks, change my clothes and charge my phone. My exhaustion, however, didn't keep me from venturing out again to get a little something sweet. :)

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Comparative Religion

I spent months planning things to do and see during our trip. I made a list of things that seemed interesting and began culling it to only include the must-sees. At the top of my list were cathedrals: a Catholic one in Spain and an Episcopalian one in England. I had gone to mass in Mexico and Episcopalian services in the States, so I knew a little bit of what to expect, but couldn't wait to attend services and experience it all firsthand.

Santiago de Compostela

I heard about this ancient Catholic pilgrimage site a while ago and had a desire to visit. It was about an hour drive from where we were staying on the coast. I had planned to attend mass at 9:00am and arrived with minutes to spare. Since Santiago de Compostela receives visitors from all over the world, I didn't realize that there would be multiple masses held in different parts of the cathedral at the same time. I ran to a small chapel where I heard singing, but discovered quickly that I had witnessed the tail-end of the German mass. Some of the people there asked me in German if I spoke German and I just shrugged. I asked the priest in Spanish where the Spanish mass was and he didn't know! Too hilarious. So I zipped out of there and thankfully found another chapel where they were holding mass in castellano.

It was a grand room with a dome four stories high and an ornate gold altar. Glass doors shielded it from the throng of visitors and a sign disallowed photography... so I was with people who were there to worship God, not take selfies. I came in while the priest was in the middle of the homily and he was encouraging parishioners to be faithful to God wherever the journey of life may take us. They had readings from the Old Testament, the gospels and Acts; a time of prayer; and a time for communion. After mass concluded I stayed to pray, and it was so special to have such a quiet, peaceful place to talk to God. Before I knew it another mass began! I decided to stick around and was happy to find that the presiding priest enunciated his words more than the last one had, which meant I better understood the homily this time around.

When I go to cathedrals, especially ones as ancient as Santiago de Compostela, I like to think about all the generations of people before me who have knelt there praying to God. It makes me think of Revelation 8:4 which talks about the incense along with the prayers of the saints that rise to him. God has been faithful to generations of people seeking him and he hears all our prayers.

I took a guided tour of the cathedral where we literally ascended to the roof, walking and standing on it as our tour guide explained the history of the place. I loved my tour guide's accent because it took me back to my days at the University of Washington, where I had a couple of young and hip Spanish teachers from Madrid and Barcelona who spoke like her. She explained that pilgrims would come west from the area near the Pyrenees and as a token of their journey, they received shells which they wore around their necks as a pendant. She explained that when pilgrims arrived they would, as a symbol of starting a new chapter of their lives having gone on this pilgrimage, would surrender their clothes to be burned and would receive new, white ones. She told us that regardless of social status, everyone received the same white clothes.

The cathedral museum had centuries' worth of religious art--sculptures, paintings and tapestries. Much of the depictions were of events occurring in the gospels and I enjoyed seeing the artist's interpretation and reflecting upon the story itself.

It was such a joy to experience God and worship him in Spain.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields

Towards the end of my trip I had one glorious, super-packed day in London. Someone from my home church had recommended going to visit St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which is Anglican (Church of England), so I attended their evening prayer service. St. James Cathedral in downtown Seattle is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen, but I must say that St. Martin in the fields quite nearly surpasses it. Adherence to the Church of England is well on the decline (recent surveys show 15% of Britons identify as Anglican). Similar to the trends of mainline denominations in the U.S., most attendees were older adults, and though the cathedral was vast in size and had two stories worth of seating, I would say there were about 20 of us present.

A soprano soloist accompanied by a pianist sang some beautiful hymns. It was great. I love high church so much. The priest did readings from the Old Testament and gospels. She read the story of David and Saul when David was in the cave with him and could have taken his life. It was a poignant reminder that as tempting as it may be to take justice into our own hands, we must ultimately leave it in God's.

