Friday, November 21, 2014

The London Chronicles: Miscellany

I have 1 more week left in delightful London.  While I've done my best to cram all sorts of activities afterhours here, I still have this nagging feeling that I shoulda done something and I'm forgetting to. Tonight I'm going to yet another museum to experience the Reinbach Fall. I have no idea how, but I wore a floaty skirt so it can look something like this, instead of falling to my death with zero flair.

Castle in the Sky
As this entry is conveniently titled "Miscellany", I'm going to go in random order.  I have very loose plans this weekend, mainly around sourcing some good booze to bring back, and then checking football scores on Monday morning.  How tight are yours? Either way, have a lovely weekend!

  • I put on an accy! 
    Today during lunchtime (London is tasty, people. I don't know why we were so unlucky on our last visit), my Brit colleague took me to a betting shop so I can put on an accy.  What the hell are you talking about, you say? Accy stands for accumulator. London lets you bet legally!  So I went to a betting shop (not even a chain like ladbrokes, man, some real, scary looking little place) and randomly scribbled lines on a piece of paper (the people in the shop scoffed when they saw that my odds are 1/6000 or something awesome like that) which socc football teams would win the match this weekend.  We then placed a bet on a horse race that was being broadcast live.  Once again, I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but I picked a horse whose name I liked ("Jolly's Cracked It"), and after a nail-biting 2-3 minutes or so, my horse won!  I won 1.25 gbp. With all this side money I'm earning at pubs and betting shops, I may have some extra paperwork to do when I return!  "Welcome to London!" said the old man behind the bulletproof glass when I told him I'd won.  The race at Ascot was also interesting, because they jump hurdles along the way, and my horse stumbled on the second to last one but still made it to the finish by a good margin. Good show! Jolly good show!  It's also really distracting because they split screen and show another race starting (greyhounds), and man they are fast and gorgeous to watch. When I return I'm inclined to teach my dog how to run and jump hurdles like that. 
  • Random Celebrity Sighting 
    In addition to seeing Trevor Lock live (and getting a selfie with him to ensure @OngEmil gets jelly), I saw Mr. Timothy Spall who kindly stood by the door to chat with two eagle-eyed ladies who were obvious fans. He was very gracious, despite being in a rush. He looked just like he does in the movies.
  • West End Musical, Check
    I went to the American musical in London and had so many "OHGOD" moments, but I quickly learned to turn it off, like a light switch.  I'm glad my friend made me go, because I wasn't feeling like musicals this trip, and I would've regretted not catching this. Tickets sold out in SF so quickly, I remember it was lottery towards the end. The young actor who played Elder Cunningham was amazing (and convincing), as was Elder McKinley
  • Buckaroo & Tas
    At the comedy show, I learned about a game called "Buckaroo", where someone pretends to be a donkey, and then players put tons of stuff on him/her and then tries to make them buck (by using all sorts of things, like dirty socks, etc). Apparently Drunk Buckaroo is something you do at University, to passed out people as well, as evidenced here.  My French colleague got excited at this, and said that in France, they have something called "Tas", where people randomly fall on the floor at parties and people basically dog pile over him/her. I'm learning SO much every day.
Drunk Buckaroo - Exhibit A 

Drunk Buckaroo -Exhibit B

Drunk Buckaroo - Exhibit Camping


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The London Chronicles: Wherein I Experience A Free Haircut

After a rollicking (cracking?) day at Bletchley, I wanted to have a less cerebral Sunday and decided to wander around a few neighbourhoods that operates on a Sunday.  I went to the London Bridge area to visit White Cube to catch the last day of Tracey Emin's exhibit. I can't believe how generous London is (so many of them free), until I realize that everything I buy here has to be multiplied by 2, essentially.  The exhibit was interesting, the space is gorgeous - so much ceiling height to display large bodies of work. I loved watching the people, too. Just, everyday, local residents walking in casually with their grocery bags.  I went through the gift shop (because I love to), and pondered who would buy ornaments like this for their tree. I couldn't really picture anyone real, or at least within my (albeit) small circle of friends and acquaintances. If you're one of them, please let me know what your tree looks like, and if you have Gilbert & George ornaments on them, too.

