Friday, June 27, 2008

Driving from Sydney to Boston

"These directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results."


Similar directions are available for all the locations I tried in Australia - Alice Springs, Tasmania . . . Note that if you start your trip in Australia, the distances are measured in kilometers, but if you start in the USA they are measured in miles. I suspect, like the driving from New York to London directions that I blogged about some time ago, these too will disappear before long. At least this time they suggest that you should kayak across the ocean rather than swim!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Seeing in color

When I was in graduate school here in the United States, I dated an African American for a short period of time. I was absolutely furious when we had an argument and he then accused me of not understanding him "because he was black". He was absolutely right, I didn't understand him - but it had nothing to do with the colour of his skin. I had had similar misunderstandings/arguments with white boyfriends, and the Iranian I lived with when I was living in France. It had everything to do with the fact that we had been brought up in different places, and to my mind using the color of his skin as an explanation was racist on his part.

It is too easy to explain differences of attitude as racial when in fact they are cultural or personal. There are people of other skin tones I have no desire to associate with, but it does NOT mean I am racist. There are many white people I would not want to associate with - am I racist because I don't like their values? (Prejudiced? Yes. Racist? No!)

My maternal grandmother lived for many years in South Africa and although she tried hard, the racism of the white South Africans rubbed off on her. When she had a dark tan (which she worked very hard at getting), with her dark curly hair and dark eyes, she did not look 100% white herself. I am sure she never realized that, but it made a great impression on me. If it was so difficult to tell someone's race, then what was the point in judging someone by the color of their skin? The chairperson of the African American studies department at Harvard recently found out that genetically he is 50% white. He and his family were stunned! I just don't see the point in deciding in advance if you are going to like someone or not based on the way they look. Of course we all do make snap judgements - not just looking at skin color, but the way people dress or the way they sound. It doesn't make it right, but neither does it make it right to accuse me of racism when I decide that I don't like someone because of who they are as a person.

I am delighted that both my kids are in classes that, although not as diverse as I would like, are not 100% white. Already it is clear that neither of them really understands why anyone would be racist. They are way ahead of me at the same age as I grew up in a town where there was precisely one adult who was not white! It took me many, many, years before I was comfortable talking to people of other races and not constantly thinking that they were somehow different.

My biggest eye-opener was the summer I lived in Taiwan when I truly experienced what it is like to be one of the minority. I lived with a Taiwanese family, I took the bus to work every day, and I taught in a Taiwanese school. For days on end the only Europeans I saw were at a distance in the restaurant at the Lai-Lai Sheraton as my bus stopped outside it. I went through all the usual stages of culture shock even though I knew what to expect. I loved Taiwan, I hated Taiwan, I slept too much . . . I remember one day I went out for lunch with some Taiwanese acquaintances. We went to KFC. For them it was a treat. For me it was torture. It made me violently ill, in a way Taiwanese food never did at any point in my stay. Shortly after lunch I was suddenly absolutely desperate to get to a toilet - preferably clean and with toilet paper, though at that point I wasn't fussy. My friends thought fast and recommended we get off the bus we were on at the next stop as there was a McDonalds. That was one place where I was guaranteed there would be toilet paper. After I was done being ill (for the moment at least), I washed my face as well as my hands because I was sweating profusely. When I looked up at myself in the mirror I realised how sick I really was as my eyes were a strange shape - they were round!

It took me several minutes to realize there was nothing wrong with my eyes. I simply hadn't seen any Western eyes in weeks, there being no mirror in the bathroom at the apartment where I was staying. If being in the minority for only a few weeks made me feel as though I had something wrong with me when I looked in the mirror, I could barely begin to imagine the effects of years of not seeing people like myself . . .

I began writing this post months ago, before the American presidential race had narrowed itself down to two candidates. Clearly race will be an issue for many people when they vote this year. I wish it weren't. I am confident that my decision will be based on who I think will do the best job and not on the race of the candidates. Hopefully within my lifetime race will no longer be an issue in these elections - or gender either!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Visited states

create your own personalized map of the USA

Over 20 years and this is all I've managed to visit? Pathetic really, especially as 'Florida' really means not much more than Orlando, and 'California' was San Francisco and Lassen National Park.