We had spent much of the day hustling to and fro in the city (we had walked for an hour or so downtown along the Thames, I got through about 1/6 of the National Gallery, we visited Daunt Books and survived the zoo that is Piccadilly Circus), so it was a great change of pace to be in a quiet, reflective space. I really liked being able to pray with other people, with the written-out prayers (we prayed the bolded text, just like we sometimes do at my home church), and to sing along with some hymns that I didn't know.

It was such a joy to experience God and worship him in England.

This is another of the many things I loved about travelling in England and Spain. More to come...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Comparative media studies

I can honestly say that my friends and I made the absolute most of our two week trip to England and Spain this month. We experienced rural, suburban and city life; we spoke and thought in multiple languages/dialects; we walked extensively (22,000+ steps some days!), hopped on public transpo and drove for hours (well, they did--I was just there for the ride along). Everywhere we went, there was more to learn about and stare at, and I couldn't get enough. The faux cultural anthropologist in me was on cloud nine.

Video Supercut of our Trip

One of my favorite things was listening to the radio when we were on the road (which was a fair amount of the time). BBC Radio London and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire offer a fun variety of music, news, political talk radio and "travel" (traffic) updates. They played a lot of classic Motown and in the midnight hours, big band. I found it strange they they didn't play Adele, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran or Coldplay once. (Ironically enough, I heard more Coldplay on the radio in Spain.)

I was especially interested to get the British perspective on President Trump. Photos and cartoons of him dominated every newsstand I passed, and much of the airwaves as well. We were in England when news broke about Charlottesville and the death of Heather Heyer. The BBC interviewed a British expat living in Virginia and his general response was one of astonishment and shock. I got the impression that in England, most folks consider England to be much less overtly racist than the United States (or so argued the host of the B&B I stayed at in East London). As I listened to the BBC cover Charlottesville, I was impressed with the their nuanced understanding of the history of U.S. race relations, our demography and politics when it came to Charlottesville. I can't say that in America we have the same level of knowledge of the U.K. and its intra-group dynamics.

The other two main topics heavily debated on BBC radio were Brexit and ISIL radicalisation (as they spell it :-P). Since we were in London mostly, we were in a bit of a political bubble. The folks I spoke with readily shared that they voted to remain in the European Union, and they had some strongly negative opinions of Theresa May. However, on the radio, a man had called in that seemed to be more closely aligned with the Tories, so my ears perked up to hear from him. He reiterated multiple times that the recent calls for another election re: Brexit were "undemocratic," much to the bafflement of the BBC host. The debate over Brexit and the manner in which GB would leave the EU, is highly charged and a source of anxiety for many. They talked about it a lot in Spain, too. Since we live in a highly interdependent global economy, it makes sense.

There's also, understandably, a preoccupation with ISIL radicalisation in both countries as well. Driving home one night, a mother spoke about her son's decision to go to Syria and join ISIL. It was absolutely heartbreaking. We didn't listen to the entire programme but it seemed that he did eventually get out of that situation and return home. This mom had gone onto the program to try and help other parents who were losing their children to ISIL as well, which I thought was quite brave of her, since when her son was initially being heavily recruited she was too ashamed to share what was going on.

Obviously, the topic of radicalization came into sharp focus while we were in Spain. We were waiting in line to ascend the Torre de Hércules in A Coruña when I heard the couple next to us watching a video on their phone. It didn't sound good. I checked Twitter and CNN already had footage of the breaking news out of Barcelona. It was awful. That evening my roommates and I prayed together. The next morning I purchased a copy of El Mundo and read a detailed, in-depth investigation into how the young men who planned and carried out the terrorist attack had most likely been radicalized by a local imam. I looked at a year-over-year graph of the rate of terrorist-related arrests and attacks/attempts, and the total for 2017 to-date had almost surpassed the total for all of 2016.

I would argue that most major news outlets in the U.S. tend to be focused on domestic issues a majority of the time, and only cover international news if it's a major crisis or if it affects America in some way. Consuming British and Spanish news was pretty refreshing to me and (based on my small sampling of the Telegraph, the Guardian, the BBC and El Mundo) I found their reporting rigorous with thoughtful analysis of good data. It was a great reminder that it's not all about America because, I'll admit it, sometimes we can be a bit of a self-involved nation.