After doing yet another lost/walk (walking while semi-lost), I hopped on the bus and got to actually see the remaining poppies in the Tower of London from my window. They were removing it, and I was glad to have a nice view from behind glass way above the crowds.  The last time we came to the Tower, I wanted to stab myself because a) I was really jetlagged, b) it was raining and cold, and c) there were about 1000 x more people than I would have liked per square metre.   
Some of my coworkers suggested I visit Camden Town, which I imagined to be a lot like the Haight (it was), so I made it over there and started walking towards the horse stable markets, when a young lady asked me if I want to be a hair model.   I've never modelled anything (aside from that one time, when I did hand modelling for a magazine I was working for, but that was due to everyone else in the office at the time being male, and they needed a female hand. Don't ask).  I don't have much hair to cut, but I do have a patch of green in my hair which may have been taken as a sign of a risk taker?  I was really taken aback as to why I was asked. I decided this might be something to write home about - so I said yes. She took me to the salon/academy nearby, and I was penciled in for the next day.  The next day, I jokingly told my coworkers that I was going to get a free mohawk ("Just don't do anything too crazy", they wryly observed).  I show up at the salon, tell them I'm here for the, here for the, uh, (I can't bring myself to ever say "model", I'm like 50lbs overweight for that), and they show me upstairs, in the waiting area, where the other "models" are at.  I've always suspected that the Brits have a slightly different aesthetic when it comes to beauty.  Just look at British shows as proof. Prime Suspect had the realest cast ever - where every extra policeman in the background looks like they really are weighed down by all that they've seen, then compare it to, oh, I don't know, Prime Suspect US version, or more recently, Broadchurch.  They seem to be more forgiving if you're not textbook pretty, which in the US essentially seems to indicate flawlessness.  Perhaps this is why I was asked? 

UK version - oh how I loved Otley
US version 

*if you noticed me using British spelling all over the place, do note that I'm not intending on putting on airs; my spellchecker  (whom I named Basil) is British. You can read them in your head in faux-English accents and annoy yourself if you like. Flavour. Colour. Splendour. Barbour.

The point being, there were all kinds of hair models. I wasn't even in the minority here - there was another Asian girl with an even more daring do (and less hair) than I.  She had half of her head shaved, and the other side also shorn but with some elaborate bangs.  There was an older lady, who was clearly uncomfortable to be there.  Then there were the "real" models : Caucasian, Nordic or Eastern European, with intriguing accents, a pixie-like face, and legs like matchsticks.  I was even more confused as to why I was here.  I also watched someone who was clearly an artiste (he swore like one, had hand gestures like one, and was teasing the hell out of someone's poor marigold coloured afro). Also, as in real life models (I assume),  a lot of time was spent waiting. I brought my knitting, and made some good headway, until a dapper male in his early to mid-30s came bounding up, clapping his hands, and saying "So, let's go in to the other room, models!".  So we all gathered up our bags and followed him in.  He introduced himself as Ian, and filled us in on what was going on.  "Thank you all for coming in!  You're all here to be hair models for a group that's here from Italy. Don't worry, these are not students in beauty school - these are mainly salon owners and experienced hair cutters. I and my colleague (points to a tall blonde muscular male) here will do a consult, and then we'll do what we call "Salon Creative", which is salon cut with a twist. Ok, now take a seat, pick a mirror!". We all shuffle to a seat.  I get Ian.  There's about 7 of us, which makes them 2 short, apparently, so there's last minute upstairs wrangling of some other poor souls off the street.  Ian eventually makes his rounds and comes to me, and the first thing he asks is "Who cuts your hair? Where do you get it cut?".  I answer that I'm not from here, I'm from San Francisco, and I have a haircutter that I go to regularly there (whom I WILL  NOT name because I like being able to see her on a regular basis. She is awesome). She did, however, train in London, I say proudly.  Without missing a beat, he says "Ah, yes Sassoon. I can tell by the cut, and the curve here. You don't often see lines like these from people on the street".  I'm not sure, but I believe that was a compliment against my hairdresser. I smile politely.  Fortunately for me, Ian assesses my haircut as "Amazing, I love this whole look you got there", and does not want to veer away from this. But he thinks it'll be good to add some texture, and maybe trim my bangs? "You know, like how you returned from the pub all drunk and took some scissors at your bangs?". Wait, WAT?  My bangs already look like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber. You cannot make Dumberer.  With that, he walks away.  The other instructor seems really stressed for some reason, and  all 9 of us "models" eye each other in the mirrors and exchange smiles and nervous expressions.  Then the Italian hairdresser team arrives.  None of them look like they are in their teens or 20s, in fact, they all look like a group of tourists that just returned from taking a 0.5 day sightseeing trip.  They all look at us nervously, too, until Ian asks them to pick a model.  I'm hoping the one that looks like Anne Hathaway dressed like a marionette (srsly, she had rouge on her cheeks and everything) might choose me, since I like that she has a Mary Poppins style carpetbag as her work bag, but Anna H. decides to go with the short haired girl next to me.  I get a middle-aged lady, who nods, and smiles at me as if to say "I got this, girl. Doncha worry".  Ian takes turns explaining the look we want to achieve, and we all take turns getting shampooed.  My person, whose name I don't find out until the end, gave a very generous, relaxing shampoo (I loooove getting my hair washed. Perhaps when my time has come, I can die while being shampooed? It would be such a relaxing way to go, not to mention, clean follicles that can be later used for wigs!), and we wait for Ian, as water drips down my shoulders.  By the time my hair pretty much dried, Ian is ready for me, and he starts instructing my person how/where to start.  I had to get misted again, but all that time, I got to watch with fascination how Ian approaches hair as if it's sculpture, and almost engineers it structurally ("her hair grows this way, so you have to allow it to be weighed down by this, like so"), and I watch a new style emerge like hedges being trimmed from a particularly thick, curly haired girl. 