Still, I remember teaching a college student who told me that at the age of 19 she had never left her home state. She was about to spend a semester in Spain. I never did find out how she did, but I bet the culture shock was amazing!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Chocolate in my cupboard

Yes, there is too much chocolate in my house. In addition to all the chocolate in the photo in my last post, there is a ten POUND bar of chocolate in the basement . . . The good news (for my hips) is that that very large bar of chocolate, which was a present from some relatives at least 3 years ago is still untouched. Well, it's not dark chocolate, so what's the point? You'll notice that all the chocolate on 'my' shelves in the cupboard is dark chocolate. (The top shelf is DH's and I truly would not dream of taking any of his chocolate. The shelf in the other cupboard with the chips/crisps is another matter!)

The bad news is that since we got married I have put on just over 30 pounds. When I got pregnant with DS, I weighed 5 pounds more than I do now. However, this time last year (when I hated my job and was on antidepressants to make it through each day) I weighed 20 pounds less than I do now. I could blame my weight gain on DH's wonderful cooking, but it's simply a case of too many calories and too little exercise. When I was in my twenties I worked at a boarding school where I was actually paid to do an hour's exercise every day!

Much as I would hate to be working the kind of hours I put in back then, the idea of being paid, indeed being required, to exercise is rather nice. It seems so hard now with a husband and kids and a full-time job to find time to work out. I specifically remember running five miles one Friday afternoon with the kids (which for me was a very long run) and deciding I wasn't done yet, so I headed off to an hour-long Jazzercize class. I was very aware of the effect it had not only on my weight, but also on my health. My cholesterol dropped from 350 to 240 without medication, I was much less moody, and I had no trouble at all keeping my weight down. For a very brief period I was an American size 5, but fortunately for me my love of food outweighed my love of exercise as a size 5 is not a healthy size for me to be.

I thought I was being so American back then, so conscious of my fitness and my weight. I went to an aerobics class when I was back in the UK and was not impressed - they actually stood still between the songs, whereas in Jazzercize we never stopped moving. Now I'm the other kind of American - the overweight kind :-(

I made a small move in the right direction last weekend - I bought a bike. I wouldn't ride my bike on the roads around here, but we have a nice park nearby where I could ride my bike with the kids and there are some rail trails not too far away too. DH has a bike rack for his car, but I may need to get one for mine too. Unfortunately that will entail getting a towing hitch installed and, having just bought the bike, my budget is shot for now!

I also need to make more use of my YMCA membership than just walking around in the small, warm, pool when we take the kids swimming on a Sunday morning. DD had a swimming class last Saturday and I swam in the lane next to her. After 4 lengths of the pool I was out of breath and feeling, quite frankly, knackered. I made myself keep going though, figuring that so long as I was moving it was better than sitting on the side of the pool watching her. By the time her lesson was over, I was actually sorry to get out. Unfortunately, that was her last class until the fall and without the incentive of swimming alongside her during class I probably won't swim very much over the summer.

I 'only' have 30 or 35 pounds to lose. Having been reading some other blogs recently where people are documenting their efforts to lose over 100 it made me realize that if they can do that (and many have, and kept it off) then surely I can lose a mere 30?! Thanks to bloggers like Sharon for motivating me to get started again - now I have to get on with it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wordless Wednesday


More to follow on this topic . . .

Sunday, June 08, 2008

What time of day are you?

So, what time of day are you?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Underground drinking

I had never really thought about whether drinking was allowed on the Tube or not. I've never really spent that much time in London. I'm used to the idea of drinking alcohol on trains though - on the way from The North to London and back there was usually a choice of some kind of alcohol on the train in addition to coffee and tea. Over here, it's a very obvious no-no to drink alcohol on public transportation. I'm not sure if that's the case in every state of the union, but it wouldn't surprise me - the puritanical attitude seems pretty pervasive - or is the no 'open-containers' law just a New England thing? Is it a symptom of my Americanisation that it seems normal to me not to allow the drinking of alcohol on trains or buses?

It truly does surprise me though that British journalists seemed surprised that the 'last night' of drinking on the Tube got out of hand. What on earth did they expect?

Images from the Daily Mail's report on the evening.
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