This is one of the many things I loved about travelling in England and Spain. More to come...

Friday, June 16, 2017

More lists

Reasons I loved growing up in the suburbs

  • Waking up Saturday mornings to my dad's gas lawnmower and the smell of freshly cut grass through my window
  • Having a front and back yard
  • Falling asleep in the summer to the sounds of frogs croaking in the pond behind said back yard
  • Enjoying such simple past times as movies with friends at our one local theater and getting Coldstone afterwards
  • Benefiting from a public education that was rigorous enough to get into college but not so demanding that I had a nervous breakdown
  • Having my pick of sprawling parking lots in which to learn how to drive
  • Having parking, always, wherever I went, period
  • Having... quiet... so much of it. No buses, trucks, trains or planes. 
  • Beautiful, glorious suburban sprawl as far as the eye can see.

Concepts I learned in college that I still think about constantly

Boutique business starter pack

Things I like about working in Pioneer Square

  • Picking up holds at the Central Library on my lunch break
  • Walks on the waterfront now that there's less construction
  • Meeting up with my mom who works nearby
  • Chinatown for Uwajimaya (and Pokemon Go gym battles)
  • Columbia Tower for juice
  • Westlake for buying presents
  • Witnessing the full spectrum of social classes, all together in one square block, more or less. 

How millennials communicate

  • writing things in all lowercase letters
  • capitalizing the first letter of only specific words for Emphasis, even words that Aren't Proper Nouns
  • using exaggerated kerning with words, also for e m p h a s i s
  • putting👏clapping👏hands👏emojis👏between👏every👏word👏to👏add👏even👏more👏emphasis
  • using gifs
  • using #hastags #thelongerthebetter
  • starting sentences with the word "honestly"
  • ending sentences with imho, lol, lmao or tbh.

Things I look forward to when I travel to England/Spain this August

  • Buying and reading a physical copy of the local newspaper
  • Tasting the best of that region's junk food (very important; I'm talking sweet and savory)
  • Taking public transportation
  • Chatting with locals
  • Attending church and worshiping God in a different way
  • Spending hours at museums
  • Taking tacky selfies
  • Committing a cultural faux pas (like the one above)
  • Getting lost
  • Shaking my head at other tourists. 

Friday, June 02, 2017

Just a bunch of lists

Over the course of the past five years I've

  • Held five different jobs
  • Lived in four different places, including another country
  • Read 182 books
  • Lost two grandparents
  • Learned so much.

Things I've loved about living in North Beacon Hill

  • The sound of train horns in the night
  • Growing tomatoes on the deck with western sun exposure
  • View of Puget Sound, SoDo, the stadiums and downtown
  • Hearing the cannons at CenturyLink Field go off with every Seahawks touchdown and field goal (which then broadcasts on my TV, delayed)
  • Having two ovens
  • Delite Bakery, Hair Skill Design, Red Apple
  • Walking home from work
  • Driving to church in eight minutes
  • Reminders and memories of my Grandma Yvonne.

Reasons I love Twitter

  • The memes
  • Curated news and articles
  • Black Twitter
  • Subtweets
  • Heartwarming viral videos.

Things I loved about working in Belltown

    "Peak Millennial"

    • Thinkpieces
    • Irony
    • Instagram
    • Pressed juice
    • Sanctimony
    • Binge-watching
    • Mash-ups
    • Complaining about millennial thinkpieces.

    Things I loved about Los Angeles

    • How it feels like one giant suburb
    • Diaspora communities
    • TV/Movie billboards that are six stories tall
    • Sunshine, Santa Monica, the PCH
    • Feeling like I could happen to run into my favorite screenwriter/director/actor at any time
    • East L.A. and the mestizaje vibe
    • The overall creative *atmosphere*
    • The satisfaction that I was, if but momentarily, a part of the zeitgeist.