While we all have such different hairs, different faces, different builds, we all have one thing in common, and that's uneasiness. "It's just hair, it will grow" mumbles the girl next to me, though she spent 5 minutes complaining to Ian earlier that she got a bad cut previously elsewhere, and it really dampened her self-esteem. A blonde girl with very thin hair is looking worried as her Italian trainee looks distractedly at other people while sort of drying her hair with one hand.  I'm listening to Italian all over, and feeling somewhat hungry.  If there's one body part of mine that is guaranteed a compliment (from haircutters), it's mah hair.  Every hairstylist I've ever had raves that my hair is healthy, great, amazing, fun to cut (and said nothing about my personality, my eyes, my thick middle, nothing. These parts are so neglected), but I have a very "meh" relationship with my hair. That girl is right, it's hair, it'll grow.  And I've grown it out multiple times so I can chop it off and donate it to Locks of Love. I've done it 4 times already and it always feels strange to take something that was attached to you an hour ago in an envelope and mail it, but it's very satisfying.  If you have hair and have low attachment to it, I highly recommend growing it out and harvesting it for a very good cause. 

 It's a 3hr cycle of instruction, attempt, judging and adjusting, and then finally, we get to my bangs. Every time Ian comes by, he says things to my person, like "You have to respect this hair. Treat it with respect, and it will respond. If you don't treat it with respect, I will punch you in the chest".  The Italian translator translates this, including the vigorous hand-gesture Ian did of attempting to punch my person in her chest.  My person laughs and nods. The only exchange between us so far that was more than "Thank you, grazie" and "Prego" was when she asked me "Is there any...pain?".
There wasn't, thankfully.  She had a steady hand and was very very careful. I saw that Anna H. was struggling the most out of all the stylists (she seemed very nervous, and kept getting corrected), so I felt like I somewhat dodged a bullet.
Ian managed 5 heads, his partner 4, and all the Italians gathered round to watch when someone was being looked at.  People poked and pulled at my green hair. "Bella!" said one, and another one gave me the universal thumbs up.  Eventually it came to my bangs, and Ian kept talking while snipping. "I love your hair! Your hair is just, amazing! It's one of those hairs that if it gets in your socks in the morning it'll bother you all day!".  Once again, I'm really not sure if this is a compliment or not, until at the very end, he looks at me in the mirror and says solemnly "It was a pleasure and an honour to cut your hair. I'd cut hair like this for free." Well, Ian,  you just did, and 

My person beams at me when I thank her, and when I ask her name, she says "Paola.  From Firenze". My favourite Italian city! We smile, hug, and take a blurry selfie which I will not post here. 
My coworkers are disappointed that I didn't get a blue mohawk, but manage to hide it well. "It doesn't look that different!".  Well, actually, my bangs have never been shorter and my usual stylist will definitely know that I saw someone else (it's crooked on the left side), but eh, it was an experience.
If any Asian person with thick hair wants to get a short bob with Jim Carrey bangs while in Florence,  tell Paola I sent you, and give her my best. 
No Simon Pegg. Sigh. 
Just Like Haight

London, you are so photogenic

Monday, November 17, 2014

The London Chronicles Weekend Edition: Field Trip to Bletchley Park or 158 Million Million Million

Sometimes, the planets align really nicely, to make you experience things that are extraordinary. As someone who works in security and tech, Bletchley Park  was the first thing I penciled in as a "must-do" over the weekend.   In anticipation, I went to the Barbican and watched the movie on Friday night.   I already had a membership to the Barbican and was curious about its Brutalist architecture. I am looking forward to coming back next year for CumberHamlet (it should be amazing, or it better be, as I stayed up until 4am to score those tickets, but I digress).  I had a few minutes to kill before the movie, so after having some pre-film dinner, I wandered around, and came across the London branch of my alma mater having some sort of social.