    Favorite demographic data sources

    2017 Podcast Roundup

    Netspeak I find amusing

    • mood
    • sjw
    • soft
    • smol
    • hbd
    • petty
    • receipts
    • my aesthetic
    • it's lit. 

    Favorite parts of teaching Sunday school

    • All the kids talking over each other because they want to tell me about their week
    • Their elation at being able to drink Crystal Light
    • Pretend marching around the walls of Jericho with paper plate "trumpets"
    • Inadvertently predisposing them to libertarianism by giving them Hershey Nuggets then having tax collector Zacchaeus collect 2/3 of them back
    • Yelling "NO SPOILERS!" when a student already knows the Bible story and tries to tell the whole thing to the class
    • All tangents leading to Star Wars
    • So many Teddy Grahams 
    • Being asked, "Do you know what a gangster is?" 

    This was fun and maybe I'll do it again. Have an idea for a list you'd like me to write? Request it in the comments.

    Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    Make-up was a dead end

    Who knew beauty could be so complicated? For my birthday last year I decided to make my first serious foray into the world of makeup. I didn't know what I was getting into. In a naive way, I thought I would be able to show up at a makeup counter at a department store, buy an entire line of products, and be good to go. Looking back, I can't believe how absurd and laughable a notion that was.

    The makeup artist at Nordstrom rattled off an overwhelming, large amount of steps meant to "prep, correct and conceal." I could barely keep up: face base, under eye cream, eye base, layering three eye shadows, gel eyeliner, mascara, foundation, sheer powder, bronzer, blush. When she was done, I looked in the mirror and felt conflicted. While I knew I now looked more conventionally "beautiful" I questioned if this was a step in the right direction.

    My justification to wear makeup was tenuous at best. I was bored, I had recently gotten a new job with higher pay and I thought, "Why not?" Some irrational part of me believed that makeup was the one missing piece I needed to manage to attract a boyfriend. According to my then-logic, if cultivating my intellectual prowess and spiritual depth wasn't enough, if it hadn't managed to end the seven-year drought since my last romantic relationship, then maybe outer beauty paired with inner beauty would do the trick.

    Well, it's almost a year later and I've spent a bunch of money, wrecked my skin and still don't have a boyfriend. What a bust.

    T r a i t o r s (chronological use L to R)
    Correctors, concealers, BB creams, foundations, cream and oil primers--brand after brand left me with dry, tight skin and pimples galore. Did I look great in pictures? Even glamorous? Sure! But at night, alone and makeup-less in front of the mirror with my own thoughts, I was unhappy, disappointed and doubting myself.

    I know that for others, makeup isn't such an agonizing ordeal. Good on them. They are hashtag blessed.

    My skin just won't abide make-up, but it's taken a while for me to finally give in to defeat. Each time a product wouldn't work for me, I'd return to Sephora, deflated, and an enthusiastic employee would suggest some new wonder product: a cleanser with a four star review, a serum, a foundation that's completely weightless and "totally buildable." I'd go home wanting badly for it to work for me; none of them did.

    All this to say, I'm throwing in the towel when it comes to makeup. It's created more problems in my life than benefits.

    On a deeper level, this is all about adequacy. It's about trust in God. I've spent so much time wondering why some women my age are dating, married and having kids, and I'm not. I know that God is not doling out rewards or punishments to women based on whether they "deserve" a boyfriend/husband/kids. On a bad day, though, I crumple in on myself in prayer or ignore God altogether in a passive-aggressive attempt to rebel against how he wants to order my life. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

    Look, no amount of navel-gazing or hand-wringing will get me a boyfriend any sooner. Makeup, new clothes, a better body, fancy haircut; it really doesn't make any difference. Perhaps this sounds bitter, but it's been my experience. Okay, okay, being single is not the end of the world; this much I know. It's painful, though.

    I'm doing my level best to make the most of it. I'm reading a lot of books, joining rec leagues, going on fun outings with my other single friends. I have a lot of time to pray for others. I write short stories three paragraphs at a time. I talk to God about the things I'm thankful for. If I focus on other things maybe I won't feel so sad.

    Until next time...