The movie was really good. It felt a bit rushed towards the end, but all the actors did a fine job of portraying their characters (although, I'm sorry but Samwise will always be Samwise, until he learns other facial expressions). 

The script was well written, 4 stars, would see it again.   After the movie, I went back to my temporary home as I had an early train to catch with a coworker. Side note:  Londoners do not knit in public. A few curious people came by to ask me what I was knitting (wrap), and if I'm a good knitter (debatable).

I couldn't sleep after the movie because I was too excited about my excursion. 

We took the train from Euston to Bletchley, and I had a great guide (my coworker who'd visited Bletchley 8 months ago with another friend/colleague).  We talked about work on the way for about 45 minutes, then talked about different paths we took that allows us to work together, which is extraordinary in itself - a Romanian soon to be UK citizen and a Japanese American (1st gen).  2014 isn't such a bad time afterall?  We talked about slave nations and personalities, and by the time we got to Bletchley I was ready for some fresh air.   

Apparently, the whole park was renovated recently thanks to Google and other sponsors (coughGCHQcough), and it was very well manicured, although the "huts" were tiny and damp. Some of the huts were more colder and draftier than others, and it was amazing to stand where the codebreakers once stood, many of them who took their secrets to the grave, and marvel at the brainpowers they harnessed. They were also running an AI contest based on the Turing test, which looked like a lot of fun.
I won't spoil too much in case you are planning to visit - but the Colossus (in the National Museum of Computing next door) and the Bombe rebuild is a must-see.  The docents and volunteer guides are really dedicated and happy to tell you tidbits of history and answer all sorts of questions.  Also note to the gift shop: You need moar (better) T-shrits!  Sell those ties and scarves!  My colleague and I spent the entire time scheming how to convince one of the workers to give it up. I bought a lot of books here.   They also spent time cracking Japanese code, which was very fascinating. It's one of the most difficult languages to master, and these people shortened a 5yr lesson into 11 weeks or so. Seeing their practice notebooks and flashcards and pencil writing of kanji characters really made them feel, well, real.  

Oh, and we also had a celebrity sighting!  Mr. James May of Top Gear fame. He seemed to be filming a segment for his Science show. I look forward to catching it on BBCAmerica when I return. 

We stayed for 6 hrs yet we ran out of time. I'm definitely going back.

The trains here run pretty reasonably, but wow the apologies!  The transit system actually apologises when it's late. "We are sorry that this train is running approximately 11 minutes late...we are very sorry". DK would feel right at home about this, if only he wasn't Canadian. 

I will now kill you with pictures, because I'm too lazy to type in 1k more words. 

Still in love with St.Pancras
Birthday pub lunch!
Meat the Pieminister! 

Inside Barbican Centre

Architects' tools 
I wonder if kids today use compasses

Architects send the BEST holiday greetings IMHO

My glamourous pre-movie dinner

It's like being inside the white lodge
Sweet ride


Japanese Dictionary

The Turing Bombe Rebuild Project 

Photographic Evidence 


Almost like a Vegas spinwheel

Delicious on the inside

Mihai charms the lady

My favorite - a handmade Monopoly board to beat Turing

Turing's Bear
Turing's Bear


The perfect Billetee

Step Inside

He chained his tea mug to the radiator so nobody would use it

they have a room dedicated to carrier pigeons! 

Proud Pigeon Champion 

Sorry, What am I Supposed to Do Again?  

The Boss' chair

When Can I Move In? 

I could totally do this 

The Mansion

That "object" is a dead animal 

Costumes and props from the Imitation Game 

Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch's costumes 

The bar set 

Handmade star chart

Turing killed himself with an apple laced with cyanide

The Machine Prop and I 

Hardware porn

Look at this!  LOOK! 

You called? 

Let's just hoist this thing over here...yup, easy peasy